Aussies in NBA: Bogut soars, Dubs stave off elimination

With the Thunder inflicting their own version of small ball death on the Warriors during the Western Conference Finals, the Dubs faced an existential crisis.

Suddenly, the team that had been so secure in knowing who they were – a team that had bludgeoned opponents into submission – seemingly faced a mirror image of themselves, only a longer, faster, and more athletic version. It was as if the Warriors and Thunder were playing out one of those “V” ads on a basketball court.

Small ball just wasn’t working. Not that Steve Kerr had any doubt regarding who the Warriors were.

In their hour of need, Kerr demanded more from Warriors center, Andrew Bogut.

“When he’s out there, we rebound better and we’ve got a good passer out of the post,” he said. “We want to play Bogut more, but he’s got to stay on the floor.”

It was a clear sign that the Warriors need not reverse course, embrace gimmicks nor change the way they fundamentally played. They just needed to play better. More pointedly, they needed Andrew Bogut to impact the game.

And the Aussie big man delivered.

After a quiet series to date, Bogut rallied in Game 5, posting a monster game of 15 points (on 7-of-9 shooting), 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 30 minutes of court time. It served as justification of the pregame importance that Kerr had placed on the 7-footer.

Andrew Bogut has tied a postseason career-high with 14 points tonight. He also has 13 rebounds, which is a 2016 postseason-high.

— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) May 27, 2016

Those numbers tied Bogut’s career-high in rebounds for the postseason. His 30 minutes of court time also represented a 2016 postseason-high.

With the Thunder dominating the Warriors’ death lineup with their own version of small ball, Kerr stayed big for most of Game 5. In the process, Bogut was unleashed to do very-Andrew Bogut-like things: protecting the rim, becoming an additional playmaker, and generally being mean-spirited towards any Thunder player who dared to venture into the paint.

Prior to Game 5, there was plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that Kerr’s trust in the Aussie was well placed. Bogut had been the Warriors’ most productive player during the series, the only Warrior in fact to sport a positive on-court point differential.

The team also defended far better when Bogut played. Per research via NBAwowy, the Thunder had scored at an absurd rate of 116 points per 100 possessions when Bogut was on the pine. It’s a figure that would have crushed Golden State’s league-leading mark during the regular season. Compare that to 102.6 points per 100 possessions when Bogut plays, the equivalent of the offensively-challenged Memphis Grizzlies, and you start to see the effect of the big Aussie.

The key towards unlocking Bogut’s productivity always hinged on his ability to be able to stay on the court.

Kerr referenced Bogut’s propensity to foul, and truth be told, Bogut has been a foul machine throughout the postseason. During the first 4 games of the series, he hacked himself to an astronomical foul rate of 8.3 fouls per 36 minutes, many of which were either simply lazy ball swipes, or just being a beat late in his rotations.

In Game 5, Bogut looked energised, constantly hovering in the line of sight on Westbrook and Durant rim runs, and rediscovering that pristine timing and alert levels in both his general movement and rim protection.

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When Bogut was asked during a postgame interview at his locker if Steve Kerr’s public criticism had been a motivating factor in his performance, the Aussie was typically blithe.

“I don’t read,” he said. “I didn’t read the quote [so] it’s the first I’ve heard. I obviously don’t read all the stuff you guys write – I’m sorry.”

Regardless of Kerr’s comments, it was clear that Bogut was motivated. Earlier in the day, he had spoken with Golden State's assistant coaches, asking them to leave him on the court when the Thunder typically gave Steven Adams a breather at the six-minute mark of the opening quarter. Bogut was adamant that he could guard Serge Ibaka when the Congolese-Spaniard moved to the center position.

What did the Warriors do? They left the Aussie in.

Bogut played more in that half than he's played in any game this series

— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 27, 2016

After having what he described as “four crappy games”, it would have been a relief for Bogut to finally log major minutes in the Western Conference Finals. Those minutes finally came as the Aussie stayed clear of foul trouble, enabling him to finally impact the game on both ends.

Steve Kerr calls Andrew Bogut Golden State’s best defender. “He takes up a lot of space...probably the key, leading to better defense.”

— Jeremy Woo (@JeremyWoo) May 27, 2016

“Just not reaching,” explained Bogut of his low foul count. “They’re very good at drawing fouls. Russell [Westbrook] and Kevin [Durant] especially. It’s no surprise that James Harden played with them because they do the same thing with the sweep through to draw contact. They do a great job of selling that to the referees.”

Despite speculation over his future, Bogut remains an invaluable asset for the Warriors. He provides the necessary beef to bang with opposing starting-calibre centres, a chore that saves Draymond Green from wearing out over the course of the season. And as he proved today, he remains an elite rebounder and rim protector, crucial ingredients for any title-chasing team.

He’s also prideful, and despite assertions that he never knew of Kerr’s public criticism, he would have been only too self-aware of his lacklustre performance throughout the first 4 games of the series.

“Just trying to be aggressive,” Bogut said of his mindset. “I think we overthink the game sometimes.”

“Just go out there, you make shots, you make shots. But if you don’t, just everything else that I’m capable of doing in the game – like rebound, set good screens, be there defensively. It was good to be out there for some big minutes [tonight].”

Now the series shifts back to Oklahoma, where a newly rejuvenated Bogut hopes to help the Warriors stave off elimination once more.