The start of a 29-game sprint to the playoffs began Wednesday with a 101-92 victory at Sacramento. Behind Klay Thompson's stellar first half and David Lee's emergence in the second half, Golden State was able to start the post All-Star break stretch with a much-needed victory.
Golden State's efficiency, three-point line excluded, was terrific. They hunted great shots all night, getting easy looks at the basket; the team had 26 assists on 39 made field goals. Thompson, who had a game-high plus-minus of +18, had one of his best all-around games of the season with 18 points, five assists, and four rebounds. This was his first game with five or more assists in a month and a half. For him to be another playmaker with Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, that would really be another asset to the team down the stretch (and hopefully in the playoffs).
More on playmaking: This was the first game since probably the evisceration of the Heat in Miami that I saw the Warriors dominate inside and really swing the ball around the floor to get good shots. Golden State outscored the Kings 52-32 in the paint. Per SportVu player-tracking data, Golden State had 37 assists or secondary assists on their 39 baskets, important for a team that had relied on isolations throughout the pre-All-Star break that stagnated the offense at times.
While the Kings are the worst team record-wise in the West, some important takeaways can be grasped from tonight's game. It proved the Warriors didn't need Stephen Curry to be superhuman or even reach his averages to come away with a victory. Curry only had 13 points on 5-14 shooting and eight assists - he had zero turnovers, a huge part of his game that must be minced in the home stretch. It also proved that the Warriors didn't necessarily need to shoot the three-ball all that well; in fact, Golden State shot poorly from downtown - just 3-19. Granted, the Kings are owners of the worst record in the Western Conference, and have the fourth-worst defensive efficiency in basketball; their offense, at least statistically speaking, is very nearly as good as the Warriors'. It shone well that Golden State was able to retain the momentum down the stretch of the game, after the Kings came back from 15 down to take the lead in the fourth quarter. It proved that if the Warriors can limit turnovers (just seven tonight!) they will always have a great shot at winning.
Key Matchup: Andre Iguodala vs. Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay's newfound revelations vis-a-vis shot selection after being traded to the Kings in December have been well-chronicled. It seemed, nevertheless, that Andre Iguodala was able to force him into contested long two-pointer after contested long two-pointer. Gay shot 6-21 as not only Iguodala but Klay Thompson at times forced him into tough shots all night. The Kings were outscored by 17 points when Gay was on the floor, indicative of the inefficient shoot-first nature of the talented small forward and Iguodala's exceptional defense on him all game long.
On the other end, Andre Iguodala played a game typical to what we'd come to expect from the all-around small-forward. Not many box-score contributions - just three rebounds, two assists and thirteen points - but he holds Rudy Gay to well below his averages, at just 6-21 from the floor. He was a net positive again, at +6, made over half of his shots, and had a few steals. He's not a flashy player, but he gets the job done well time and time again.
Warrior Wonder: David Lee
This was pretty tough, honestly, between Klay Thompson and Lee. However, Thompson scored most of his points in the first half, and while he showcased his much-improved all-around game, he largely disappeared in the second half, taking just five shots and making two without getting to the line one time. On the other end, Lee shined in the second half. When the Warriors needed buckets down the stretch, Lee scored or assisted on nearly half of Golden State's second-half makes, per NBA.com. Lee played much better in the second half, scoring 15 of his 23 in the final two quarters and helping the Warriors rally from a fourth-quarter deficit. Another double-double, fourth in his last five games. Another 20-10 game, third in his last five. Lee is finding his groove at the right time.
Up Next: Warriors vs. Rockets
Golden State plays Houston at home tomorrow on Social Media Night. James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the Rockets (who may or may not have traded Omer Asik by this time tomorrow) visit Oracle as both teams are on the second game of a back-to-back. Golden State has lost 18 of its' last 22 against the Rockets, and answers to the following questions will help determine if the Warriors can end their Rocket hex: Will Steve Blake play? How will Golden State defend against Howard if Andrew Bogut doesn't play again? Can the Warriors defend the middle and score in the paint on the other end against Howard? Who will have the fresh legs and get the victory in Oakland? The first game at home after the All-Star break. Just 16-10 at home so far, it will be crucial for the Warriors to become a better home team, especially against playoff teams, in the second half of the year.