Spander: Warriors turning smallball into large difference in series 

There's a phrase for everything in sports, isn't there? We had "Billy Ball" for the move-'em-along style of baseball the A's played in the early 1980s. We had "Hack-a-Shaq" for the way opponents repeatedly fouled Shaquille O'Neal, because he couldn't make free throws.

And now we have "smallball," which seems to be anything in the NBA involving athletes 6-foot-9 or shorter.

With his team in trouble already in trouble early in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Warriors coach Steve Kerr removed 7-foot-Andrew Bogut. He went "small," with all those Munchkins: 6-8 Harrison Barnes, 6-7 Klay Thompson, 6-7 Draymond Green, 6-7 Shaun Livingston and 6-6 Andre Iguodala.

After the 110-106 win over the Houston Rockets, Livingston put forth the ultimate truth. "When we go small, it's not necessarily small. We have guys out there that can guard multiple positions,'' he said.

Small? That would be Stephen Curry's 2-year-old daughter, Riley, who stole hearts as daddy talked basketball. Whether she'll be back tonight for Game 2 at Oracle is uncertain. But Steph will be there.

So will Kerr's smallball lineup, particularly if Houston's biggest guy, 6-11 Dwight Howard, sits out with what was diagnosed Wednesday as a sprained left knee. Of course the little guys, led by Livingston, took control Tuesday night while Howard still was in the game.

"If they go super-small, believe me, there are holes in that lineup," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who sounds less impressed with the Warriors than the rest of a basketball nation. "We've just got to exploit them."

He would prefer to have Howard back. "Yeah, I'd love to be able to go big against this Warriors team," said McHale, once a bruiser in Boston Celtics green. "We've got to punish them on the boards. I thought we had 14 offensive rebounds. The problem is, so did they. But five or six, seven of those were driven by their guards coming in and rebounding from the perimeter. We've got to do a better job at that."

It's not exactly, pardon the reference, Rocket science. NBA teams have being do this stuff for years, removing out the giant-giants and subbing ordinary giants, creating a change of pace.

"Houston is really good at small ball," said Kerr, alluding to a Rockets lineup of 6-8 Trevor Ariza and 6-5 James Harden, who virtually was unstoppable, 28 points.

"And so are we," he reminded. "It just comes down to who performs better during that time when the teams are matched up that way. I think that's the strength of our team to play 'small' but to maintain our defensive integrity, and that's because of the versatility of Draymond, Andre and Harrison. They have the ability play multiple positions."

Green replaced Bogut. He is four inches shorter than Howard, but he's more mobile and the Warriors are more fluid. "We can get spacing," said Kerr. "But everything is dependent on making stops. We made the stops Tuesday night, and what that does offensively is allow us to spread the floor. We put Draymond in a high screen and put the shooters around him. It opens up things for us."

What does Bogut think of the tactic, especially since he only played 16 minutes on Tuesday? (Green played almost 43 minutes; Curry, high scorer with 34 points, more than 39 minutes).

"Bogut is fine with it," said Kerr. "He's the ultimate team guy. He just wants to win. He made second-team all-defense and Draymond made first-team. They both kind of represent who we are."

A cynic asked, "What's the value of that?"

Kerr, referring to bonus money, responded, "For Andrew, $1.9 million."

Smallball, maybe, but big money.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and Email him at

About The Author

Art Spander

Art Spander

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and Email him at
Pin It

Speaking of...

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation