Picking out the key pieces of the playoff puzzle

Clay Kallam

Clay Kallam

Predicting the principal imperatives in the upcoming game five is no piece of cake – but perhaps the letter “P” will prop up our perceptivity. And as tipoff is not that far away, we definitely should proceed apace.

Poole (Jordan): This is the second time Jordan Poole has been gotten his own paragraphs in these articles, but his role, though limited is pivotal. Despite their reputation for being a high-scoring team, the Warriors don’t have a lot of offensive depth. There’s Steph Curry, of course, and Andrew Wiggins, and every other game or so, Klay Thompson. But after that, where do the points come from?

In the regular season, they came from Poole, who is a dynamic scorer with great range and the ability to get to the rim. He’s also a superb free-throw shooter – even to the point that it might be better for the Warriors to have him shoot technical foul shots instead of Curry. But as has been mentioned often, he is a bad defender, which creates a conundrum for Steve Kerr. If he puts Poole on the floor, the Celtics seek him out without mercy; but if he doesn’t play him, then the Warriors’ offense can stagnate.

In game one, Poole was a -19 (in the plus/minus measurement), struggling at both ends, but since then he’s an overall +7. Granted, that’s not a big advantage, but it’s not a big disadvantage either, and if Poole can continue to at least battle defensively, Kerr can give him enough minutes to contribute a couple baskets.

Payton (Gary the Second): Let’s pause for a second – just over a month ago, Payton broke his left elbow. Think about it. He broke his elbow.

Think about breaking your elbow. Think about the pain. Think about getting back on a basketball court four weeks later and using your body as a piñata when you defend like a demon.

Oh, and think about shooting. Payton’s effectiveness with the Warriors has been almost totally dependent on his ability to make open threes more than a third of the time. And Payton is left-handed, which means that broken left elbow comes into play every time he shoots.

But so far, Payton has hit open threes, which means Kerr can put him on the floor to annoy Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum for a few minutes, and give Andrew Wiggins or Draymond Green a short break.

And Payton also brings a bulldog attitude, and plays with an aggression few in this series can match. Like Poole, Payton may not play that many minutes, but every minute he’s out there is a minute of rest for a Warrior starter – and that depth has been a consistent advantage for Golden State.

Paint (The): When perimeter players penetrate into the paint (see what I did there?), they create major problems for the defense. Only Robert Williams II is a legit shotblocker in this series, so when a Tatum or Curry or Poole or Brown gets into the key, the offense has a major advantage. Consider:

1) Scoring. The penetrator can simply score himself, and often has. If the defense gets too aggressive, fouls follow, and neither team can afford to have critical players sit because of foul trouble. If the defense doesn’t step up, though, easy baskets ensue, which isn’t an optimal outcome either.

2) Dumping. Lurking in the dunker spot, just outside the key and just below the weakside block, is someone who can sky. If help comes to the penetrator, then a bounce pass for a dunk, or an alley-oop for a crowed-pleasing jam often follows.

3) Kicking. And if the weakside wing defender rotates to the dunker, then a three-point shooter is spotted up, feet set, just waiting for the pass.

So keeping opponents out of the paint is a primary task for both defenses as the series winds down. The team that does a better job at the point of attack is very likely the team that wins it all.

Physicality: I devoted a whole article to this, and one game has not diminished its importance. Bringing bodies into contact with other bodies early and often will play a pivotal role in determining the NBA champion.

Who will that champion be? Prognosticators now favor the Warriors, citing the fact that 73.3% of the previous game five winners have gone to win the playoff series.

But that’s the past – in the present moment, the final payoff remains unpredictable. So it’s time to stop prophesying and just play.


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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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