A grind out contest if there ever was, the Warriors pulled out their 42nd win of the year against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 94-91.
In dramatic fashion, the W's let the game get down to the wire --unnecessarily.
Perhaps the starting five needs to take a page out of the second-unit's book. A three-point lead (28-25) at the end of the first quarter over the Western Conference's worst squad isn't ideal for a championship caliber team. Hopefully, it's a simple anomaly triggered by fatigue and not a growing trend. Regardless of definition, it's painstakingly easy to see the W's have had some offensive stagnation early in games of late.
Outside of a 7-foot running jumper hit by point-god Stephen Curry and two layups by Andre Iguodala off the bench, the remainder of attempts from the wing were jumpers. Some contested and others wide open, lately the W's haven't been adept at picking their spots and knocking shots down. "If your shot's not falling, head to the rim" is a coaches typical response to bricks early in the game. It's time for the Warriors to embrace the idea of penetrating and finishing more, or getting to the free throw line.
On the gridiron, you can't compete with only run plays, and similarly in basketball a mix of drive and shoot is necessary to win. Although the Warriors finished the night with 52 points in the paint compared to the Timberwolves' 28, much of those buckets were attributed to the bench. After coming up short on nine of their first 11 threes, the second unit showed greater aggression at getting to the rim. Leandro Barbosa ended the night with 10 points and Iggy followed with eight points on 4-for-4 shooting. Combined with eight buckets from Marreese Speights, the bench was once again a saving grace for the sluggish starting-five.
Golden State's offense thrives on movement. Lately, when a play breaks down, there's been a reemergence of Mark Jackson style isolation. It seems old habits die hard when fatigue is a factor. Head coach Steve Kerr would prefer for the W's to pass more often in these scenario's, versus forcing the issue and driving the ball.
Isolation gives the defense a break and can alienate players on offense. Too much of it and guys go from warm to cold. As a result, one guy's getting good shots up while the other four stand and watch.
With 6:49 left in the first quarter, the Warrior's options had been shut down due to the Timberwolves playing the passing lanes. With 14 seconds left on the clock, Bogut decides to take Pekovic off the dribble, resulting in the turnover. Certainly not Kerr's favorite example of isolation play, but a great sample of how iso-loaded offense can stall movement. If there's any player on the floor that would need his teammates to move around, creating opportunities for the pass or to even bail him out, it's Bogut.
Where's the mismatch?
Kerr wants to keep the ball moving. Creating mismatches is one of the best ways to get the job done. Mismatches create movement by getting the defense out of position; subsequently ball movement creates opportunity and a more free-flowing offense. The kind that's difficult to stop.
With 8:13 left in the second quarter, Shaun Livingston posts up on Ricky Rubio who's most likely the last person Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders wants to see in the post. As Livingston back Rubio down, he draws another two help defenders. Although Livingston scored a turn around jumper on Rubio, at one point there's three defenders attentive to him. Passing out of the post for an open jumper would've been a nice option, or if one of the fatigued Warriors players would've cut to the rim, an easier bucket could've been made.
Either way, mismatches always spell trouble for the defense Handled with proper decision making, they get other players involved. The Timberwolves don't want to see Stephen Curry isolated on the wing with Nikola Pekovic, any more than they want to see Livingston or Klay Thompson posting up Ricky Rubio. Forcing the Timberwolves (or any other teams moving forward) to play greater help defense or double-team frees up other players. It provides an opportunity for the skip pass, and get's the ball moving from side-to-side, which seems to be the latest fundamental concept turned popular NBA phrase.
Physical and mental fatigue seem to be running rampant at the moment. A season's second-half brings excitement and greater passion heading towards the playoffs. Look for the W's will get back to the concept of playing squeak-clean basketball after the break.