The Warriors “unstoppable” small lineup is rightly getting credit for luring Cleveland into the faster-paced shootout Golden State always wanted to play. But who gets credit for starting Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bogut? Steve Kerr is willing to give it all to a 28-year-old he calls his “chief of staff.”
Nick U’Ren is the Warriors’ special assistant to the head coach, but he does a little bit of everything, from scouting, to video editing, to picking the music for practices, to counting up Steph Curry’s threes in warmups. And Wednesday night, a day after the cold-shooting Warriors had been slogged down by the Cavs’ defensive-minded contingency players, U’Ren was in his hotel room watching video of the 2014 finals.
Kerr learned how to succeed in San Antonio, and likes to dip into Gregg Popovich’s bag of tricks for inspiration. U’Ren knew this, and was looking at last year’s finals specifically for something to help shut down LeBron James. Instead, he found something more radical: Popovich’s decision before Game 3 to go small, with Boris Diaw starting in place of Tiago Splitter. The Spurs were up 16 by the end of the first quarter, and won out in three straight routs to take the championship. Those Spurs are surely a different team from these Warriors, but the basic aim was the same: to open things up for the superior outside-shooting team.
Either U’Ren texted Kerr, or, according to another account, took the idea to assistant Luke Walton who texted Kerr. The text came at 3 a.m., and the Warriors staff discussed it over breakfast.
“It was his decision,” Walton said. “It’s always his decision. But this is why he’s the greatest boss in the world. We can all make suggestions, even a video guy, and he’ll seriously consider them.”
You know how it went. Iguodala, guarding LeBron for most of the night, kept the Cavs’ best scoring threat in check and dared Cleveland’s supporting cast to beat them. Exhausted and not finals-quality scorers, their shots didn’t fall. On the other end, aided by the pace and by spreading the floor, the Warriors’ shots finally did start falling. It was a blowout, and it looked a lot like that Spurs-Heat Game 3 that U’Ren had been scouting.
Kerr had kept his lineup a secret until right before tip-off. Earlier in the day, he twice said there would be no changes. Afterward, he admitted he didn’t want to give David Blatt any time to prepare defensive assignments for the smaller, quicker Warriors starters.
“Sorry, but I don’t think they hand you the trophy based on morality,” Kerr said. “They give it to you if you win. So sorry about that.”