The Golden State Warriors came into Sleep Train Arena with all of the confidence in the world earlier tonight. Facing a Sacramento Kings team without all-world center DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors traveled up the corridor looking to build upon the best start to a season in the team's West Coast history.
The Warriors ultimately pulled out a win 103–94, albeit on some of the ugliest shooting we've seen in the Kerr era.
First Quarter: 20–14
Pre-tipoff note: the clout of hubris surrounding the Warriors hit an all-time high as Bob Fitzgerald gleefully pontificated on the Warriors' stature within the league. Meh, maybe that's just typical Fitz.
The First Quarter started about as rough as they could. Festus Ezeli had a nice sequence early, challenging a Kosta Koufos runner on one end and finishing off a nice pass off a Harrison Barnes drive. That was an atypical results for the Warriors early on, as they started tentative and sluggish, leading to a 2-12 start from the field with no movement off the ball and a lot of settling for long jumpers. Even Ezeli got in on the jumper-fest, clanking a foul-line jumper.
Draymond Green continues to develop a bad habit of seeing Ezeli and throwing a lob, no matter either of their relative positions on the floor. He probably sees Festus in the timeout huddle and instinctively throw an oop from the bench. Besides his trigger happy lobbing, he and Stephen Curry showed the first instances of cognitive disjunction on a basketball court this season, as they failed to accurately connect on a backdoor cut in the First.
If you can't tell, this was the Warriors' slowest start this season. Barnes missed a breakaway layup. Ezeli missed a few bunnies, too. The Warriors scored six points in the first seven minutes. The Warriors' defense (with a massive aid from the Kings' offensive ineptness) kept the Kings to nine points in the same timespan.
Jason Thompson clocked into the game before Marreesse Speights did tonight, contrary to earlier rotations. Thompson had a nice sequence where he smartly tapped an offensive board to Steph for the quick second chance points as soon as he checked in. Steph's first points of the game made it 11-11 with less than three minutes in the Quarter. Woof.
Draymond's three point percentage saw some major regression to the mean. Hell, everyone's did. Andre Iguodala hit the first three for the Warriors on a Shaun Livingston transition set-up, putting the Warriors at 1-8 for the night at that point.
The Warriors finished the Quarter on a 18-7 run, fueled by the strong perimeter defense and, more specifically, Andre's strong transition game with Livingston. They're two cerebral veterans who know exactly how to attack an advantage on the break in order to ensure the Warriors get points every time they run.
The Warriors shot 29.6% from the field yet ended the Quarter with a six point lead thanks to the defense.
Second Quarter: 46–38
Leandro Barbosa checked into the game to start the Second, with J. Thompson, Barnes, Livingston, and Andre. Long wing defenders, all the way around, as Luke doubled down on the wing defense astutely. Barbosa brought his trademark energy, including a great hustle play to save the ball for a Barnes breakaway dunk. Nothing came easy on offense early.
That bench reaction (CSNBA) https://t.co/B5uSexY3Bn— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) November 8, 2015
Rajon Rondo's penetration and passing was the only real Kings offense. Rondo and Willie Cauley-Stein connected on a few nice plays under the rim, aided by the poor decision to guard Rondo from anywhere further than three feet from the rim.
As the Second Quarter began in earnest, the Warriors showed no signs of their defensive intensity waning, leading to a 10-5 Warriors advantage in turnovers early into the Second and a 26 - 17 lead with 9:00 left in the Quarter despite shooting 1-13 from three point range. The rusty gears of the offense began to churn a bit easier with the W.D.-40 that is fast-paced offense led by the two-headed monster of Livingston and Andre.
Iguodala and Livingston feed each other on back-to-back breaks (CSNBA) https://t.co/8EffR8hPX3— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) November 8, 2015
Iguodala and Livingston went to the bench with 8:00 left, +14 and +13 respectively by that time. If you ever wondered what the Memphis Grizzlies would look like playing themselves, go ahead and rewatch this First Half. Klay, Curry, Barnes, Draymond, and Barbosa all started 0 - 3 from three.
Klay found some signs of life from range, shooting a relatively supernova 3 of 8 from the field. Meanwhile, Steph missed a FT then double clutched a three into a travel. So. There's that.
Marco Belinelli scored six points within the final minute of the Half, cutting into a double digit Warriors lead. Halftime was a thankful refuge for the staggering Warriors, who shot 3-22 from behind the arc and 19-50 overall, to go along with a 7 rebound deficit to the Kings (22-29).
The zebras allowed the sluggish pace to go on unobstructed by whistles, only giving out 15 foul shots collectively. Steph's body language was "subdued", in Jim Barnett's words. His performance was a perfect microcosm of the Warriors as a whole: 0-4 on threes, three total points, stout perimeter defense. Not necessarily a bad half, just the inevitable regression to the mean we all knew brewed on Golden State's horizons.
If I had to describe the first half, I'd say the Warriors weathered the storm. Not in the traditional sense of "we weathered the opposition's best shot", but more like "we weathered our own regression while holding onto the lead through sheer talent and system superiority".
Third Quarter: 72–68
Green opened up the quarter with another ill-advised lob attempt that didn't have a prayer. Koufos took advantage of Ezeli in the post on the other end, getting good position on the block before catching and hitting hook shots on three consecutive possessions, quickly cutting the halftime lead to just two.
Luke called a timeout to half the run, subbing in the SBDS to answer. Immediately, the small lineup scored on one end and forced a turnover on the other. Curry hit the longest possible two without it being a three.
Karl responded after consecutive turnovers by moving to a smaller lineup with Belinelli in. Even Barnes' FT shooting regressed tonight when he split a pair early in the Third.
It took until 8:27 into the Third for Fitz to realize the Kings were "in this game!". The Kings hit their first seven shots of the Quarter, cutting the lead to one point.
Belinelli hit a three to give Sacramento a two point lead halfway through the Quarter, as the Warriors appeared to be stuck in subzero molasses with no fight in them to shake it off. The Warriors responded well, however, igniting a 9 - 0 run seemingly pulled out of the ether, including six from Steph (0 - 3 from range, however).
Karl appeared to want to match the Warriors' SBDS, inserting Rudy Gay at the 5, but it appeared his personnel just didn't have the same experience in their respective oversized roles, as the 'bigs' gave up easy buckets inside.
Steph continued to push, scoring five in a row by himself.
.@StephenCurry30 (again) with a quick steal and lay up.— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) November 8, 2015
The Warriors defense began to lose three point shooters (Omri Caspi, Belinelli), while the offense began to commit silly turnovers (Klay Thompson with myopic Kaepernick-levels of staring down receivers, Curry getting too cute), resulting in a Kings push that kept the game within a few possessions. There was no such thing as a second gear for the Warriors tonight.
Basketball is a game of runs, and that was ever apparent in this game. The Warriors led by 12 with less then three minutes in the Quarter, but found themselves down to a four point lead heading into the Fourth. The Warriors were 5-30 on threes through three; Curry with an 0-8 performance.
Fourth Quarter: 102–94
The fourth quarter started with a Barnes jumper. Offensively, the Warriors went with more of one player just pounding the orange then making something happen in isolation, with maybe a halfhearted attempt at an off-ball screen on the opposite side. It was an all-around tight, nervous looking offense.
Meanwhile, the Kings continued pushing, looking infinitely more free on offense. Rondo, in particular, brought an intensity and passion that the admittedly scared Warriors just weren't mentally prepared to match. It's amazing how even the best teams can make scoring a basket or grabbing a defensive rebound look so impossible.
The Warriors' poor shooting met their turnover woes, who linked hands with their mental mistakes defensively in the Second Half to allow the Kings to retake the lead, 78-79, with 6:30 left. Listlessness met tenseness met unfocused disinterest. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of it all was the lack of emotion from the Warriors' top gun: Curry simply bowed his head after he stepped out of bounds.
The Warriors scored six points in the first six minutes of the Fourth, until Curry hit his first three of the night to regain a 81–79 lead. Klay and Barnes each missed wide open corner threes on ensuing possessions. Draymond Green came up big, with huge offensive and defensive boards (seven in the fourth, alone) and good (non-lob) passes.
87–81, with three minutes left, after Barnes FTs. Barnes continues to be clutch in the Fourth, while Klay continued to foul Belinelli on jump shots, including on two three point attempts. Perhaps Beli was sticking out his leg — but, as the saying goes, trick me once, shame on you, etc.
Anyways, Green made a great finish on a broken pass to Curry, then came back and stifled Gay on defense. Barnes grabbed a big-boy rebound and performed a textbook ass-to-thigh box out on Koufos, then went to the line and calmly drilled two more shots. Yeah, Barnes and Green came up spades in the Fourth.
Klank hit perhaps the biggest shot moments later, putting the Warriors up 94-84 off a three pointer with 1:38 left. The Kings came back to reel off four quick ones, before Curry buried his second triple of the night. From there it was kill the clock and FTs.
The Warriors weathered the regression storm.
The Kings, if they had Boogie, would've blown these guys out of Sleep Train. As it was, the depleted Kings didn't have enough to capitalize on the Warriors' historically off night.
This was like a scientific experiment, where the researcher altered the control variable (shooting) to see if the Warriors could win without it.
Draymond played like an MVP candidate. There wasn't a board that the Warriors absolutely needed in the Fourth that he didn't ensnarl. Barnes made his FTs under pressure. Klay was sporadic at best. Curry was Curry for three short instances tonight.
This reminds me of an old NBA broadcaster adage: good teams have a way of winning games, bad teams have a way of losing games. This game was more of the former than the latter; the Kings certainly didn't give the game away. No, the Warriors, even with their offense bogged down and their engine flooded, clawed for this one. This game is evidence of why the Warriors won the championship a year ago: when Steph and Klay's flashy, shiny Ferrari offense isn't working, Draymond and co. ride in on a pack of grizzly bears to pull it out of the mire.
Here's the box score, if you want to gawk at Steph's mortal-ness.
Voices of GSoM:
Below is a cool widget I originally saw on the Pelicans' SBNation site. Shout out to Nate and The Bird Writes for helping me figure out how to make one for us! Basically, vote up/down on each player instead of just voting for the best player. This way, Steph's big night (for example) won't overshadow Draymond's contributions. It'll be a more comprehensive representation of each player's night. Let me know what you guys think of it, if everyone but me hates it I'll go back to the traditional poll!