What Warriors' bench performance in big games means for NBA playoffs

Grant Liffmann
NBC Sports BayArea

What Warriors' bench performance in big games means for NBA playoffs originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

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The Warriors bench does not deserve all the flak it has been getting lately. 

Following the Warriors' big win over the Houston Rockets in which the bench played a major role, I wanted to look back at the three impressive wins Golden State has had in the last two weeks, and see how the bench performed.

Let's begin on March 2nd, when the Warriors were scuffling on a east coast road trip. They had lost two in a row to mediocre Eastern Conference teams, and were heading to a tough environment against the Philadelphia 76ers. To make matters worse for the Dubs, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney were not available (though Joel Embiid also did not play).

So how did the depth of the Warriors respond when thrust into a bigger role? Well, actually very admirably.

The bench combined to make 9-of-15 shots from the field, including 6-of-9 from deep. Damion Lee stepped up and had an impressive game, hitting 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Andre Iguodala did Iguodala things, finishing with four rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks. The bench stepped up when needed, and helped propel the Warriors to an important victory. 

The Warriors followed the Philadelphia victory with a rather uninspiring home loss to the Boston Celtics, raising question marks yet again of the focus and execution of the team. So on March 8th, it appeared as if the Dubs were in need of another statement game, this time against the Denver Nuggets, their rivals for the top seed in the Western Conference.

This time around, the Warriors had their full compliment of starters, so the bench played in their routine rotations. And again, in a big game full of intrigue, they answered the call. The bench hit 10-of-16 shots, led by Kevon Looney. He finished with nine points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, to go with seven rebounds. Iguodala, as expected, had another effective performance, finishing with seven points, two rebounds, two assists, three steals and a blocked shot. Like the Warriors starters, the bench played with great focus and energy, dominating Denverin a 17-point victory.

That brings us to Wednesday night in Houston. After another  uninspiring and embarrassing home loss, this time to the Phoenix Suns, the Warriors went to Houston in search of their identity. Like the game in Philadelphia, the Warriors were without one of their biggest stars, as Kevin Durant missed the game with an ankle injury.

The Rockets were also the hottest team in basketball, on the verge of making the Warriors look over their shoulder in the West standings. With all eyes on the Warriors' bench, the reserves rose to the occasion.

The bench made 9-of-17 shots, and played some high-energy defense. The effort attacking the glass on the offensive end led to seven of the Warriors' 12 offensive rebounds, with Looney securing five himself.

Quinn Cook, thrust into a role in the second unit that needed some floor spacing, had a particularly good game. Cook drained all three of his shots, and all in pretty big moments of the game. Alfonzo McKinnie hit a three, making a shot from deep for the third consecutive game for the first time since early November. 

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To put it simply, when the final plus-minus totals were calculated after the game, the starters combined for a minus-8 and the bench was a plus-18.

Like the Warriors as a whole, the bench performs better under pressure and when high-level focus and execution is required of them. With the playoffs coming around the corner, that is great news for a Warriors team that needs to start living up to the mantra, "Strength in Numbers."

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