There were two ways this game was going to go down. Either we were going to see another confounding, soul-crushing loss, or we were going to see Steph and Klay finally find their shooting strokes and stripe us to victory. So, which story played out?
Neither of course. Thanks for rolling with my narrative, fellas. Instead, on a night with Nellie in the stands, we witnessed an anti-Nellie Twilight Zone puzzler.
We'll get into what transpired (h/t Jim Barnett), but first:
MY GOD did we need this win.
And I'm not even talking about the Golden State Warriors: I'm talking about Golden State of Mind. We were like a caged pack of starved wolves, snapping and tearing at each other, throwing our bodies against the cage bars. This might not have been the Kumbaya blowout victory that we needed to all grow wings and flutter up to the clouds, but it should at least count as a big ol' stag carcass that we can collectively feed upon, if only for a couple of days.
This was another grindhouse thriller, but one with a different outcome than we saw against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday: the Warriors, despite atrocious second half decision-making and a Hawks defense that smelled blood, found some clutch buckets and dropped in their clinching free throws.
No, the outside shots still weren't falling; Stephen Curry, 4-12 FG overall and 0-5 from distance, continues to be short on his jumpers. Klay Thompson, 2-11 overall and 1-5 from three, looks like it's in his head, pulling up early before he's squared to the basket and just missing badly. To be fair to both, they put forth a much more concerted effort to drive the ball, especially in the first quarter (and both had clutch makes on drives in the waning minutes). But these guys should consistently be the team's top offensive weapons every single night; that the Dubs are winning at all is nothing short of miraculous.
How are they doing it? I can still scarcely believe it myself, but: defense and rebounding. The Warriors held Atlanta to 43.6% shooting, and outrebounded them by the incredible margin of 44-29, including limiting the Hawks to just five offensive rebounds. One dare not imagine what those numbers might have looked like if Al Horford had played — no, just don't even contemplate it. Move on!
The Hawks may have done us some favors along the way. They played right into what the defense asked of them: Josh Smith and DeShawn Stevenson hoisted jumper after jumper as their defenders sagged off and emphasized covering Kyle Korver (after he went Johnny Storm on us in Q1) and limiting driving lanes. And let's be honest: this Hawks team is not beating any worlds; they were missing both Horford and Devin Harris, but even so, they have one foot in the rebuild door and the talent just isn't there. Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Scott as much as anybody (actually, I'd never heard of him before tonight), but ATL might want to consider coaxing Nellie to be their bench coach if they want the Warriors D-League All-Star bench duo of Anthony Morrow and Anthony Tolliver to shine.
We've learned that this Warriors team can (and maybe has to) win with defense and rebounding. We know that Steph and Klay are still slumping hard. As unlikely as these things are, we are actually becoming familiar with them. But otherwise: this was still a pretty bizarre game.
Mark Jackson almost steered clear of his 2nd quarter small-ball duo of David Lee and Carl Landry entirely. We didn't see them until the 7:42 mark in the 2nd, and that only lasted for a couple of minutes after promptly giving up an easy bucket. Instead, Jackson went back to his taller fellows. (Of course, we saw Lee and Landry together almost exclusively in the 4th quarter, but let's leave that for another discussion.) At times other than the 4th, Jackson leaned on Festus Ezeli, but also Andris Biedrins for good minutes.
And good minutes they were: Andris was active, setting great picks, boxing out, bothering shots and drives, grabbing some rebounds for himself — he even successfully avoided touching the ball on offense by letting passes or loose balls ricochet off his hands right to his bucket-hungry teammates. Again, miraculous!
Also bizarre: Jackson seemed to completely abandon the fast break. Just 12 points and very few other attempts, despite doing good things on the defensive glass. They weren't turning Altanta over, but even still: it seemed quite by design that the Warriors were going to grind this out in the half court.
Why was the half court offense at all functional tonight? I think a lot of credit goes to tonight's hands-down Warrior Wonder winner:
Harrison Barnes. He provided what has often been missing with this club: taking his man off the dribble and aggressively driving to the basket. He got to the line eight times, and really opened up some things for other guys, even though he only notched a single assist. He was also extremely aggressive on the glass, pulling down 13 boards to lead the team. And just as a little bonus to all you stats skeptics out there: his single game +/- was -5. I spit on that! Barnes was terrific tonight, and we would have been toast without his contributions.
Instead, his Warriors fought their way to a much, much-needed victory. I for one and breathing a bit easier because of it.