How A 3 A.M. Text Changed The NBA Finals

On Wednesday night, in his hotel room at The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Cleveland, U’Ren queued up video of the 2014 NBA Finals. The series seemed irrelevant, given that it pitted the Spurs and the Heat, not the Warriors or the Cavaliers. But LeBron James played for Miami, and in Game 3, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich made the unorthodox decision to sub Boris Diaw for Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup. Popovich went small and a deadlocked series turned into a San Antonio rout.

The Warriors’ roster is significantly different than the Spurs’, but after reviewing the year-old footage, U’Ren called assistant coach Luke Walton and proposed a comparable move: pulling center Andrew Bogut, who started 65 games this season, for small forward Andre Iguodala, who started none. The suggestion was drastic. Bogut is an elite rim protector, who was just voted second-team all-defense, and without him Cleveland’s considerable size advantage would only grow. The Cavs might grab every available rebound. But Iguodala was Golden State’s best defender against James. Even more important, he’d give the Warriors another play-maker and floor-spacer, just like Diaw gave the Spurs. Iguodala’s presence, combined with Bogut’s absence, could help Golden State accelerate the pace that Cleveland had ground to a halt.

Walton was sold. At 3 a.m., he texted Kerr with the idea, so the head coach would see it when he woke up. On Thursday morning, the staff met at the Ritz and debated the ramifications. Golden State made adjustments in previous series—putting Bogut on Tony Allen against Memphis, taking Thompson off James Harden against Houston—but this was far more severe. The Warriors won 67 games with essentially the same starting lineup. Now, down 2-1 in the Finals, they were scrapping it? Were they overreacting? Were they panicking? Kerr had already expressed concern about his players’ gloomy body language. He had lamented the loss of their buoyant style. He concluded that change was healthy and necessary, to shake the team from its obvious malaise.

Want to know more? Got the drop at Sports Illustrated . . .

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