Sometimes, the people who love you hurt you the most.
The Golden State Warriors are a team that have always projected an image of unity. “Strength in Numbers” – the motto that has become the rallying cry and philosophy of their brotherhood, wasn’t just paying lip service; it wasn’t just a motto to sell shirts and merchandise – it empirically showed in the camaraderie of the team, and that in turn, translated to their play on the court.
It is what has helped them become the golden standard of the NBA for three of the past four years. The bonds that have been forged by these brothers-in-arms in the never-ending battlefield that is the highest level of professional basketball in the world are ironclad, seemingly impenetrable and unbreakable by forces existing outside of such bonds. When a well-oiled machine — running smoothly without any semblance of rust and loose parts — is left alone to do its job, it becomes both an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
So how do you stop something that cannot be stopped by outside forces? The only direction that is left to look at, naturally, is inward. Most fans have heard of this phrase: “The only team that can beat the Warriors is the Warriors.” And in a sense, that notion is true. For a long time, most fans believed that despite the explosive personalities that existed within the Warriors’ locker room, they would find a way to keep those emotions in check, in the spirit of achieving goals that represent the greater good.
That belief was challenged when Draymond Green and Kevin Durant got into a heated argument on Monday night against the Clippers. At first, it seemed like the kind of argument that was bound to be quickly resolved, as heads cooled down and the flames of emotion died down.
But that didn’t seem to be the case. Green, ever the emotional and passionate personality, started hurling expletives toward Durant, repeatedly calling him a word that is normally reserved for female canines, per Yahoo Sports:
“Draymond Green’s one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team” came after he repeatedly called Kevin Durant a ‘bitch’ in a verbal confrontation between the two stars during the Golden State Warriors’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, league sources told Yahoo Sports.”
Green also reportedly brought up the issue of Durant’s impending free agency and the uncertainty that is surrounding it. Before that point, it did not seem that Durant’s upcoming decision was affecting the team in any way whatsoever.
Sources: In midst of verbal exchange on court late in Monday's game, Draymond Green challenged Kevin Durant about Durant's impending free agency. As teammates came at Green about his turnover, he responded. This has been a simmering issue for the Warriors today.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 13, 2018
Being the highly competitive person that he is, everyone expected Green to be fired up about their loss to the Clippers. In the end, all he wants to do — and all everyone in that locker room wants to do — is to win.
But by bringing up something that is normally held in reserve, something that is normally not talked about openly, and bringing it up in the middle of a heated confrontation, Green may have crossed a line that finally forced the Warriors to clamp down, in order to douse the fire before it gets out of hand.
With Green suspended — and Stephen Curry missing another game as he recovers from his groin injury — the Warriors were once again left with two All-Stars to carry the offensive load. And in an environment surrounded by a feeling of uncertainty about the mood and mindset of the team, it wasn’t enough for Durant and Klay Thompson to solely carry the team to a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
Perhaps now more than ever, the Warriors needed their Strength in Numbers.
First quarter woes on offense
The Warriors were previously without Curry and Green against the Brooklyn Nets this past Saturday evening. It was expected that without Curry — the heart and soul of the offensive system — the Warriors would be hard-pressed to generate any sort of efficient offense. That did not turn out to be case, as the Warriors were able to post an offensive rating of 124.7, per NBA.com.
However, against the Clippers, that rating came crashing down to expected levels (103.6). With Thompson having an awful shooting night, and the rest of the supporting cast not contributing on offense, the onus was on Durant to score and make plays. To make matters worse, he netted five personal fouls, which only served to heighten his personal frustration — a factor that may have led to emotions bursting at the end of regulation.
During the first quarter against the Hawks, the offense once again sputtered, scoring a total of 20 points with only 6 made field goals during the entire quarter. Against a team ranked 23rd in defensive rating, it was a somewhat surprising development. Whether it was a question of having tired legs due to playing on the back end of a back-to-back, or being emotionally spent from the previous night’s ordeal — or maybe even an ungodly combination of both — the Warriors looked sluggish and lazy on offense.
The Bell and Jerebko Show
With the Warriors sputtering on offense, a spark of energy — coupled with a touch of stability — was sorely needed. It was during these times of turmoil that the services of players such as JaVale McGee and David West were sorely missed. Their ability to act as a spark plug and a stabilizing force, respectively, was what elevated the Warriors during several of their dry spells on offense last season.
Jordan Bell proved to be the spark plug the Warriors were looking for. The third-string center was having a mediocre start to the season, and it was safe to say that he was headed for a Patrick McCaw-esque sophomore slump. At times, it seemed like he was unaware and confused by everything that was going on around him on the court. While in possession of the ball, he would hesitate, giving defenses the opportunity to shut down passing lanes and prevent scoring opportunities. On defense, he would all too easily jump at fakes, resulting in being blown by for layups or being drawn into fouls — problems that were prevalent last season and still persist up to this point.
Despite Bell’s continuing status as a work-in-progress, he showed tremendous effort and made some excellent plays on both ends on Tuesday night. That effort first materialized by going after a missed Thompson jumper for the put-back — a sign of good things to come for the second-year player.
Bell’s penchant for locking on to a player’s attempt to go up for a shot works to his advantage in this possession, staying glued to Kent Bazemore and rising up to block the layup attempt.
Off of a broken play where the Warriors fail to execute a pop/dive action between Thompson and Jonas Jerebko, Andre Iguodala hands the ball off to Bell, who is stationed at the left elbow. He fakes a dribble hand-off to Iguodala — bamboozling the defense — dribbles his way inside, and goes for the uncontested dunk.
Meanwhile, the David West stability was provided by Jerebko, who has proven to be an excellent offseason acquisition by the Warriors. Already being dubbed by many as the “anti-Casspi,” Jerebko has shown a knack for shooting his shot whenever he is wide open; clearly, he has shown to be a disciple of the Gretzkian philosophy of “missing 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Jerebko hit several timely three-point shots, including this one in the second quarter to cut the deficit to one.
Just like in the previous play, Thompson again provides the pass to an open Jerebko, after a curl by Thompson draws multiple defenders onto him. Jerebko is left all alone to receive the excellent pass from Thompson, and he buries the open floater.
In the third quarter, with the Warriors fighting back from a halftime deficit to take the lead, they stretch that lead to double digits when Durant draws the attention of multiple defenders, leaving Jerebko unattended to on the weak side. A skip pass by Durant to Jerebko results in an open three.
Not only does Jerebko provide offensive stability — he has also shown admirable hustle in going for the rebound and saving possessions for the Warriors. Off of a missed shot by Durant, he gets the offensive rebound, giving the Warriors a second chance at stretching the lead further.
The reload shot attempt misses, and Jerebko almost gets the offensive rebound anew, but he is unable to save the ball from going out of bounds, despite sacrificing his body to go over the Hawks’ bench and into the stands — an effort that deservedly merits applause from the fans in the stands.
Quinn Cook steps up again
Scoring 27 points against the Nets, Quinn Cook proved to everyone that he was capable of filling in for Curry as the Warriors’ starting point guard. Cook was certainly a huge factor for the Warriors’ efficient production on offense, giving hope to fans that he could effectively shoulder the starting point guard responsibilities while Curry continues to recuperate.
However, Cook was limited to just 7 points against the Clippers, dsiplaying his limitations in terms of consistency when given starter-caliber minutes. With the way that the previous days had unfolded, the last thing the Warriors needed was for Cook to suddenly regress and retreat away from the challenge of shouldering the ball-handling and playmaking load.
Fortunately for the Warriors, Cook reemerged and had a quality performance against the Hawks, posting a stat line of 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. His budding and promising partnership with Durant on offense is proving to be a serviceable replacement — temporarily, at least — for the Curry/Durant dynamic.
He has also shown to be a deadly operator in the Warriors’ patented low-post split, where Curry and Thompson are usually the partners-in-crime. Acting as a Curry doppelgänger, he gets a screen from Thompson, receives the pass from Damian Jones, and knocks down the mid-range jumper.
The Warriors run a play usually reserved for Curry — a double high screen with multiple options available. This particular sequence branches off into a two-man game between Cook and Jerebko, resulting in Cook driving inside and making a tough shot through a lot of body contact.
With the Warriors taking the lead courtesy of a Cook assist to Thompson, Thompson repays the favor. Off of a missed shot by the Hawks, Thompson gets the ball to Cook in the corner, who buries the three to extend the Warriors’ lead to five.
Iguodala rediscovers his shot
Andre Iguodala, the Warriors’ resident elder statesman, also made notable contributions in their game against the Hawks — but not in a way that most people would expect.
In the 2017-18 regular season, Iguodala’s three-point shooting clip was somewhat of an eyesore — 33-of-117, good for 28.2 percent, per Basketball Reference. It has been a part of his game that comes and goes, but it also has a knack for showing up whenever the Warriors have a pressing need for it to show up.
So far this season, Iguodala has shown promise in shooting the three — 8-of-20, good for 40.0 percent. Against the Hawks, he attempted two three-pointers and managed to knock both of them down. The first one came at the three-minute mark of the third quarter, where an unmarked Iguodala makes the Hawks pay for ignoring him.
His second three comes from a dive/pop low-post split, where Thompson and Iguodala come together, making the defense guess as to who will dive inside and who will pop out beyond the arc. Thompson dives inside and attracts the full attention of the defenders, who once again ignore the popping Iguodala. He makes them pay again for their indiscretion.
Looney and Jones complete the team-wide effort
Not wanting to be left behind, the two other members of the Warriors’ center-by-committee — Kevon Looney and Damian Jones — also left their marks on the game.
During a crucial second quarter sequence, the Warriors miss a shot and are outrun by rookie Trae Young, who receives the outlet pass. Looney doesn’t give up on the play and chases down Young for the block, leading to a Quinn Cook jumper on the other end and a one-point lead for the Warriors.
At the ten-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Looney gets blocked when he goes up for the shot attempt, but he doesn’t give up on the play; he gets the ball back, puts the ball down, and goes up for the slam and-1 — just a tremendous display of persistence and hustle from Looney.
Meanwhile, Jones makes his presence known courtesy of an excellent last-second spike to force a 24-second shot clock violation. This also serves as a glimpse into Jones’ potential to become an elite shot-blocker in the future.
And to cap off his contribution, Jones takes advantage of Durant garnering attention on this drive by rolling to the basket and receiving the ball for the wide-open dunk.
On a night where emotions were running high and controversy was at its utmost peak, the Warriors took care of business on the court. Staying true to their brand of egalitarian basketball, they were able to garner contributions from almost every single player on the roster, whether it be through scoring, playmaking, defending, or showing effort on hustle plays that do not get recorded on the stat sheet.
At the end of the game, the attention shifted once again to the ordeal between Green and Durant. As Durant made his way to the podium, anticipation grew as to where his relationship with Green stood — anticipation that nearly rivaled that of the speculation surrounding his free agency decision two years ago, before he made that fateful decision to join the Warriors.
The vague answers Durant gave to the media sought to reveal as little as possible — yet his demeanor and body language was all too telling:
“It’s definitely weird... shit happens.”— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) November 14, 2018
KD opens up about Dray being suspended. pic.twitter.com/FiART5OWhc
The conflict between Green and Durant has not been resolved, and it is anyone’s guess as to when it will be resolved. But just like how the Warriors needed to display their Strength in Numbers on the court without the help of Curry and Green, they will need to display their Strength in Numbers off the court as well. They will need to draw on their years’ worth of brotherhood, friendship, and camaraderie to fix what is broken and to right all the wrongs.
This ordeal is proving to be a test of character for the team that is striving to earn a third-straight title. In a world where all of the other 29 teams and fanbases are waiting with bated breath for the day that the Golden State dynasty will finally crumble and fall, the Warriors will need to remember the one statement that they have often shouted at the end of their huddles — at the behest of the face of their franchise, Stephen Curry — and to take that statement to heart and remember that at the end of the day, it is them against everyone else.
Fifteen down, 67 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.