Basketball

Warriors have been able to rely on first-rate second unit in playoffs

Golden State forwards David West, rear, and Draymond Green defend Utah’s Boris Diaw on Tuesday. The forwards are part of a second unit that is helping the Warriors close games with their defense and passing ability.
Golden State forwards David West, rear, and Draymond Green defend Utah’s Boris Diaw on Tuesday. The forwards are part of a second unit that is helping the Warriors close games with their defense and passing ability. The Associated Press

The Golden State Warriors can throw three All-NBA defensive team-caliber players at opponents with their “second unit.”

That just doesn’t seem fair.

Well that second unit isn’t five backups, but the two starters who remain on the court with three backups are Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, two of the league’s best defenders with Andre Iguodala coming off the bench to give Golden State three of the best defenders in the league at once.

That trio, along with reserves Ian Clark and David West, is proving its worth in the postseason. The unit put the Utah Jazz away Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals with a strong start to the fourth quarter and has been a boost to the Warriors throughout the playoffs.

Acting head coach Mike Brown heaped praise on the group for their role in the 106-94 win over the Jazz at Oracle Arena and had more to say about them after Wednesday’s group, calling them a “great defensive group.”

That group has three elite defenders in Iguodala, Green and West, and also has three frontcourt players who are adept passers, too.

West led the Warriors with a season-high seven assists Tuesday in just 18 minutes. Iguodala had five assists and Green finished with six, the most among the starters.

“With that second unit ... these guys move without the basketball,” West said. “One of the keys for us all year has been hit the open man, outpass our opponents and we’ve been able to do that.

They don’t play a lot of minutes together, averaging 8.5 minutes in five playoff games together, but they put up 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks in that time.

“It gives us a different dynamic than the starters,” Clark said. “Those guys can create their own shots when they want to. The second unit, we rely more on getting stops and pushing in transition. In the halfcourt we want to execute more and I think we’re doing a good job of doing that, especially in the last half, last third of the season going into the playoffs. Now I think we’re kind of finding a groove with the second unit.”

None of the players in this group would be considered a natural point guard, which makes the passing so important. It’s not uncommon for Green to lead the Warriors in assists, but when West can do so in limited minutes, it speaks to the movement and intelligence of the group.

It allows a player like Clark to find his role with the Warriors.

“When you have those guys on the floor, they tend to forget about a guy like Ian Clark or even Pat McCaw,” said acting head coach Mike Brown, filling in for Steve Kerr. “You’re going to get some open looks and you couple that with our three assist leaders (from Game 1) ... if you’re able to move without the basketball, you’re going to get fantastic looks, also. All those guys are willing passers. Not only are they willing passers, more importantly they’re capable passers.”

And as Utah saw Tuesday, they’re a group capable of putting a game away.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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