After being manhandled by the Grizzlies in Games 2 and 3, the Warriors needed to do something different in Game 4. A lot of suggestions—double team Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post, play Steph Curry off-ball, more David Lee—were bandied about, but instead Steve Kerr went with something more radical than anybody thought. He had Andrew Bogut guard Tony Allen.
Cross-matching on defense isn’t unusual, but centers usually don’t guard small forwards on anything other than a switch or broken play. While Bogut has quick feet and impeccable timing, most small forwards can kill him on offense by running around the perimeter, but not Tony Allen. Tony Allen is a 27 percent career three-point shooter and has never even averaged two assists per game. A victory for Allen on offense is keeping his defender honest. Anything else is a bonus.
Instead, Bogut basically allowed Allen to run around wherever he wanted, only actively guarding him when he ventured into the paint. This led to three wide-open three-point attempts for Allen—the Warriors barely even feigned closing him out—that he couldn’t convert:
Tony Allen left the game during the timeout after his third miss, and only played 16 minutes in the game, none in the fourth quarter.
The strategy worked, first and foremost, because Tony Allen missed his open shots. If he’d made one of the three-pointers the Warriors probably would’ve stuck with it; what if he had made all three? But after getting burned by Mike Conley in Game 2 and Marc Gasol in Game 3, the Warriors didn’t just dare Tony Allen to be the man to beat them, they explicitly forced him to be.
It also worked because of the Warriors’ versatile front line. I’ve sung Draymond Green’s praises enough in this space, but nobody else 6’7” can guard Marc Gasol effectively. Harrison Barnes, who normally would have been guarding Allen, did a good job preventing Zach Randolph from getting into the paint. They were both aided by Bogut, lurking somewhere behind them free of all man defense responsibilities.
Besides the Allen misses, the strategy seemed to gum up the Grizzlies’s already precarious spacing and passing. The paint was packed so heavily that even on the few occasions where Randolph and Gasol got by their primary defenders, they were stymied by a crowd of players. When those two can’t operate, neither can Memphis’s offense. It’s a defensive strategy that practically begs to get busted open by three-pointers, but the Grizzlies had the 23rd best three-point shooting percent in the league this year, and the 29th highest three-point attempt rate.
It probably won’t work twice. Knowing what to expect, Dave Joerger and his assistants will surely devise an effective counter. It is too gimmicky to last, right?
But it did its job for a night, and the Warriors won 101-84. In the Game 2 and 3 losses, they went down early and never recovered. The Warriors offense also started out slow in this one, but they were able to weather the shaky first 10 minutes by having Bogut guard Allen. It bought their offense time to get going, and it also limited the Grizzlies’s best defender to half of his usual minutes, helping Klay Thompson and (especially) Stephen Curry build the lead later on.
It was an absurd idea, but it turned out to be absurdly good.
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