Steve Kerr turned to the so-called Death Lineup in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks. Draymond Green made sure it worked out. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Warriors’ smallball lineup experiment gets job done vs. Hawks

OAKLAND — If you listen to Steve Kerr speak about his team everyday, you’ll notice a pattern. Well, there are a few of them, actually.

First, maximizing assists while limiting turnovers is the key to his offense — which explains why this current Warriors team, equipped with more talent than he’s had in his three years as head coach, leads the league in assists and offensive efficiency.

There’s also his trusted truism that anyone in the NBA, regardless of record, is good enough to compete on any given night — which explains why the Atlanta Hawks, losers of five of their last six and playing on the second night of a back-to-back, were able to hang with Golden State on Monday.

The Warriors ultimately won, 105-100, because Ian Clark, then Andre Iguodala and finally Stephen Curry made the shots necessary to keep the Hawks at bay. But it was, fittingly, a pass from Iguodala to Kevin Durant that salted the game away.

Although Draymond Green, back after missing a game due to an ankle injury, blocking a couple shots and forcing turnovers in the last 30 seconds of the game didn’t hurt.

“Our guys have found their roles and they’re playing well together,” Kerr said after the game, impressed by how seamless it was for the team to jell in recent weeks.

The latest game wasn’t the Dubs’ most impressive passing performance at 25 assists to 15 turnovers. But it marked another chapter in Kerr’s story of re-emphasizing ball movement in pro basketball.

The Hawks aren’t too different in style — even if they don’t have a similar level of talent on their roster. They own the sixth-best figure in assists per game at 23.8 (the Warriors were at 31.5 entering the game). But in the fourth quarter, their offense sputtered, generating just two assists to five turnovers.

And the key to it all has been Green, who has taken the lead in both facilitating and guarding the basket.

“People have counted our defense out with [Andrew] Bogut leaving, and that kind of pisses me off,” he said after the game. “… The world says we traded our defense away when we got KD, I disagree.”

Without Green’s tight passing and defense, this smallball experiment wouldn’t last or work. And it almost didn’t — momentarily at least — on Monday, when they faced a team with capable big men and a point guard who kept the pressure on the Dubs all game.

But it’s hard not to start believing the hype — that this team’s true tests will only come in the playoffs. Because even with the Hawks threatening and pushing the Warriors all night, it still wasn’t near enough.

And if this franchise has proven anything at all, it’s that great things can happen when you listen to Steve Kerr.

(One of Kerr’s favorites, Andre Iguodala combined with Green for 13 assists, including more than just this one for the highlight reel):

GIFs courtesy CSN Bay Area

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