By Johnathan Tillman / @thetillshow
Much has been made about Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors foregoing interior presence and playing "small ball" en route to the franchise's first championship in 40 years. They put pressure of the Cleveland Cavaliers' dwindled rotation and forced coach David Blatt to follow suit. For most of Game 5 and the title-clinching Game 6, the 10 players on the floor looked like something from a Don Nelson book of spells, minus Al Harrington playing center. For a minute, overlook the fact that the shortest listed player, Steph Curry, is among the top three percent of world's tallest people. Instead, focus on the scenario: in a League where the tallest of the tall dictate championship value, shorter players matter in the sport's championship series.
The best example of "Nellieball" is the 2007 Golden State team – the last time the Warriors temporarily captured the hearts of those in the basketball realm. Their best five on the floor included Stephen Jackson at "power forward," and the aforementioned Harrington at center. That team swept the 67-win, MVP Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks in the regular season, forcing Avery Johnson to adjust his lineup for their first round matchup. But even with the Warriors winning that series, no one believed that brand of basketball would ever win an NBA title. That team wasn't the defensive stalwart this group is – with or without Andrew Bogut in the middle.
Before this season, I did not think Curry would win a title in his career as the best player on his team. It wasn't a slight to him or his ability. I just figured that he didn't have the big men Isiah Thomas had. I also felt if any point guard under those conditions would win a title, it'd be Chris Paul because the dual processor of a basketball mind he has would figure out how to win 16 playoff games. But as each Finals game was decided most by how and when he shot the ball (even more paramount than LeBron's dominance), he obliterated the notion that interior presence and scoring are essential to a team hosting the trophy.
To provide more evidence, this 2014-15 Warriors team is an all-time great one in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, yet there is no player taller than 6'7 that is depended on as much as his shorter counterparts. Yes, Golden State has 80 wins this season with the pre-Game 4 lineup. But their point guard is the MVP of the Association and Kerr's decision to go small is partially fueled by the fact that Curry can control and dominate games in addition to the Warriors being effective on both ends of the floor.
The big statistic being thrown out was that this was the first Finals without Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, or Dwyane Wade since 1998. This is also the first series in which neither team had an All-Star power forward/center in its starting lineup since at least 1979. And I'm sure it predates our own Joe Boland, so you know it had been a while.
Maybe this team – maybe Curry – is the anomaly. Maybe a similar roster construct never makes it out the second round of the postseason again, but that would further prove that Steph is truly the revolutionary ballplayer his uncanny jumper suggests that he is. Either way, the NBA's mold is being chipped away to the rhythm of his dribble and the snap of his shot ripping through the net. Only time will reveal if this is the start of a new path for the Association, but Steph and the Warriors are making it consider a change in course.
Somewhere, Don Nelson, the all-time winningest coach in NBA history, watched the trophy presentation, saying, "I told you so."
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