The rapidly vanishing ball movement of the Warriors has become one of the most obvious issues in their Conference Finals series with the Rockets, and the 3-2 deficit they face heading into Game 6. Over the last two games, both Rockets’ wins, the Warriors have scored just 97.2 points per 100 possessions. Even in a two-game sample that’s a startling drop-off for what was the best offense in the league during the regular season.
There are plenty of factors that help explain why the Warriors have struggled to score efficiently but the passing numbers are the most noticeable.
During the regular season, Golden State averaged 322.7 passes and 50.9 potential assists per game, the fourth- and second-most in the league, respectively. In five games against the Rockets, those numbers have dropped to 269.8 passes and 37.8 potential assists, which would have ranked 28th and 30th in the league during the regular season.
Golden State has played 97 games now, between the regular season and playoffs, and their passing totals for the five games of the Conference Finals all rank among their 12 lowest marks of the year.
The Warriors are 58-18 in games where they made at least 300 passes this season, a .763 winning percentage. Including the playoffs, they are 11-10 in games where they made less than 300 passes, a .523 winning percentage. That’s a somewhat arbitrary dividing line but it does seem to highlight the difference between the Warriors being good and being great.
As these numbers from Mike Zavagno show, one of the primary culprits for stymieing ball movement has been Kevin Durant.
Durant is such a unique scorer that almost any defensive matchup is a defensive mismatch in his favor. It speaks to his incredible talents that he’s still averaging 31.2 points on a 59.9 true shooting percentage in this series. However, it appears that the Warriors have let themselves become distracted by those mismatches, isolating far more than they ever have before. Durant has been getting his but they way in which he’s getting his is robbing his team of rhythm.
To be fair, Durant is not the only one holding the ball more. Both his and Stephen Curry’s average touch times have increased significantly in this series, by a full second in the case of Curry. The Rockets have certainly helped the Warriors lean into this trend, executing their switching scheme perfectly and limiting ball movement.
The Warriors have the scoring talent to win in a lot of different ways. A few lucky bounces in the other direction could have them holding a 3-2 lead or even having already finished the Rockets, despite these weird passing numbers. Still, if Golden State is going to reassert themselves over the next two games, getting back to what made them so special would be a good place to start.