The Steve Kerr era with the Golden State Warriors was built off of a motto that accompanied the identity of the team: "Strength in Numbers." This "Strength in Numbers" is a reference to a team that almost always showcases it's depth to earn every win. That the sum of their parts is the best recipe to build a true dynasty.
Head coach Steve Kerr started the 2019 Playoffs with a significant load of minutes for his stars, shortening the bench and supporting cast. But fate, many times, is determined to take on curious turns. And just when the Warriors need for help increased afer the loss of their best individual piece at the moment (Kevin Durant), that "Strength in Numbers" motto came to the forefront.
The bench of the two-time champs made another significant impact to complete the sweep against the Portland Trail Blazers, defeating them on their home floor 119-117 in overtime. In that Game 4 the Warriors' reserves contributed 28 points, which excluded Alfonzo McKinnie's 12 points filling in the starting lineup for the injured Andre Iguodala and seven points from Jordan Bell who got the start at centre.
Their second unit validated their legitimacy to contribute, growing since Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. In these five games without both Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, the numbers contrast the bench's start to the postseason.
|First 11 games||21.0||48.7%||13.3||5.4||1.6||1.7|
|Last 5 games||32.6||60.0%||19.0||6.8||2.6||2.2|
In a recent interview with ESPN, Kerr spoke on the role of being a reserve in the NBA and had nothing but praise:
"It's a hard job but you have to be ready for it, and that is your job. So the way to stay ready is to stay engaged and get shots up. Whether it's after the games like Quinn or before practice like Jonas, these guys have their own routines, but part of being a pro in the NBA is being able to deliver when you haven't played for a stretch. We've got a lot of guys who are doing that right now ... they can all play or they wouldn't be in the NBA, and we trust them to come in and deliver."
Now, who are these reserves and how has their increased roles helped the dynamic of the Warriors?
- Prior to Durant's injury: 6.0 points (68.4% FG), 4.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists in 17.9 minutes (11 games played)
- After Durant's injury: 10.8 points (77.4% FG), 6.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 block in 26.1 minutes (5 gp)
"He has become one of our key pieces. What he did today he does every night," said Kerr, giving a huge compliment to a player who has become the Sixth Man of this team. No, it is not the typical Sixth Man role (like a Lou Williams, for example). But his value to the team is massive, and he has taken another step in these playoffs. When Cousins went down the second game of the postseason, Looney's role increased more than anyone else's on the team. And after Durant's injury, he's become even more important.
At 23 years old and his fourth NBA season, all with the Warriors, he's been indispensable for his constant sacrifice, his defence, his ability to rebound and his IQ of finding the right spots around the rim and being ready to score. In Game 4 against the Blazers he had his second double-double of his career and his first in the playoffs with 12 points and 14 boards. Six of those rebunds were on the offensive glass and he's averaged 3.2 offensive rebounds per game since Durant's injury.
"As the game goes on and players get tired, Looney grabs more and more rebounds, has long arms, feels the game very well ... His rebounds have been really key for us," Kerr stressed on one of the pillars of the second unit.
The #GLeagueAlum duo of Kevon Looney & Alfonzo McKinnie made key contributions in the Game 4 win, helping the @warriors secure their 5th straight trip to the #NBAFinals! 💪🔥@Loon_Rebel5: 12 PTS, 14 REB@_Alvo_: 12 PTS, 2 REB#NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/hSK1AVeXCF- NBA G League (@nbagleague) May 21, 2019
- Prior to Durant's injury: 2.6 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists in 13.0 minutes (11 gp)
- After Durant's injury: 6.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists in 16.1 minutes (5 gp)
The veteran reserve has always made a big impact. But KD's injury renewed Livingston's importance and showed his value: a solid leader for the second unit who uses his length and size, has a dead-eye midrange jumper and excels at posting up smaller defenders.
In Game 4 against Portland he had eight points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting in 22 minutes. He personifies consistancy and is flexible to play with smaller lineups which is one of the many keys for the Warriors.
- Prior to Durant's injury: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in 15 total minutes (6 gp)
- After Durant's injury: 6.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 blocks in 13.0 minutes (5 gp)
Hardly a factor and barely playing to starting in the game that sealed the Warriors trip to The Finals. In the stretch without Durant, Bell left inconsistency aside and showed flashes of the player for which the Warriors intended for when they took him with the No. 38 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. He has energy and versatility and like his teammate Draymond Green. In Game 4 against the Blazers he had seven points and two assists in 14 important mintues.
- Prior to Durant's injury: 2.7 points, 2.4 rebounds in 9.2 minutes (11 gp)
- After Durant's injury: 4.6 points, 2.8 rebounds in 15.4 minutes (5 gp)
McKinnie has been a great story from the Warriors' season. He earned a roster spot for 2018-19 after playing in both Luxembourg and Mexico before trying his luck in the G League. He's an athletic wing with great rebounding ability and excellent physical dimensions. In Game 4, he filled in as a starter for Iguodala and reesponded with a great game - 12 points and two rebounds in 26 minutes.
"With Andre out, we need every ounce of Alfonzo filling in. We do not want to have to give Livingston more minutes and McKinnie works great," Kerr said. In overtime, he had two points and two huge offensive rebounds.
- Prior to Durant's injury: 3.3 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 7.1 minutes (6 gp)
- After Durant's injury: 4.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 12.5 minutes (5 gp)
Another player that went from being a non-factor to start the postseason but took a step forward is Cook. The guard can handle the ball and is a threat with his ability to shoot from the perimeter. In Game 4 against Portland, he scored four points in 14 minutes and finished with a team-best +/- of plus-14.
- Prior to Durant's injury: 1.0 points, 1.6 rebounds in 4.9 minutes (7 gp)
- After Durant's injury: 2.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 12.1 minutes (5 gp)
Jerebko didn't have the strongest finish to Game 4 (going 0-for-4 from the field in 10 minutes) but his intensity and energy contributes and his intagibles are valuable to give the starters a break, especially Draymond Green. He's also a threat to shoot from the perimeter, adding another long range shooter.
The rest of the reserves
You can't forget names like Andrew Bogut, who covered minute gaps in several games. Or the return of Damian Jones to give the Warriors a few minutes against the Blazers. Or even Jacob Evans, who in Game 4 played four minutes. "Strength in Numbers" has been present this postseason once again.