As Evan Turner released his corner three at the end of regulation on Sunday night, Golden State Warriors fans were quickly flashed back to Miami and Dion Waiters.
Were we going to be beaten again on a last-second three from an overpaid streaky shooter? Of all players... Evan Turner was going to be the nail in the coffin? How did this game even stay so close? How many times were you ready to turn the TV off to end your weekend, chalk up the victory and go to sleep happy? Then the shot clanged off the front of the rim, the ball was deflected out into the back court, and the Warriors celebrated. Crisis averted! It’s a line drive in the scorebooks folks, a win is a win.
How the heck did it stay so close? Why couldn't the Warriors put the Blazers away? Is there anything to be concerned about? We look at some factors:
Things that Didn’t Worry Me from Last Night
Steph Curry was out with the stomach flu
The story should begin and end here, right? Curry came down with the bug going around the NBA last night, and had to miss his first game of the season. Call it the flu, call it his first scheduled rest of the 16/17 season — the Warriors were missing their MVP. Reason to worry? THIS TEAM HAS THREE OTHER ALL-STARS!! Facing a bottom-ish team in the West, you should be able to handle one game without their star, even on the road up in Portland where the Blazers traditionally play fantastically well while they are at full strength.
The rest of the team was saddled with handling the load scoring wise and ball handling wise. How did they do?
Durant: 33 points, 13-26 shooting (1-7 from three) SEVEN TURNOVERS.
Yeesh... and that line looked much worse entering the fourth before he got hot again. Durant reverted to old Durant, settling for a few too many isos and wing jumpers before they started to go in to close out the game. His turnover numbers were a sign that while he can handle the ball, he still has a tendency to force a pass and make a bad decision.
Klay: 27 points, 6-21 shooting (2-6 from three) -3 +/- on the night.
Not much better. The scoring was a nice touch, but this was mostly from his 13-15 from the free throw line. Coach Kerr wants Thompson to get to the line more to help put the pressure on the defense, and tonight he did by muddying up the game. Overall, the Warriors won the battle at the line shooting 39 free throws to Portland’s 12.
Even Draymond Green had an inefficient night, adding in seven turnovers of his own. If the Warriors want to win games without Curry, they need contributions from other players including efficient ball handling. The team had only 18 turnovers on the night, but they did include some timely ones down the stretch that kept the game close.
Kerr is giving run to the rest of the roster
I am a big fan of Patrick McCaw, James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark all playing double-digit minutes in a non-blowout. This will pay dividends down the stretch if they are needed in the playoffs, and there is no doubt that the team will need a spark from an unlikely source at some point. On a night when Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala were both inefficient (though Iguodala did hit some key threes down the stretch), the team needed the talent off the bench and these guys came through. The challenge: having McCaw cover Lillard in crunch time is a bit of a stretch. These guys are bound to make some mistakes, and in a key game like this it almost cost them. But this is why you play the regular season games: to work this stuff out.
The Blazers are not that bad when healthy
This Blazers team is no pushover. Lillard can always go off if he chooses, and CJ McCollum scares me if he ever learns to make better decisions as the primary ball handler. Neither can play defense, which is why this team is 21-28. But their talent is still the reason they are in the running for the final playoff spot. Coach Stotts has figured out a good starting lineup with Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh, and this team keeps sending energy guys out there up and down the bench. It was no surprise that they came back from the large first half deficit and kept it close down the stretch. Golden State did everything they could to give the game away, and let the crowd back into it late, but Portland’s luck ran out.
The moral is, especially in the regular season, a team can get hot on any given night and upset your team (see: Heat, Miami). This is even more of a reason why 73 wins was so amazing last season: the lack of nights that the Warriors refused to drop give-away games. Expect more games like this down the stretch. The Warriors know if they are healthy and on-key, they can beat the Clippers by 40. They also know that they can rest a star and still find a way to win, as if 70 wins will matter more than winning 67.
This was a trap game! A schedule loss!
So you are telling me this was a back-to-back, on a night where the Warriors hit Portand after midnight, against a fully-healthy team who plays well at home? Without their MVP? This game could have been written off to start. But Golden State found a way to win, and that is impressive by itself.
Things that Did Worry me From Last Night
Curry remains the lifeline of the team
Thompson is a dynamic scorer, but struggles when the defense can key up on him. Durant makes mistakes with the ball when he is the primary option. Green is his most efficient on offense when he is the third option and he has another scorer on the floor to distract the defense.
The point is that this team really got “good” this season when Curry started to get more aggressive. They continue to find their identity when he is not on the floor. This is no different than other top-heavy teams like the Cavs with LeBron James. The playoffs will solve this as Curry will be playing close to 40 min a night, but the rest of the squad will have to pick up the slack if Curry is absent for any reason.
Thompson’s defense has not been great recently
Maybe he is still recovering from the flu that had him down a few weeks ago. Maybe the season’s fatigue is getting to him, having to cover a primary scorer night-after-night. But Thompson looks like he could use a night or two of rest, just to get his legs back. He looked fantastic against the Clippers, but looked a step slow tonight in Portland (on the back to back mind you). In a way, I wish you could have your top guys skip the All-Star game. It gives their body a few extra days of rest. In reality, Kerr won’t play his guys big minutes in the game anyway, so it’s not a huge drain. You still want to see a guy like Thompson healthy down the stretch, and I would expect a few more games of rest for him coming up.
Durant really loves that jumper
It goes in much of the time, so it is hard to complain. When Durant goes cold, his midrange jumper provides easy rebounds for opponents, and usually comes after iso basketball, which is easy to contain. If the team is struggling, Durant needs to attack the basket relentlessly and get to the line. He could be protecting his body for the long run, but settling for mid-range jumpers typically makes me cringe even if they go in over half the time. This is not a huge complaint, but why settle when you have better options?
What does it all mean?
A random Sunday in the regular season doesn’t do much for the overall success of the team besides provide some fun drama for the fans. A win is a win, Portland deserves credit, but Golden State found a way to get the W. The team now gets a few days off before getting the Hornets back at home. Ice those knees, boys!