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NBA Finals: What will Draymond Green's absence mean for the Warriors?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Draymond Green will miss Game 5 of the NBA Finals, thanks to Game 4’s incident where he was tied up, and then got in an altercation with, LeBron James. Thanks to his recurrent infractions throughout the playoffs, Green’s flagrant that was earned through his retaliation to LeBron’s step-over earned him the requisite number of technical fouls and flagrants for a one-game suspension. And while the Warriors backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson drove their Game 4 win, without Green, the Warriors could miss their most important player throughout the playoffs.

Green has helped the Warriors everywhere throughout the playoffs. He’s averaging 15.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game in the playoffs, leading the Warriors as their primary center and operating as a secondary playmaker behind Curry. While he hasn’t shot well (41.3 percent from the field, 34 percent from three), he’s doing basically everything else on the floor for Golden State: making plays from the high post offensively, setting screens up top for the lethal Curry pick-and-rolls, protecting the rim, defending in space, and crashing the defensive glass. The Warriors are 10.3 points/100 possessions better with Green on the floor, and in the Finals, they’ve been a ridiculous 22.0 points/100 possessions better with Green - the equivalent of going from playing like the Warriors (+13.6) to playing like the 76ers (-9.6) for the 40 minutes he has sat in the series. Simply put, Green has been good, and he’s vital to what the Warriors do.

The Warriors’ top 12 non-garbage time lineups in this series have included Green, which makes it very difficult to assess how they’re going to adjust to not having him. The most common lineup they’ve gone to in the normal flow of play has been the super-small group of Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Iguodala, who played all of one four minute-stretch together. For the playoffs, it’s the bench-heavy unit of Livingston, Barbosa, Barnes, Iguodala and Marreese Speights, and that group has been outscored by 8.5 points/100 possessions in 25 minutes.

One has to assume that bigger minutes will come for the Warriors’ centers, as Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, and Anderson Varejao have combined to play just 29 minutes per game in the series. The Cavs have done pretty well against lineups that feature one of the bigs with Green so far, though, outscoring the Curry/Thompson/Barnes/Green/Bogut lineup by 19.7 points/100 possessions, and the same group with Iguodala instead of Barnes by 15.8. They’ve also outscored Ezeli lineups by 2.9, and they’ve rendered Speights unplayable, blitzing lineups with him to the tune of 28.4 points/100 possessions. Having a center in presents the same "defend the rim or leave Kevin Love/Channing Frye open" conundrum that the Cavs destroyed the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors with, because without a player like Green who’s quick enough to recover, LeBron should have plenty of free lanes to the hoop, thanks to Frye’s shooting threat and Tristan Thompson’s ability to screen and recover underneath for rebounding position. If the Cavs see any two-big lineups, they should just give the ball to LeBron and go.

The more natural decision might be to see a lot of Iguodala, Barnes, and Bogut together. Lineups with that trio minus Green got 109 minutes together in the regular season, and they did well, outscoring opponents by 16.7 points/100 possessions, per NBA wowy. That group gives you the flexibility to deal with the Cavs starters by putting Iguodala on LeBron, Barnes on Love or Richard Jefferson, and Bogut on Thompson, and makes Love defend on the perimeter or have to deal with Bogut, which is preferable for Golden State. Get one or two of those guys in foul trouble though, and the Warriors have to explore alternatives, and those offer more opportunities for Cavs success. Ezeli hasn’t proven to be quick enough to offer the same defensive protection and rebounding Bogut has, and losing Barnes or Iguodala for extended minutes could force the Curry/Klay/Livingston trio into action, which the Cavs could go big against and dare Livingston to defend LeBron.

Without Draymond, the Warriors’ flexibility is still good, but it is greatly reduced, and that should create opportunities for the Cavs to be able to score. There are still the same defensive worries (Who does Love defend, Curry/Klay supernovas, etc), but those are mitigated if the Dubs can’t recreate the same ball movement without Green to facilitate. It will be interesting to see just how the Warriors compensate for missing a guy who has been so heavily involved in everything they do, but regardless of solution, the Cavs will have a good opportunity to extend this series to six games tonight.

All stats from unless otherwise noted.