A Warriors win is a Warriors win, but we are not in the business of just being happy when the team wins anymore. In Indiana on Tuesday, Golden State beat the Pacers 131-123. To the fan who didn't watch the game, they could guess that this game was particularly close. What they don't know is that the Warriors were up by over 25 in the third before the team went into "garbage time" mode. How were the Pacers able to make it such a close game?
We take a look at how this game was really a tale of two completely games - one where the Warriors used a smart synced offense that has dominated the league to take a good team in Indiana and run them off the court.
The Game - Part 1
Warriors outscored Pacers 111 - 83
The threes were going in, the attack was balanced. We finally saw some of the complete offense the team has been looking to have all season. Though Klay Thompson started slowly this year, he continued his great play as of late to come out to a blistering start to expand the scoring. The Warriors cannot sit around and watch the MVP score, and the story has always been who else is going to put it in the basket besides Steph Curry. The defense played fantastically well all night and limited the Pacers to tough baskets and no rhythm. It was the same story that we have seen all year - beating teams on both sides of the ball.
The truly impressive part of the night was the Warriors' ability to react to the Pacers. The Dubs kept with the plan and played inside out all night. Their three point shooting threat turned into open lanes for passers. When the shots started going down and Indiana had to start chasing down both Splash Brothers, the seas parted wide open for lobs and post moves. It was a great reaction and adjustment by the coaching staff to identify the defensive shift and compensate by pushing penetration resulting in easy buckets off passes. Their 79 points in the first half is the NBA high for the season for any team in any half. Klay threw down most of his 39 points for the night while Bogut put up most of his double-double. Pure domination.
Additionally impressive about last night was the Warriors again going into a hostile environment -- the Fieldhouse in Indiana has always been a tough play for teams -- and not flinching at the challenge from a great Eastern Conference team. The Pacers might be fighting through a losing streak at the moment, however still find themselves toward the middle of the pack in the early playoff race with big wins all season. The mentally tough Warriors continue to show up, play their game, and deflect great performances and ignore the chatter of the competition.
The Game - Part 2
Pacers outscored Warriors 40 - 20
We have seen this story before: The Warriors have a solid lead, the starters are sent to the bench for rest, and the 2nd squad runs the game for the final 12 minutes. The core - Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Brandon Rush and Andre Iguodala - were given the keys to the car with Ian Clark to simply run out the clock and secure the win.
What resulted was a dominating quarter for Indiana. How did this happen?
• The Warriors are short-handed - Missing Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa is big. They represent 45 minutes per game total between the two (roughly 20% of the teams total minutes). These are prime starter-minutes - between these two they contribute 20 PPG (about 17% of the teams average points per games). NBA teams should be built to withstand the loss of parts of the puzzle at times during the season. The Warriors were highly criticized last year for being "lucky" with the lack of time lost from it's main parts. This season, they have seen some of their main pieces now need time off from Andrew Bogut to now Barnes recovering from different set backs. How have they reacted? Quite well obviously as they are still 23-0.
The concern is and will be how well the depth of the team can continue to produce. Last year, Justin Holiday was able to contribute great minutes off the bench on both the offensive and defensive end. He slid in for starters minutes to keep Iguodala with the second unit where he has been extremely effective. They replaced him this year with the promise of a rejuvenated Brandon Rush and meaningful minutes for Ian Clark. The results? Promising but not complete.
The fourth quarter was a sign, especially as the Pacers starters played heavy minutes, where the Warriors miss these extra minutes from their complete roster. As the core roster realistically goes 8 players deep, Golden State can usually play about 10-12 deep when fully healthy with production coming from both the 1st and 2nd groups. Now, missing Barnes and Barbosa's scoring when the starters are sitting has a huge obvious impact, and the Pacers were able to take advantage.
As the Warriors get healthy again, this problem should reduce. Getting Barnes back hopefully after the road trip will extend out the bench and keep the pressure on opponents for all four quarters. Another option? Adding another scorer to the bench. Some thought Ben Gordon before the season might be a great shooter to bringing in for limited minutes, but he did not pan out. Possibly a buy-out candidate or a minor trade for a back up shooter (Randy Foye? Another wing?) would help the back ups. Options are available, and it should be interesting to see how they react.
• The second unit plays good defense, but still needs to execute the offense - as the back ups come in, the assists go down. The team turns one-dimensional, with isolation post-ups and ball rotations that go nowhere. The unit can be effective when they have someone like Barbosa who can beat his defender off the dribble. But Ian Clark has not shown the ability to drive on NBA-level defenders, and Rush and Andre are mostly jump shooters at this point in their career. The responsibility is in the hands of the ball-handlers to run the offensive efficiently and continue to move the ball for easy baskets.
Shaun Livingston on Klay Thompson injury: "To me, that's on the second unit. That was my fault. I take it personal." https://t.co/7JnSugTAB7— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) December 9, 2015
This was in response to the Klay Thompson injury. Thompson is not in the game in the fourth if the Warriors unit, mostly driven by Livingston at the point guard, controlled the lead as they were asked to do. Much of the Warriors longevity and success has come from their ability to rest their starters during games after getting large leads. The team was still able to keep anyone on the roster from playing more than 36 minutes (a huge feat when playing 3 road games in 5 nights) - but could and should have had Klay resting up at game's end getting ready for Friday.
What does this all mean?
Not much. It's a random game in December and the Warriors still won. But at this point in the streak, we have spent enough time talking about how the Warriors are dominant. We are not allowed to be critical and point out how the second unit will need to continue to step up, especially as teams come up with new ways to take the ball out of Steph Curry's hands. When this roster becomes 100% again, it can be re-examined to assure that the depth will be able to handle the long year. The Warriors are predicated on their chemistry and complete roster, however adding in additional parts down the road should never be out of the question. There are too many cheap veterans, players on their last year of bad deals, and guys hungry for that "one last ring" that can be a help here to avoid.
• Many of us watched this game on NBA TV, we were forced to listen to the Pacers play-by-play team. Chris Denari kept his neutrality all night, but man Quinn Buckner was horrible. A homer, who at one point compared Klay Thomson to "looking like CJ Miles when he gets hot" was a pain all night. Mr. Buckner, you are no Jim Barnett.
• The Warriors head to Boston on Friday with night off after a short flight. All are hoping that Klay's ankle will be ready by then, however if he cannot play we might be seeing the largest real challenge to the streak to date. Boston has been playing fantastic ball, and should be much better than their 12-9 record (3 close losses by 3 points or fewer). Get well soon Klay!
(follow me on twitter @badiehard)