As we learned on Saturday, any team in the NBA can win on any given night if given the chance. The Warriors found a way to recover from a nine point deficit (!) at home (!) to beat one of the worse teams in the Western Conference (!). This is the same Warriors team as we know that is fighting for the league's best regular season record in history. It is the same team that hasn't lost in over a year at home, and they are struggling against a lottery bound team? What gives?
Young sports teams, or teams in the middle of a rebuild, usually have the same features. They are composed of raw talent (Alex Len, Devin Booker) that, while capable of showing signs of brilliance, can then look completely lost the next minute. These teams usually have some carry-over veterans from better times (Brandon Knight) who love to remind you they can still play if given the chance. Young teams have the ability to show signs of brilliance when they don't know any better (quarters 1-3 on Saturday night), but can then be forced by sheer will and will quickly collapse (4th quarter). All you have to do is remind them that they are young and not good enough yet, and Golden State almost forgot to do that before it was too late.
The Warriors were not at 100%, both mentally and physically. They played wth the intensity of a pre-season game, and the Suns took advantage by making them play an honest finish. We take a deeper look at a few points of the game last night to understand more:
The Warriors roster depth will be a problem over the next two weeks
As previously reported, Andre Iguodala will be out for two weeks with a bum ankle caused by Dame Lillard. With Festus Ezeli still out of commission (but coming back soon) the Warriors are counting on some roster depth to perform in some upcoming big games. They trotted out some new lineups last night, showing off some adjusted rotations to counter the injuries, and the results were not spectacular.
This team will rely on players not named Steph or Klay to perform, and while some have shown moments, none have emerged with consistency. Guys like Brandon Rush and Leandro Barbosa are set to take on major roles, but both were relative no-shows. And the starters? Harrison Barnes continues his outside shooting slump and Draymond was 1-5 from three. Who were the winners and losers from the team's first chance without Iggy?
Winners Mo Buckets showed up last night in full force and almost set the record for the most points by an NBA player in less than 25 minutes playing time:
Mo continues his hot shooting over the past few weeks, and as he has never lacked the green light or confidence to shoot the rock, we should get use to more of this over the coming games. Teams will live with his 20 footer off the pick and pop, and it will look pretty when it goes in. When it doesn't? One-and-done basketball with not much offensive rebounding. He will continue to get minutes at the back up 5 as Kerr will ride the hot hand. To his credit, when he plays with the starters his passing and decision making has been much improved. But, like Harrison Barnes, if he does not have complementary players around him, he becomes one-dimensional as he cannot create for himself.
Losers Ian Clark has been tasked with the back-up point guard role, as the Warriors push to keep Shaun Livingston's minutes consistent. When Curry had to be pulled with foul trouble, they went to Clark to fill the minutes in the third, which aligned with the Sun's biggest run. Clark continues to struggle on the defensive end, struggling to stay in front of faster guards. His value in the early season was on the offensive end, however his shooting as of late has declined. Last night, he was also exposed as a below-average decision maker with the ball, as he struggled to run the offense during the Suns 3rd quarter sprint.
Clark can be stomached when playing lesser teams, and the question remains would he even see minutes when playing a better team like the Spurs. But for now, especially when the team needs more ball handlers off the bench with the loss of Iguodala, Clark is losing ground quickly. He is no rookie, and in reality is fighting for a roster spot on next year's team. Can he find his consistency?
The Suns are not as bad as we think they are
The Suns already hit rock bottom this year — after firing their coach Jeff Hornacek at the 14-35 mark they have continued the losses as Earl Watson has gone 3-14. They are one of the league's worse defensive teams, look defeated on the court and were coming off two victories of 15 points or more before coming to Oakland Saturday night.
Despite all this, they made a game of it. How did they pull that off?
- Brandon Knight just returned from a hernia injury that has kept him out for most of the year. Knight is a serious NBA talent who can score in bunches. He was set to be a cornerstone of this roster this year, yet has only played 42 games so far. He is one of the many major pieces of the Suns that has missed time this year, adding to Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren and in reality Markieff Morris who spent most of the year on the bench by the team waiting to get traded. This team had a plan with its roster that completely fell apart. The good news is that the rookies are getting a chance to play, and a healthy Brandon Knight & Eric Bledsoe will be great pieces and better trade chips to build a team around Devin Booker and Alex Lenn. The Suns have a bright future because they have some intriguing parts that are not far off being a competent NBA roster.
- Speaking of Len, the young center played a dominant game last night. He represents another type that the Warriors struggle to guard; if you are a big with midrange shooting skill, you will feast on the Warriors. You represent the player that Bogut and crew will not range out and guard. The Warriors chose to cover Len with Bogut and Tyson Chandler with Draymond Green, but I would guess if they could do it again they would rethink that strategy. Len has a bright future now that his offensive game has evolved, and by next year his defensive talent will catch up as well.
- The Suns took advantage of the home back-to-back for the Warriors to carry the momentum for most of the night. You beat young teams by beating them early and killing their will. Phoenix felt like they were in the game the whole night, shown by excited celebrations and great team effort through the first half of the game. This team felt like they had a chance, and that lead to Brandon Knight and crew playing out of their mind. But then? Steph Curry returned to the floor, the Warriors scored 7 points in 53 seconds and never looked back.
Golden State will get an off day before hosting the Pelicans on Monday. Anthony Davis always loves playing the Warriors, but the Pels are decimated by injuries to this point and shouldn't be much of a challenge for the home team. The week at home will be a build up to the tough road trip next weekend, starting in Dallas against the Mavs and ending in a Saturday night clash against the Spurs.
Every game will be a new challenge to see which Warrior can step up their game to help Steph and Klay. Can Harrison Barnes finally realize he is killing his free agency money and start playing like the Harrison we know? Can Draymond Green find his shooting touch again and build his confidence back? Golden State has two games to figure it out before the pressure rises, but I have confidence the team will find the way.