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Klayless Warriors handle Hawks at Home behind Team Effort

The Klayless Warriors faced the Korverless Hawks tonight in Golden State in a possible NBA Finals preview. The Warriors were up for the challenge.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors and the Hawks have a lot in common. Both have similar records (both teams starting the night with 53 wins), run similar offenses and sport aggressive defenses. They both already clinched playoff spots. Neither gets the national attention they deserve, as many critics have neither team winning the title. As they met in Oakland on Wednesday night, fans were treated to a fantastic match up of two of NBA's understated super powers.

Both suffered similar losses to All Stars in the last two weeks, each losing sharpshooting backcourt players in Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver. Health has been a general advantage for both teams, but now both squads were challenged with adjusting lineups and searching for contributions from unlikely stars. How would each team respond?

The Starting Lineups

  • Atlanta filled their starting lineup with a key reserve in their lineup in Kent Bazemore. The ex-Warriors bench star now fills a huge role on this Hawks team as a defensive presence, energy player and great asset. He plays the game that all Warriors fans wished he would have when around on the team for years.
  • The Warriors feature two past All Stars on their bench and many key rotation players like Shawn Livingston and Marrisse Speights. So of course Steve Kerr goes with Justin Holiday - the wild card role player that Kerr has done so well in developing this year. This becomes a savvy move - keep the rotation stable with Iguodala coming off the bench, and give the young Holiday another chance to develop his confidence before big playoff minutes.

Advantage - Golden State

The Offense

  • Atlanta featured an attacking offense tonight, feeding Horford and Millsap in the post in more of a grinding look. The problem with this grinding defense is that it goes away from their usual movement basketball, as we didn't see the same facilitation as we usually see. They looked one-dimensional at best, with a bit too much one-on-one play going against the great Warriors defenders.
  • Golden State missed its key facilitator and scorer in Thompson. With no Klay, Atlanta shifted their defense on Curry to ratchet up the double teams and hedging on pick and rolls, forcing bad passes and way too many turnovers. The mistakes have to be a concern for Golden State at this point - it could be fatigue, it could be the scouting report coming out the Warriors, but regardless Curry has to take charge and simplify the game for his teammates to avoid these careless errors. Five turnovers to start the game in the first twelve possessions (18 total to end the night) - the offense looked hesitant and sloppy early just like Lakers game and allowed the Hawks to stay in the game in the first half. The three point shooting saved the day tonight, as well as solid facilitation and sharing from the second unit (39 total assists on the evening!). The turnovers can't be overlooked down the stretch. As long as they continue to get a full roster contribution on the offensive end, Klay's absence won't hurt as much (even with a slow scoring night from Curry like tonight).

Advantage - Golden State

Bench Play

  • Atlanta is missing more than just Korver - they are also missing Mike Scott who has been a great contributor to the Atlanta second unit. Dennis Schroder and Pero Antic both provided great energy tonight, but you could only imagine the depth that Atlanta has been able to put out on the court all season. For tonight, Atlanta looked undermanned as it ran out of bodies to keep up with the Warriors depth in the second half.
  • Golden State was still able to take advantage of the second-string match up tonight, going on some of their biggest runs while in the game. Iguodala, Barbosa and Speights all provided scoring and energy on their way to doing what the matchup of the first units couldn't create - a scoring cushion. Kerr has been gifted with one of the most talented complete rosters in the league, but must be given credit for finding time for players like James Michael McAdoo to progress and get their "turn" at helping out. The bench lead the way tonight not he way to a blowout and long rest for the starters in the fourth.

Advantage - Golden State

Defense

  • Kyle Korver has never been known as a defensive stopper, so not having him on the floor actually made Atlanta better on defense. They are able to do many of the same things the Warriors do - switch on pick and rolls and control the boards. DeMarre Carroll plays the roll of Draymond Green, as his size and great technique give him the role as top team defender and allow him to cover back court as well as front court stars. Having Bazemore on the floor made then even longer, causing turnovers with disruptions to the passing lanes.
  • Golden State will miss Thompson on the floor on the defensive side, where Klay usually gets the big matchups of the night. Golden State was gifted with noticeably poor shooting by Atlanta tonight (34% in the first half, 36% on the night), as the Hawks were their own worse enemy. In the second half, this pressure defense turned into more and more turnovers, which lead to easy points on the break. The defense will need more and more contributions from Iguodala for big matches  down the stretch as Klay recovers, but for tonight it was further proof that Golden State has one of the best team defenses in the league.

Advantage - Golden State

Swagger

  • Korver or not, this Atlanta team is all kinds of boring to watch. They aren't flashy; they don't carry the star power (despite the four All Star selections). They are a well-coached team that outplays others and proves that execution can beat skill.  They lacked the confidence tonight of a scorer who could suck the air out of the gym with big shots. Jeff Teague is a great player who has had big scoring nights in the league this year, but he couldn't get it going on this night to give his team any kinds of momentum. And this is why the critics say that the Hawks are in trouble in the playoffs. Who will take the big shots? Who will put the team on their shoulders in key moments?
  • The Warriors at home have enough swagger to spare. Tonight, after a lackluster performance against the Lakers, Golden State asserted their flash and showmanship to pump up the home crowd. Iguodala dominated the swagger tonight, hitting big threes and muscling his way to and-ones. The Warriors will replace Klay Thompson on the court with performances like Iggy's and Draymond's, which both bring heart to the court every night.

Advantage - Golden State

Overall Game

  • Atlanta simply couldn't get their momentum in the second half, giving up a huge run between the third and fourth quarters to slip away. Scoring only 17 in the third, it was obvious that the Hawks were tired and couldn't stay up with the depth on display for Golden State.
  • Golden State carried a team effort to the win. They got contributions from everywhere and everyone who saw the floor. Andrew Bogut was the only starter to not score, but still contributed 14 rebounds in limited minutes. Five players scored in double digits, with Harrison Barnes leading the way with 25. He contributed the midrange shooting that Klay usually provides off curls, and the pump fake and drives that we have seen out of Thompson when he is most aggressive. It reminds you of the offense that he could provide with the first unit if he is asked to, but rarely needs to. It's good to know that the Warriors front office views him as a franchise cornerstone for years to come. His development has been gradual, but his confidence is at an all time high. Add in Draymond Green's hot outside shooting, and this one was a wrap with plenty of garbage time to spare.

Final Thoughts

The numbers don't lie - Golden State showed that their depth and defense could carry them in match ups where they don't have their stars to contribute. Atlanta showed that they might be a better sum of their parts than size of individual contributions as they sorely missed Korver tonight in many respects. Neither Korver or Klay will be out for much longer, but this was a great exercise to see how vulnerable each team could be. And clearly the Warriors came out on top of this challenge.

Your Ridiculous Steph Curry Play of the Night

Steph receives the kick out pass on the break from Barbosa toward the end of the third. The Hawks recover nicely on the break, and Curry is closed out on as he receives the ball. He crosses over to his left, but this is just a show as his eyes are glued on Barbosa. Leandro continues his effort on the break to the corner three, and Curry hits him at the waist with the behind-the-back pass. A wide-open three leads to a standing ovation by the crowd, a Hawks timeout, and your nightly reminder that Curry is just having more fun out there than anyone else in the league.

This easily could have been his and-one three on the break in the first half, but c'mon... that pass was filthy.