San Francisco, CA

There’s more to basketball than sheer athleticism

Clay Kallam

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Clay Kallam

So, amid all the Draymond Green hoopla and Jordan Poole bravura, one question burns through the Warriors’ Sunday night win: Why did Nemanja Bjelica get 10:36 of playing time?

On the surface, it makes little sense. Bjelica is defensively challenged, and though he stood up at the point of attack a couple of times, his plus/minus was -7 in those 10 minutes, despite his six points. (That means Boston outscored the Warriors by 13 points during his time on the floor.)

Digging deeper, it doesn’t make a lot of sense either, except for one thing: Bjelica is 34 years old and has played on big stages for almost as long as Jonathan Kuminga has been alive. Bjelica was playing in the EuroCup at age 20 and has extensive experience with the Serbian National Team – in short, he understands the game.

In game one, Steve Kerr ran a hobbled Andre Iguodala out there for 12:01, resulting in a -6 plus/minus despite Iguodala’s seven points, a similar decision to the one involving Bjelica, and a decision that shines a light on what Kerr considers the best way to win this series.

What is that way? Ride the veterans. No matter how you look at it, Boston is younger, more athletic and overall, more skilled than Golden State. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 24 and 25, respectively, and both are long, twitchy and very good players. For comparison, Steph Curry was 24 in 2012 and Klay Thompson was 25 in 2015 – and tell me, how much do you remember about 2012? Or 2015?

And oh yes, the Klay Thompson conundrum. Kerr continues to play him, despite Thompson holding the worst plus/minus of any Warrior after two games. Thompson isn’t an elite defender anymore, he’s struggling with his shot (10 of 33) and has just four assists in nearly 70 minutes of playing time.

But let’s go back to the experience factor, but from a different direction. Experience tells Kerr, and the Boston coaching staff, that Thompson still has the capability of going off. He must be guarded on the perimeter, lest he suddenly starts raining threes and making it impossible for Boston to defend him, Curry and Andrew Wiggins at the same time. And though he’s not who he was defensively, he’s still at least average, and he is a 6-7 perimeter defender who understands the game.

Now some may read the words “understands the game” and think, “Really? It’s basketball – how hard is it.” For those doubters, think about something you know really well. Your job, maybe, or the hobby you’ve devoted countless hours to. Does your understanding of that, whatever it might be, go beyond what people can see from the outside? Does your experience matter in ways that others not only don’t see, but can’t even conceive of?

That’s the Warriors. That’s Draymond Green and Steph Curry. (And that isn’t Jordan Poole, who absolutely must make shots to be valuable because he’s a liability otherwise.) That’s Gary Payton II and Kevon Looney and Otto Porter, Jr. They understand the game. They know how to play. They bring something to the table that a younger, more talented player simply can’t, and they can offset deficits in skill and athleticism because of their experience.

Now, experience doesn’t always win. The younger Celtics aren’t just going to roll over, and their advantages are real. Tatum and Brown will use their athleticism to create shots for themselves and others, and the Warriors can’t really stop them. Robert Williams III, bad knee and all, can jump out of nowhere to block a corner three. Those expecting the Warriors to cruise to the title that will define their dynasty are bound to be disappointed.

But one thing Warriors’ fans can expect is to see more of Nemanja Bjelica, and maybe even Andre Iguodala, despite their declining skills and apparent ineffectiveness. They have experience, and here’s a truth about that trait: Experience doesn’t mean a thing until you have it – but when you do, you have ways to succeed that the young, no matter how talented, just can’t quite grasp.

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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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