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The Golden State Warriors improved in many aspects in Game 4's series-tying 103-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, but few adjustments felt as major as head coach Steve Kerr's decision to replace center Andrew Bogut with wing Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup. While the Warriors' smaller lineups have been very successful throughout the postseason, Bogut was an All-Defensive Second Team selection this season and served as a major figure in the success of the best team in the NBA. Yet it worked like a charm — the Warriors controlled the tempo and executed their style much better than in previous games.
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The decision came as a surprise in part because Kerr had stated at his pregame press conference that there would be no changes in the starting lineup. The move was announced quite late — Bogut was listed as a starter as late as 27 minutes before the TV start time — and gave the Cavaliers little time to make their own adjustments.
It turns out that the timing was no accident. After Game 4, Kerr stated that he had purposely lied about the starting lineup to throw off Cleveland:
Kerr is correct that winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy does not require moral rectitude, although that doesn't necessarily mean that lying about the starting lineup is the most sportsmanlike move in the world. Nevertheless, withholding injury information until the last minute is a pretty standard part of NBA gamesmanship, even if most teams use the "game-time decision" as cover. For instance, the Washington Wizards did not declare star point guard John Wall active or inactive until an hour before tipoff in several games of their conference semifinal series with the Atlanta Hawks this season.
No matter your opinion on Kerr's lie, it's not clear that it had much of an effect on the game. The Cavs actually started Game 4 quite well, scoring the first seven points and forcing a Warriors timeout after only 2:18 of play. For that matter, Cavaliers head coach David Blatt stated in his postgame press conference that he didn't consider the Warriors' small lineup "the main thing in the game."
There's some truth in that statement, because the Warriors used similar lineups for vast portions of the previous three games and didn't see nearly the same success as they did in Game 4. Rather, the difference on Thursday seemed to be a shift in approach for the Warriors. They came out of Kerr's early timeout with renewed vigor, moving the ball and defending with much quicker decisions. Outside of the third quarter, they set the terms of engagement for the first time all series.
At the same time, Bogut continued to struggle and picked up three fouls in just three minutes. Golden State played better because of improved confidence and swagger, but it doesn't seem like mere coincidence that the Warriors did so with a lineup that plays to their strengths as a fast-strike squad.
We don't yet know which lineups will get the most run in Sunday's Game 5 in Oakland, but we can be sure that the Cavaliers will expect a whole lot of smallball. It remains to be seen if that extra preparation time makes a difference.
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