The Warriors outlasted the Thunder in Thursday night, as Golden State turned a returning Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala into a complete team effort on their way to a runaway victory. The game was close throughout the first three quarters, with countless lead changes and dueling runs. While these two top western conference teams had their talent and depth on display, it was the Warriors' bench that ultimately stole the show.
Key Turning Point - the 4th Quarter Run
As the 4th quarter began, Golden State trailed 83-82. Steve Kerr was interviewed by the TNT crew and stated in short that the team would be fine as long as the defensive intensity came back and the offense got back to doing what it usually does: move the ball and look for the open shooter. Steph was on the bench getting his usual rest to start the period after putting in a dismal third quarter offensively.
How did the team respond? By doing exactly what Kerr told them to do. Shaun Livingston brought his game manager skills to the table, orchestrating his small ball lineup with Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Mo Speights and Iguodala. The Thunder had Kevin Durant on the court, surrounded by the killer talents of Kyle Singler, Randy Foye and Dion Waiters. What followed was an absolutely slaying. Durant received the double team and was pressured out of the ball. His teammates clanked shots on their way to fast break points for the Warriors.
Kerr can feature a dominating defensive lineup with his bench, and not because Barbosa or Speights by any means are good defensively. This mostly comes from the speed, disruption and chaos that the Warriors smallball players bring. Singler simply cannot cover anyone on the defensive side, leading to layups, turnovers and a huge disadvantage.
On offense, Golden State took advantage of Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka being off the court at the same time. They diced up the Thunder using back cuts and pick and pops with Mo. I love the aggressiveness of this particular unit, with Barbosa's relentless energy and everyone's willingness to make the extra pass. By the time Billy Donovan recovered and got his talent back on the floor, the home crowd already smelled blood and the team was primed to finish.
This is what separates the Warriors from other teams. They can shift gears so easily, and they have a coaching staff that harmonizes a flexible roster to do so. Their depth is filled with smart multi-talented players who exploit weaknesses. Is there a better point guard coming off the bench for a team than Shaun Livingston? if you are facing the Warriors, where do you get your rest from this roster?
Additional Game Thoughts
Curry's Ankle looks fine
All signs point to the fact that the Atlanta game was a good rest game for Steph. The true impact of an ankle injury comes in the days after it happens rather than in the moment, and if we saw Steph jump back into the Thunder game on Saturday, that didn't mean he was experiencing pain on the flight home and days after. The staff would rather him heal up for the big games, which worked out as hoped for the team. He had his typical moments of magic on Thursday night showing good elevation on his jump shot and good explosion on his drives. Could he take the Sunday game off in Los Angeles? I wouldn't be surprised and honestly wouldn't be disappointed, but I think he is too much of a competitor to sit out.
The alternative angle on his injury is the confidence that the Atlanta game seemed to give players like Draymond Green and Mo Speights. Truth be told, as the Warriors were streaking through their six game road trip and Curry was scoring in bunches, the team settled into "watch Steph" mode. They looked tentative on the offensive end with a lot of waiting for Curry to do something special. Harrison Barnes has to fight through his lack of aggression with the ball. Klay needs to continue to attack the basket and not settle for his jumper. The win over the Thunder was a team victory as many are calling it, and I believe the victory over Atlanta got this group back feeling like a team of contributors.
Bogut is playing some of his best ball in two years
His defensive effort has been fantastic over the last two weeks, contesting all shots at the rim and having active hands in the paint. His problem? Foul trouble. Refs are looking for his "tricks" more and more, getting him called for touch fouls on holds and screens. Also, because of the way the Warriors defense is allowing penetration on the perimeter, Bogut is having to contest so many more shots and produce more fouls. When he can stay on the floor -- like he did against Atlanta -- he is a huge asset.
... With that said, this team really misses Festus Ezeli
Get well soon Festus. Rest up those knees for the playoffs. We don't need your dunks or your stone hands. We need your defensive energy and your activity with the second unit. Every game Festus is missing, he is not only missing out on time with the team, but is taking dollars off his free agency contract in the offseason. The poor guy has had a problem staying on the court his whole career.
When it comes to his impact on the team, the effect is seen in the players that the team uses to replace him. Love Mo Speights or not, his lack of defense and rebounding does not make up for his new-found shooting range behind the arc. Mo is not athletic enough to keep up with many of the fours in the league, and doesn't have the size to be an effective five. When he shows up on the defensive side, it is usually at the sacrifice of his offensive game. Kerr and staff play him best when he fits the matchup, but as of now he is being put in the spotlight, with mixed results.
And with our other option: Anderson Varejao might not have much left in the tank. Andy is that tire you have in your trunk that you should only drive on going less than 30 mph when you get a flat. If you are counting on him for anything significant at this point in his career, you are in trouble. He can't contest stretch fours, his energy on the boards is lacking because he has lost his "second jump". He plays flat footed and he is a sign of an NBA generation gone by. I thought he had athleticism to contribute, but he plays more like a pick up player at the gym at this point than a true NBA center for this era. But hey Andy, get that ring!!
@ Lakers on Sunday - with three games against the Spurs coming up, getting rest for the starters has never been so important. Maybe this is a good chance to give Draymond Green some rest? Or maybe let one of the Splash Brothers take another night off? With Kobe questionable, there is even more reason to consider this a getaway day.
Magic on Monday - Back to Back coming back to Oracle to face the visiting Magic who have been playing well. This starts a six-game stand that will feature tough matchups in the Jazz and Blazers. This game will also be for the all-time home winning streak record, so I don't expect the Warriors to drop the ball here.