It turns out you can live by the three, Chuck. Just so long as that life includes a commitment to stopping the three, as well as scoring it.
For the Warriors, it was educational. Way back on December 1, the Warriors took a double-overtime home loss to these same Rockets. That time, the Rockets relied on role players like Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Montrezl Harrell to harass the Warriors from the perimeter. Rather than find an alternative, the Dubs settled for a very competitive game of team horse — trading tough jumpers and contested threes with the Rockets for 58 minutes. It did not end well.
That game was an early example of Scott Brooks’ Oklahoma City-ball arriving with Kevin Durant’s off-season baggage. There were serious bouts of “my turn, your turn” isolation play, dominated by superstar scorers who largely neglected their strength in numbers motto. Steve Kerr’s bench suspiciously shortened, as four Warriors played 42-plus minutes, and Stephen Curry played 38. All-star hopeful Zaza Pachulia was hopelessly lost, with one field goal and approximately zero looks in the flow of the offense.
For much of the early season, including the Christmas Day loss in Cleveland, the Warriors would routinely devolve into a lesser team when faced with a threat. Curry would drift, Draymond Green would grow frustrated, and Kevin Durant would do the only thing he knew how. He’s a magnificent scorer, but the team simply isn’t the same when only one guy is playing basketball on a possession. What’s the point in having four or five all-world players if only one can play at a time?
Thankfully, those impostors appear to be long gone. The Warriors played games number 41, 42 and 43 this week, against the Cavaliers, Thunder and Rockets, and looked much more like the 73-win team in doing so, winning each contest by an average of 24 points.
Friday, the team shot a bit better from the perimeter (15-of-38, or 39.5% from beyond the arc). And the opponent couldn’t connect on much of anything (7-of-35 for a woeful 20.0%). But this time, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry kept the ball moving, as both finished with seven assists. The Rockets made it their mission to deny open treys for the two all-star starters, so it was Klay Thompson who received a plethora of wide-the-heck-open three point looks (Thompson himself was a bit too open, hitting just 2-of-10). The Warriors had an average night in terms of percentages, but given the supreme quality of the looks, it could have been worse. Rather than force Durant to shoot, the Warriors ensured the right person was shooting.
Durant and Curry got to the rim for a number of uncontested and lightly contested layups. The smart passing got Zaza much more involved, as he finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. The bench was fully integrated and involved, with five players earning more than 11 minutes of court time. The same unit that was largely shut out on December 1 produced 28 points and 17 rebounds on 68.8% shooting.
It is true that the Rockets didn’t shoot very well. Defense be damned, James Harden might not go 0-of-5 from beyond the arc again this season. And Eric Gordon, the league leader in three-point field goals made, posted his own 0-of-7, and 2-of-14 overall. But with the way the Warriors are rolling this week, it’s easy to forget that they aren’t necessarily in peak form either. This squad has only played half a season together, and we truly have no idea how much better they can get between now and the playoffs.
- You can criticize Daryl Morey for his obsession with “name brand” players, as well as his failed pursuit of basically all of them. But you can’t knock the man’s draft evaluation skills. Without the benefit of the lottery, he’s scooped up worthy NBAers like Sam Dekker and Clint Capela, both of whom hurt the Warriors with a combined 16-of-30 shooting for 39 points.
- It might be time for recaps to include WTHO (wide-the-heck-open) as a stat. A 2-of-10 night from Klay Thompson sounds like a bad thing, but he was shooting some of his best shots of his season. Meanwhile, Harden forced a couple shots that made Curry blush.
- For all the talk of Zaza being an awful all-star...he actually isn’t in at least this one way. By RPM, he likely won’t be one of the worst five guys on the squad! People like Al Horford, Paul George, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving all rank worse. People definitely don’t pay to watch the all-stat game, though, so...sorry to the 2016-2017 All-Stats.
- The Diff: +17 points
- Who will get playing time in David West’s absence? Well for tonight, it was James Michael McAdoo. The estranged forward got 12 minutes tonight, and spun that into eight points, two rebounds and an assist (with a whopping three turnovers). Still, it was a positive night for the young player.
- The Rox must shake this off quickly. They’re already off to the Grindhouse for a brutal Saturday matinee start. The Warriors are back in action Sunday morning, at 9:00 am, to take on the Orlando Magic in what should be one of the best sports Sundays of the entire year.