Monday, 6 June 2016

Andrew Bogut relishes role as ‘tone setter’, finds ways to contribute amid small-ball dominance

“I CALL you the ‘tone setter’.”

Veteran NBA guard, Kenny Smith, gave Andrew Bogut the moniker after the Australian’s impressive performance in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

The seven footer finished with five blocks in the game — including four in the first quarter, alone — establishing himself as a defensive presence for the reigning NBA Champions.

While Bogut was seldom used after checking out at the end of the first quarter, his job was already done; the big-man setting the tone in the paint, particularly on the defensive end.

“I’ve got to protect the basket,” Bogut told NBA TV after the Warriors’ 110-77 Game 2 victory.

“If I’m not protecting that basket, and I’m not imposing myself in the paint — especially defensively — then I’m coming out of the game pretty quickly.”

Bogut’s lone basket of the game was one of the Warriors' first: an emphatic alley-oop slam.

Then, the block party began.

The first was against a reverse layup attempt by Kevin Love.

Then came two more blocks in quick succession: one coming against LeBron James — Bogut rotating over as the help defender — followed by an emphatic rejection of Tristan Thompson’s dunk attempt.

Bogut’s final block of the quarter was, again, against Love, and after playing just under nine minutes in the first period, the Australian big-man headed to the bench; a roaring Oracle Arena showing its appreciation.

The tone was set.

In Game 1 of this series, Bogut had a similar effect, but on the offensive end, scoring six points in the first period, as well as acting as a catalyst for the Warriors’ now signature ball movement.

Once a primary player on an NBA team, Bogut is now relishing his unique role with this historic Warriors team; and that’s not easy to do.

On a team that’s essentially the ‘poster boy’ for the NBA’s new small-ball era, it’s difficult to find minutes as a traditional, bruising big-man. But, Bogut’s found a way to contribute, and it’s paid dividends.

“I’ve been on teams, in Milwaukee, where I was the go-to guy offensively, and I was getting 10-15 shots a game. Now, I’ve figured out how to contribute on a team with great shooters and great offensive players; and that’s defensively,” Bogut said.

“I don’t mind doing that at this point in my career. I got a ring out of it last season. Hopefully I get another one out of it this season.”

Bogut’s five blocks is tied for the most he’s ever recorded in a postseason, and the most in an NBA Finals game since Serge Ibaka in 2012.

The four blocks in the first quarter was the most in a single period of a Finals game since Ben Wallace had five in a quarter, back in 2005.

The question now is, can he sustain this for the entire series?

Rewind to this exact position, last season, and the same thing could be said about Bogut’s performance.

The Warriors had split their two home games, with Bogut playing big minutes, and contributing handsomely on the defensive end in both.

The big-man would play just a combined 20 minutes for the team’s final four games, including two DNPs to close out the series.

The 2015 NBA Finals was where the Warriors’ ‘Death Lineup’ was born — a lineup that omits Bogut, instead playing Draymond Green at centre — and it was the difference-maker in bringing Golden State its first NBA Championship in 40 years.

Entering 2016’s Finals, the Warriors had a year of perfecting that lineup in their belt, as well as evaluating rotations that can complement the lineup.

One involves Bogut, with the big-man tasked with setting the tone at the beginning of quarters; doing exactly that in Game 1, opening the first, second, and fourth quarters.

While Bogut will rarely, if ever, finish quarters; the impact he brings — and the tone he sets — is evident, even after he heads to the bench.

It seems Steve Kerr has found a way to incorporate his imposing big-man, without diminishing the incredible impact of the Warriors’ signature small-ball style of play — and, with the Warriors heading to Cleveland for the next two games — Bogut’s role as a ‘tone setter’ will be even more important.

Before this series began — after reminiscing about 2015’s Finals — Bogut insisted he would find a way to stay on the court.

Looks like he’s found it.

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