San Francisco, CA

Warriors’ vets scout their way to success

Clay Kallam

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It's more mental than you think(Basketball Plays)

You might have heard that the playoffs are different.

Players will say the physical intensity is different, so different in fact it’s almost like another season. After all, the grind of 82 games is as much about survive as thrive, and for the veterans on the Warriors’ roster, the reward comes in postseason, not in some February trip to Utah that will be forgotten as soon as it’s over.

And it is true that older teams tend to do better in the playoffs, in part because they’ve been there before, individually and collectively, but also because older teams are generally smarter teams. Veterans may not react more quickly physically, but mentally it’s a different story. The years of playing build a backlog of information that a) young players don’t have, and b) minimizes surprises. The vet, after all, has made those rookie mistakes, and the only way a rookie becomes a vet is to learn from those mistakes – and not make them again. (Or at least, not make them very often.)

But there’s another huge factor involved: Scouting. Yes, talent wins, and a coaching genius can lose a lot of games if his players can’t make baskets, or stop the other team from doing so, but if two teams are relatively equal in talent, then scouting comes into play. And equally important, the ability of the coaching staff to translate scouting into on-court action becomes critical.

First, consider that February game in Utah, which was one day after a game in San Antonio. The day “off” was a travel day, and practice, if any, was a shoot-around the morning after the Warriors arrived. But even if there were two days between games, how much preparation would there be?

Remember, it’s February, 40 games or so into the season. Some light shooting, a little film and lots of relaxation is about all that can be asked of the team, because the most important thing is for the players to be rested and ready to play hard. It would be nice to fill their heads with a detailed scouting report and spend an hour or so going over everything on the court, but even if the staff tries to do that, the players are just too tired, and frankly, a little too bored, to really get into the fine points of Utah’s offensive options and individual quirks.

So maybe everybody gets that the point guard wants to go left, and the defense won’t come to help off the strongside corner, and that the small forward is a hothead and you can get him off his game with some well-placed trash talk. Or maybe not.

But now let’s shift gears to the playoffs. And now the Warriors have five full days off before their first game. Now, a day, or even two, can be devoted to light shooting, recovery and individual adjustments. The other two days? Time to drill down on Denver, from top to bottom. Now the scouting report is about more than just the Joker – even the backup two guard is broken down. (“Likes to pull up going right; going left wants to get to the rim. So don’t drop too deep on a dribble to the right – anticipate the pullup. A dribble left? Beat him to the block and don’t worry about midrange.”)

Team strategies can be refined, and in game one, it was clear the plan was to guard Nikola Jokic one-on-one and make sure the other guys didn’t go off. If Jokic gets 40 and the rest of the team gets 50, the Warriors win by scoring 91.

In the regular season, such plans can be made, but the execution is much chancier. There’s just not enough time, and there are too many games. But spend a couple weeks playing the same team, and every nuance is examined, every option outlined, and a veteran team will be able to offset the physical decline of age with the mental advantage of applying a scouting report in real time.

So yes, the playoffs are different, but the difference is as much mental as physical – in fact, maybe more so. And as long as the Warriors stay healthy, that mental edge will be one of their biggest advantages in every playoff series.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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