That the Warriors are “too small” is a widespread opinion among the fan base, and it gets a bump in popularity each time the team fails against an opponent of greater length and size, as was the case Sunday in Cleveland.
Confronting a brigade of defenders with wingspans between 6-foot-10 (Donovan Mitchell, Georges Niang, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade) and 7-foot-6 (Jarrett Allen), the Warriors shot 36.2 percent from the field in a 115-104 loss to the Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
Perhaps the only statistic more discouraging for Golden State than its 18-of-53 (34.0 percent) shooting inside the arc was missing 20 of 32 (37.5 percent) in the paint against a team that, to be sure, is a brutal matchup.
So did 10 missed free throws by Golden State and the inability to generate more than three fast-break field goals and a 15-point second quarter – the lowest this season – during which the Warriors shot a staggeringly atrocious 18.5 percent from the field.
But Cleveland’s combination of imposing length and defensive activity clearly was decisive.
Golden State’s roster is such that there will be matchups when its relative lack of size/length is a liability. This was one of them.
“We weren’t aggressive in the first half,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Ohio. “They only had one blocked shot, but we were skittish around the rim. There’s good reason for that. They’ve got two great shot-blockers, the No. 1 defense in the league last year and they were coming off a couple losses.”
The Warriors had a 47-46 advantage in field-goal attempts in the first half. Too often, though, they appeared to be scrounging through the forest in search of good looks at the rim. Rarely did they find them.
The Cavaliers blocked only two shots, one by Evan Mobley (7-foot-4 wingspan) and the other by Tristan Thompson (7-foot-1), but they altered many others while outscoring the Warriors 58-24 in the paint.
“We’ve got to attack the paint more,” Klay Thompson said.
“They always say that styles make fights,” said Stephen Curry, whose 28 points led Golden State. “From OKC to Cleveland, that’s a big difference in the way that they approach the game. And their game plan won.
“That’s a good learning lesson for us in understanding the details of how you need to beat certain teams and making those adjustments. We just didn’t do it.”
This is Curry and Thompson expressing faith in the team’s coaches on the bench and the veterans on the floor. They’re not alone on the payroll in believing that more savvy and aggression, more of an “attack” mentality would be beneficial.
And maybe it would. It shouldn’t hurt.
But size matters. Length really matters. Agile length is game-changing, and the Warriors have only so much to offer.
Kerr made something of a plea to three players Friday night, after the narrow win over the Thunder. He said the team’s next step requires Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga and Gary Payton II to be “the athletes they are” and to bring the speed and athleticism at both ends.
Kerr knows this roster needs all those – none taller than 6-foot-7, no wingspan beyond Wiggs’ 7-feet – three can give. Trayce Jackson-Davis, 6-foot-9, with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, was good on Sunday and can be part of a solution.
Ever since Kevin Durant’s departure ended the “Death Lineup” phases, Dub Nation has been anxious about Golden State’s lack of size. The team’s general response is a reminder that it was no taller in 2021-22, when it finished as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and won the NBA Finals.
This is a different league now. Yes, it happened that fast.
The Warriors were ousted from the 2023 postseason by the Los Angeles Lakers, whose frontcourt includes Anthony Davis (7-foot-6 wingspan), Rui Hachimura (7-foot-2), Jarred Vanderbilt (7-foot-1), LeBron James (7 feet).
Golden State’s path to the 2022 Finals the previous season began with a first-round ouster of the Nuggets, who did not have Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. With those three as starters last season, capably supporting all-world center Nikola Jokić, Denver won The Finals.
The Warriors ran into a tough matchup on Sunday. They’ll adjust. But if this roster holds, there may be more such games than there are adjustments to make.