Call it what you want - trap game, emotional-letdown game; your highly successful team comes up against a team that, on paper, they should beat handily, but then you are reminded that you are going against professionals on the other side of the floor, and that on any given night a team with the right system using the right momentum and playing with passion can beat even the best of teams.
The Paul George-less Indiana Pacers team came to Golden State Wednesday night continuing a long road trip and knew they were up for a challenge. But this is a smart, savvy roster with big bodies that don't make the same emotional mistakes that we saw out of Oklahoma City two nights before. They attack with a purpose, impose their will on you, and are no pushover. Even with the Warriors holding the leagues best record and a 12-game home winning streak, they did not bring one of their signature dominating performances out tonight to cruise to victory.
In the end, it was a balanced contribution early from the full roster that overcame sloppy play and missed shots, to finally allow Klay Thompson to take over and net 40 on the team's way to a 117-102 victory that felt much closer than the scoreboard showed. Lets break down the game:
The Pacers kept the Warriors in the half-court grind early, with their slow pace and tough defense leading to an early lead. As Ethan Strauss pointed out tonight, "The Pacers do the most with the least in the NBA" and it shows how they simply do the smart things.
They shoot the right shots, they push the ball when they need to, and they very rarely look forced. Golden State almost looked shocked to be down early, resulting in bad early shots in the clock and a lack of the "extra pass" that usually leads to easy baskets. Roy Hibbert sprained his ankle early and had to be helped to the locker room, but after the injury Indiana almost looked quicker and more of a match up issue than before he went out. The first quarter was a "Pacers" style quarter - low shooting % for the Warriors, grinding play that lead to the early lead.
Steph Curry became the quickest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career three point shots. He not only beat it, he beat it by a full season (88 games quicker than Dennis Scott). It was not his 3-point shooting tonight however that kept the Warriors in this game, it was his ball hawking and help on the double-team in the post. Curry is second in the NBA in steals, and his pick-pocketing powered a late second quarter run that kept the team close after falling behind by double-digits.
Curry's fourth steal and layup got the Warriors to 46-44, and it looked as if the early funk and momentum had finally shifted. He daggered a three to get the home crowd into the game to finish up the first half, and like the team leader and pro that he is, did his best to put the responsibility on his shoulders to right the ship from early struggles.
The Warriors would eventually win this game based on a fantastic start to the second half - a 10-0 run with two Klay threes (and a Klay block to highlight his defense) paired with some fast break points to leave the Pacers wondering if they had left their game in the halftime locker room. They grinded through the middle part of the 3rd quarter with Indiana keeping pace, but it was a calm composed David Lee who finally showed his best offensive quarter of the season, leading to converted interior scoring and his usual energy and synergy with the guards as the offensive quarterback and the pro in the pick and roll.
Speaking of which - your Warriors second unit tonight? Andrew Bogut, Andrew Iguodala and David Lee; three past all-stars. That is new level intense depth. It was this depth taking over late in the third, with Bogut throwing amazing passes, Iguodala getting steals and Lee proving that he can contribute with the back ups. This unit, supporting Klay Thompson's dominating scoring between the 3rd and 4th quarters, pushed the lead to 91-79 early in the 4th with Steph on the bench and gave a glimpse of the tools that this team could feature in the future. Can you imagine this rotation going 9-10 deep? This allowed Curry and Green to get some rest, entering back into the game with a solid lead ready to close out the game instead of being rushed back in to fix an evaporating one.
The fourth quarter turned into an ugly, foul driven slow motion struggle, playing directly into the best way Indiana could find to keep them into the game. Silly fouls by Curry, Lee and the previously mentioned Green had the Pacers in the bonus early and every time Golden State would hit a big shot, it seemed like we were back on the foul line on the other end. A double digit lead for most of the fourth never felt like enough to put Indiana alway. Fortunately Thompson couldn't miss from downtown for a time, and Curry did his best job to continually find him to keep the safe cushion.
The scrappy Steph-Klay-Draymond-Iggy-Mo lineup finished off the game, with Curry taking over offensively and wowing the crowd with a signature and-one and great passing to finish off his 15 assists. The home crowd was treated to a highlight finish from Draymond to Mo to end it, and all was well in Warriorland with the 117-102 victory.
- On Draymond Green Bobblehead night, Mr. Green hits his first and grinded his way through the kind of night that rewarded him with his own night of recognition. He had a tough match up in the post with David West, but fought through tough general shooting with hustle turnovers rebounds and steals that led to pace and confidence for the team. He needs to work on avoiding pointless fouls however - you love his aggressiveness but you cringe when silly overaggressive moments lead to him sitting on the bench. His fourth quarter loose-ball foul/technical sequence personify the "you get the good with the bad" for Green, as he will always be the fiery player in all ways. He finished the game with a beautiful ally-oop to Mo that brought the house down, and allowed the crowd to forget about his outburst from the bench.
- The Harrison Barnes put back dunk - the TV live view had the right angle to show how far he had to reach to grab it with one hand and rip it down. Every time you see Barnes do something like this, it makes you wonder why he completely disappears from a game. He will have a hard time finding playing time at the end of games in this lineup, and has to think that in his diminished role he should be going all out like this at all times.
- Mo Speights shooting struggles continued, missing the early jumpers in between a put back. He was pulled early for his bad defense with poor positioning, continued to show bad fouls (getting Scola on a jump shot) and overall looking forced to be a contributor. The Warriors needed an inside presence to counteract the master class that David West and Luis Scola were putting on in the first half, with elbow jumpers and strong post play. Speights floundered and looked lost for the most part, not showing the spark and finish around the rim that we have been use to seeing. We know he is an emotional player, but this cant meant that we either get the world-beater Mo or journeyman frustrated Mo. His last 5 minutes of the game were his best, with his confidence at a high after hitting a few jumpers. If he wants a role with Bogut coming back, he will need to learn to balance the effort without the ebbs and flows.
What Twitter Said
Klay drops 40 yet mentions post game Steph is not only the team MVP but should be the leagues one too. Chemistry is special— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) January 8, 2015
Stephen Curry now has his 50th career 20/10 game (sixth this season) with 21 points and 15 assists— GSWStats (@gswstats) January 8, 2015
Here's a stat. In his games since the start of last season, the Warriors are now + 1,000 with Stephen Curry on the floor— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 8, 2015
Sure, it didn't look pretty. But they all won't look as pretty as they did against the Thunder Monday. The Pacers are a veteran team that sadly lost their top star, and probably don't deserve the record they currently have. They ran into a hot Warriors team that even on bad nights still have another gear and amazing depth that allows them to win by 20 on an off night.
Give some credit to Frank Vogel for keeping his team fighting and scrapping, we wish them the best and don't look forward to going to Indiana later in the season where things are always scrappy. Great to see Klay have the big night, and great to see the home winning streak continue.
Now on to the Lebron-less Cavs on Friday night as the team continues to get closer to 100% health-wise. In past years the Warriors might have lost this game... but this obviously isn't like past years.