On Monday, May 21st, reports surfaced that Andre Iguodala is listed as “Doubtful” for Tuesday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals with a knee injury. The Golden State Warriors already have a 2–1 series lead by virtue of two blowout wins, but Iguodala’s absence is the first crack in their “Death Lineup” of Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Kevin Durant-Draymond Green-Iguodala. In the playoffs, that group of five has played almost 93 minutes together as Golden State’s most played 5-man combo and is outscoring opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions. Without Iguodala, the next man up for the Warriors is 3rd-year center, Kevon Looney.
For the Warriors, adding Looney to their Big-4 is their sixth most played lineup this postseason, but that is with Steph Curry only returning to the lineup midway through the Pelicans series in Round 2. Anything that disrupts the Warriors’ rhythm is good for the Houston Rockets, but what can they do to capitalize off of Iguodala’s absence.
The five-man combo of Steph-Klay-KD-Draymond-Looney is one of Golden State’s most average groups. They are only outscoring opponents by 1.6 points per possession and are worse than opponents in total assists (-8.8 per 100) and rebounding.
If the Rockets stick with the same starting lineup they’ve had since the playoffs started, they need to exploit their rebounding advantage. Clint Capela has been out of place in this series, but if he can dominate on the offensive glass, the Rockets stand a real shot at winning Game 4. Almost every lineup that Capela has played in the playoffs has been better on the offensive glass than its opponents per 100 possessions. Capela had the 5th-highest offensive rebounding percentage in the NBA in the regular season (13.5%) and has pulled down 3.8 offensive boards per game in the playoffs. Matching up with Looney lets Capela stay inside and fight for rebounds as opposed to chasing Draymond Green around the perimeter. Looney is the type of traditional PF/C that Capela has dominated all season long.
The next option that an Iguodala injury gives the Rockets is a bit more unconventional, at least based off of what they did in the regular season. The five-man lineup of Trevor Ariza-James Harden-Eric Gordon-Chris Paul-PJ Tucker was not one of Houston’s 20 most played groups, but is their 3rd-most played in the playoffs. Hypothetically, here’s how that starting 5 would matchup:
Steph Curry — Chris Paul
Klay Thompson — PJ Tucker
Kevin Durant — Trevor Ariza
Draymond Green — PJ Tucker
Kevon Looney — James Harden
This lineup, against a Golden State five that includes Looney at center, actually stands a chance defensively. James Harden is a good post-defender and everything else is a pretty decent matchup, except for Gordon on Thompson. Nothing against the Warriors is going to be perfect though, and this is pretty close.
Said lineup combination has been Houston’s 2nd-most assist heavy in the playoffs with 6.2 more assists per 100 possessions than opponents (the same lineup with Capela instead of Paul has 6.4 more) (among lineups with meaningful amounts of minutes). The common link seems to be Eric Gordon. He’s the third best 3-point shooter on the Rockets, and Harden and Paul know that when he gets going they are hard to stop. Knowing that they tend look for him earlier in the shot clock than anyone else, which helps cut down on the shot-clock draining iso-ball possessions that bit the Rockets in the butt in Games 1 & 3.
Beating the Warriors is going to take out-scoring them since neither the Rockets nor anyone else, really has the personnel to limit the Warriors defensively. However, an injury and subsequent absence by Andre Iguodala opens the door for the Rockets to claw their way back into the series. Game 4 is a “must-win” game for the Rockets, but a win in Oracle Arena might not even be enough to pull out a series victory. Regardless, Iguodala’s injury will allow the Rockets to try a couple of different things offensively; hopefully they work.