OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors crushed the New York Knicks 121-85 in the kind of game where the winning team layers on exclamation points until a guy takes and makes his first career 3-pointer (credit to James Michael McAdoo). It was a reminder of what the Warriors are and what the Knicks are not. It was also a showcase of the game's evolution where a team of today was pitted against a team still tethered to the past.
Though rookie wunderkind Kristaps Porzingis is rightly hailed as the future in New York, he had to take a backseat Wednesday to Golden State's innovations. Draymond Green's pioneering power forward style trumped a winded Porzingis. Green leaped into Porzingis' body, daring him to dribble past. The young big succumbed to the pressure, ending 1-of-11 for two points. In general, New York's conservative, low-turnover approach yielded little against Golden State's defensive versatility. The Knicks just couldn't break the defense down and get at the rim.
Whenever the Knicks play the Warriors, Golden State coach Steve Kerr is inevitably asked about a certain shape. Since he played for Knicks president Phil Jackson and he nearly took the Knicks' coaching job, he's pelted with questions about Jackson's "triangle" -- an offensive system that remains tantalizingly, ironically, amorphous to most sports fans.
Kerr's answers are more or less the same. No, the Warriors don't run the triangle. Yes, they borrow elements from it. Or, as Kerr put it in pregame, "No, I never really had plans to install the triangle with our team. I kind of had a good feeling for what I wanted to do and that includes a lot of the triangle concepts."
Specifically, the Warriors use a lot of split cuts when the ball is entered into the high post. Andrew Bogut will get the rock, and wait as, say, Klay Thompson sets a screen for Stephen Curry. Either Curry uses the screen to get open for a 3-pointer, or he cuts against it toward the basket. Given the shooting abilities of those two guards, this action can be a nightmare to defend.
"The split cuts are probably the toughest thing to guard when you scout us," Bogut said after the game. "Because, you can't really scout it. It's not a set. It's a read. When you've got Steph and Klay screening for each other at the 3-point line, one mishap, or they jump out too quick for one second it's a back cut or a wide open 3 and we do such a good job finding those guys."
When you ask Golden State coaches, nobody can quite put a specific figure on how much of what the Warriors do is improvised. Some say as much as 60 percent, others offer a lesser figure. Whatever the case, Kerr seemingly uses fewer hand signals than most coaches, trusting his players to find their freedom within a basic structure of reads and reactions.
Golden State's offense has evolved steadily, less in its complexity than in its practitioners' mastery. It wasn't always smooth at the beginning, as Kerr had to pare down the playbook shortly after last season began. Now that the roster speaks this offense's language, they can add new words seamlessly. Right now, as Kerr puts it, what exists is, "an amalgamation of things that I've learned from a lot of people." Much of what the Warriors do is, for example, based on San Antonio's motion offense. Much of what they do going forward will be based on whatever works best, given their personnel.
As a contrast, the Knicks appear steadfast, preferring adherence to the triangle over other approaches. There's an inflexibility to this shape. The statements coming out of New York convey a certain nostalgia, whether it's Kurt Rambis floating the idea of Porzingis at small forward, or Jackson tweeting about how Curry reminds him of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Some defended Jackson for that comment, despite Abdul-Rauf's 30.9 career percentage with the current NBA 3-point line. Regardless of the comparison's merit, it's quite "90s" to watch the MVP deliver the unprecedented and think, "Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf." Curry wasn't one to twist the knife after he went for 34 points in 28 minutes with 8 3-pointers on Jackson's Knicks. After the game, Curry said he checked out Abdul-Rauf's work, on account of the comparison tweet.
"There were some similarities for sure," Curry assessed. After listing some details, Curry said, "I didn't know much about his game, I knew who he was, but I hadn't watched a lot of his game. I watched like three YouTube videos and kept it moving."
Honoring the past is good, as is learning from it. Ultimately, though, you do have to keep it moving, if you are to succeed in the present.