The Warriors really, really, reaaaaaaaaaally, a million times over, miss the defensive presence of Andre Iguodala. That combined with Toney Douglas' ball-hounding off the bench has led to throwback shootout games like the one on Sunday afternoon.
But despite the aching similarities of a game like this, dominated with free runs to the basket and uncontested three-point shots throughout, rose the burgeoning ascension to superstardom that burned brighter and hotter with each Stephen Curry aerial stroke that dropped through the net with an inaudible --only in sound-- *swoosh*. Curry's been this good, and for a couple seasons now. But it's the first time to my memory that a coach has actually left the ball in his hands and just essentially say, "Go what you do. You're the man here". And it worked.
But perhaps more important than the narrative of Curry's need to "take over" and ask for the ball at the penultimate portions of basketball games is the natural and seeming aloofness he went about it. Not explicitly demanding the ball or shaking the game from its herky-jerky flow, Curry took over one by one, choking the life from the Sacramento Kings with each heart-breaking basket. He doesn't impact and visually pop out like a Russell Westbrook, who plays like a guy that sometimes doesn't seem to know the best scorer in the world is playing alongside him. This is Curry, and how he plays, every second of every play.
I rewatched the last seven minutes, from the time Curry checked in the fourth quarter, and he scored 11 points (on 4-7 shooting with a three and two free throws) with an assist, and managed that without varying from his normal play. The last few minutes perhaps symbolized a changing of the guard--remember Iguodala did get the last shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Curry was relegated to decoy duty--as the go-to guy moniker, but his game was more so an extension of what was always possible.
My favorite Warriors play isn't so much a play as what's become natural instinct for the starting five on the floor. On any transition opportunity where Curry brings the ball up, the first two players down the bench usually sprint to the top of the three to set a stagger screen for Curry and the sharpshooter, without breaking stride, runs his backpedaling defenders into the screens and it becomes much too late for the defense to react. It's a thing of beauty, and a subtle wrinkle that most others teams can't run simply because there's only one Curry in the league.
Look at Harrison Barnes get there, albeit a bit late, to set the first of two screens. When the first screener can pop and the second roll, or vice versa, it makes the defense react. And when the defense takes even a split second to think, it's over.
1. Draymond Green now owns two game-winning shots in his NBA career. One now against the Sacramento Kings on a loose-ball tip-in to match his layup against the Miami Heat in the beginning of last season. The hustle and energy plays are there, so this wasn't exactly a surprise. However, it appears he's carried over his postseason hot shooting into the new season, shooting at a 38.9 percent clip. Granted, Green only averages 1.3 shots per game but becoming a threat from behind the arc makes him that much more valuable as a two-way player.
2. The Kings seem like they are about one really good player away from becoming a playoff contender. Obviously, if that player is LeBron James, they're set, but that goes for every crappy team, even the Utah Jazz. They have solid, but impressive, ancillary pieces built around a still raw Cousins. Thomas is a nice player but probably best suited in the role he's in now, specifically as a scorer. Ben McLemore has the potential and upside to get there and a strong draft class coming up doesn't hurt, either.
There are moving pieces all around for the Kings new ownership but there's enough talent here that I can see a solid team in a year or three.
3. Andrew Bogut failed to bottle up Demarcus Cousins all night, allowing several unimpeded drives to the basket and two back-to-the-basket isos at the end of the game. When Cousins is right, there's not a center in the league that can consistently guard him. He's too strong and too quick from everywhere on the floor. But what he did do was annoy him. Incessantly. Cousins played great but only played 20 minutes due to foul trouble.
When the last horn sounded, it was Bogut with the last word. He waited and waited, as Isaiah Thomas dribbled down the court with time running out, and timed the moment Thomas was in the air to jump and pin the game-winning attempt. Many big men overplay their hands and jump out too far, resulting in a blow-by, but Bogut decided to make Thomas either earn the long floater over his outstretched arms or challenge him at the rim. Thomas chose the latter, and chose wrong.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.