The Warriors’ NBA record of 123 consecutive regular-season games without suffering back-to-back losses was in jeopardy during the first half of last night’s contest against the Sacramento Kings.
Just 18 seconds into the game, Coach Steve Kerr called a timeout to scold his team for the porous defense. The defensive game plan was to double-team DeMarcus Cousins in the post, but no Warrior offered any help after the big man spun free from Zaza Pachulia on the baseline for a wide-open dunk in the game’s opening minute. The ensuing timeout by Kerr was the fastest timeout by any coach this season.
However, the Warriors tried to correct their mistake by committing another one. On the next possession, they double-teamed Cousins, but the help came way too soon and led to a completely uncontested three for Rudy Gay. Gay is typically an inefficient scorer, but all the space the Warriors gave him allowed him to score 15 points in the first quarter on 5-of-6 shooting. At halftime, the Kings were up nine with the Warriors going 3-14 from deep and turning the ball over 10 times — despite the fact that Cousins played just 11 minutes due to foul trouble.
Unfortunately for the Kings, the Warriors decided to show up and actually compete in the second half. An unlikely contributor to the Warriors’ 17-7 run out of the break was Pachulia. Cousins was able to manhandle Pachulia last time the two teams played during the preseason, but not this time. The Georgian helped force Cousins to shoot just 4-11 from the field for 17 points, and the Kings’ star big man was visibly frustrated for much of the night. Pachulia scored his 10th point for the fourth consecutive game after poking the ball out of Cousins’ hands and racing down the court for a transition layup, set up by Durant.
"Zaza was incredible. The more you play [together] the more comfortable you get. He's getting more comfortable. It's been workin well." pic.twitter.com/zUpXa3HTUO— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) January 9, 2017
A few possessions later, Pachulia became part of the play of the game. Durant swatted Cousins’ floater into Pachulia’s hands, who threw an over-the-head, no-look outlet pass to Curry, who darted into the lane and finished a wildly acrobatic off-hand layup over a couple of Kings’ defenders.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT! Durant block, Zaza pass and Stephen Curry with the crafty finish. #NBAVote pic.twitter.com/LbtesDH64a— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) January 9, 2017
By the way, Durant’s rejection of Cousins was one of four blocks for Durant, who continues to showcase his versatile game on both ends. Durant was the deadly offensive machine he usually is, scoring 28 points on 9-15 shooting from the field, including two 3-pointers, with one of them tying the game with 8:01 remaining in the third quarter. But it was his rim protection that helped spur the Warriors’ third quarter run.
Kings were 1/5 at the rim in the 3d, mostly thanks to KD pic.twitter.com/2UcdMa9OVy— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) January 9, 2017
The final recipient of the dazzling play above, Stephen Curry, has finally gotten over trying to make Durant comfortable offensively and commenced taking the ill-advised but glorious shots that made him a back-to-back MVP winner. The Warriors took the lead after Curry made one of his patented pull-up three-pointers in transition. He made 5-of-7 threes in the third period alone.
Unlike in the game against Memphis, points were easy to come by for the Death Lineup in the closing period of the game. As is the case with Pachulia fitting in with his new team, familiarity and repetition will help cure Golden State’s crunch-time woes as they prepare for the playoffs.