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The Golden Breakdown: Looking at the positives for the Warriors despite another loss

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The Warriors have lost three of their last four games, but there are a lot of positives to go around. The sky isn’t falling just yet.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Panic is a powerful force in this world. It often forces one to devolve into bouts of impulsive declarations and actions. It is especially deadly when it grips a foundation that has often found itself strong, stable and seemingly unbreakable. When cracks begin to show, panic becomes the cuisine of the human mind, perhaps as the only rational outcome of a collective ego that has feasted on nothing but success and pride.

Once upon a time, the Golden State Warriors found mediocrity and failure as the status quo. Expectations for each game were as low as Death Valley — each victory was treated as a playoff win, a mini-championship for every upset against a top-tier contender. One would check the box score, and should the Warriors post a higher point total than the other team, the expected response was that of pleasant surprise. On the other hand, a loss wouldn’t even faze the most ardent fan — after all, it is the outcome to be expected.

The meteoric rise of the Warriors — starting from their status as mere playoff contenders, all the way to becoming the greatest team in the modern NBA — drastically changed expectations. Once considered a grand celebration in and of itself, a victory became the standard, something to be expected from a team with three championships in the last four years. Once considered the norm, something that is brushed off nonchalantly, a defeat suddenly became “the end of the world as we know it.” Such is the way of a dominant NBA dynasty, especially one that is stacked with top-level talent the likes of which the NBA has never seen.

The defending back-to-back champions, the dynasty that has won three of the last four championships, have now lost three of their last four games. As is the expectation, panic is settling in among the fanbase. With panic comes the usual finger-pointing and distribution of blame.

But this is only the 17th game of the young season. The championship isn’t won during the fall and winter. Just like the changing of the seasons, the Warriors often start off cold and lethargic, but they eventually heat up and set the rest of the league ablaze with their explosive and nuclear energy. It is a fact that was proven last season, where the Warriors practically slogged their way to an NBA championship amid uninspired regular season play and a slew of key injuries.

Sometimes, panic is an unavoidable feeling. But it is prudent to find the silver lining in the worst of situations, to look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty, to look for the positives among the negatives.

The Warriors may have lost against the Dallas Mavericks, but there were plenty of positives to look at.

Positive #1: Damion Lee

The continuing absence of Stephen Curry has had a profound effect on the Warriors’ offense. Against the Mavericks, the Warriors shot 9-of-33 from beyond the arc, good for 27.3 percent, with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson — normally two of the team’s best three-point shooters sans Curry — being the biggest offenders, with a combined 2-of-15 clip.

Taking away the three-point shooting makes and attempts of Durant and Thompson, the rest of the team posted a 7-of-18 three-point shooting clip, good for 38.8 percent, which is much closer to their team average of 41.1 percent, per Basketball Reference.

Three of those seven three-point makes from the supporting cast came from none other than Curry’s brother-in-law, Damion Lee. As one of two players the Warriors signed to a two-way contract, Lee was called by the Warriors to act as reinforcement for a roster missing two of its stars.

With the Mavericks focused on making Durant and Thompson undergo shooting hell, it was up to the supporting cast to take advantage of the relatively relaxed stance that the Mavericks’ defense was giving them. Damion Lee took advantage of that, and gave the Warriors a jolt of three-point scoring.

Lee’s first three comes in transition, after a missed shot from the Mavericks is rebounded by Shaun Livingston. Lee runs to the right wing, receives the pass from Livingston, and announces his presence by burying the shot over the shorter JJ Barea.

Lee knocks down his second three when Thompson’s penetration into the paint draws the attention of multiple defenders, including Dwight Powell, who sags off of Lee. Thompson kicks the ball out to the left corner, and Lee makes Powell pay for helping one pass away.

For Lee’s third and final three of the night, he transforms from merely being Curry’s brother-in-law to being the Splash Brother-in-Law. He channels Curry by pulling up for a three off of the dribble, which greatly pleases the rest of his teammates.

Seeing Lee go off is a pleasant surprise, and it might have earned him more playing time with the Warriors in upcoming games. His three-point shooting is a needed boost for a team that sorely needs more shooters.

Positive #2: Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston played 20 minutes for the Warriors, posting a stat line of 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, and a plus-minus rating of +12. As expected from his reputation as one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, Livingston obtained all of his points at or near the basket.

However, the most notable sequence from Livingston came on defense. The 33 year old veteran guard showed a glimpse of youth and athleticism by going up for a block on Dorian Finney-Smith and completing the excellent two-way sequence by knocking down a vintage turnaround jumper on the other end.

Positive #3: Damian Jones

Against the Mavericks, young Damian Jones was relegated to the bench in favor of Kevon Looney being inserted into the starting lineup. During his time as the starting center, he displayed glimpses of his potential as an athletic center who could act as a vertical spacer on offense and a rim protector on defense. Along with those glimpses came the growing pains of being taught valuable lessons. Perhaps the hardest lesson he learned came at the hands of the Houston Rockets, where he was often the target of forced switches onto Chris Paul and James Harden.

Steve Kerr may have pulled the plug on the “Jones-as-the-starting-center” experiment, but going back to the bench may prove to be a good thing for the young center. In 22 minutes of action, Jones scored only 2 points, but pulled down 7 boards and had 4 blocks.

Jones’ first block came at the expense of Barea, but with no other teammates around to box out Powell, the Mavericks get the offensive board and a putback.

In this possession, Jones goes up to challenge Devin Harris. He stays vertical, does not put his hands down, and smothers Harris’ layup attempt for his second block of the night.

Jones’ third block comes immediately after his second, when an inbound is made to a rolling Powell. Jones recovers in time to block Powell’s shot from behind.

The fourth and final block of the night is Jones’ most aesthetically pleasing. Luka Dončić — being played excellently by Livingston on the block — goes up for the tough shot, which ends up being spiked away like a volleyball by Jones, showing excellent weak side help to prevent the rookie from scoring.

As of now, Jones’ time as the starting center may have ended, but he may have potential as a spark plug and as an energy boost, similar to the role that JaVale McGee played during his two years with the Warriors.

Positive #4: Quinn Cook

For the second straight game, Kerr decided to start Andre Iguodala at the point guard position in lieu of Quinn Cook. Despite being relegated to a support role off the bench, Cook continued to prove that he was a serviceable back-up for the injured Curry.

Posting a stat line of 15 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists in 22 minutes of play, Cook had an excellent 6-of-10 shooting clip (3-of-5 from three-point range).

Cook’s first three bails the Warriors out of a play designed for Thompson. The play is well defended by the Mavericks, and Thompson is denied the chance to get open for a shot. The ball is swung back towards Cook, who pulls up for the three.

Cook’s second three comes from a chaotic sequence. The effort of Jonas Jerebko to maintain possession of the ball allows Cook to relocate to the right corner. A disorganized and befuddled defense ignores Cook, who buries the three — a key sequence that stretched the Warriors’ lead to four in the third quarter.

Cook’s third three is the product of a simple spread pick-and-roll sequence involving Durant and Jones. The Mavericks elect to ICE the pick-and-roll, forcing Durant to go left. However, Durant threads a bounce pass to Jones on the short roll, attracting the attention of a defender away from the perimeter and leaving Cook wide open.

Cook and Livingston also had a notable sequence in the fourth quarter. With the shot clock winding down, Cook isolates and gets past his defender. His penetration forces another defender to help off of Livingston, leading to an excellent pass and an easy dunk.

Positive #5: Jonas Jerebko

Jonas Jerebko may have made a questionable decision during the closing moments of the game, but that should not take away from the fact that he showed tremendous effort on the boards. Jerebko hauled in a team-high 10 rebounds, filling in excellently for the injured Draymond Green.

Positive #6: Stephen Curry’s continuing off-court leadership

Stephen Curry won’t be coming back for a while. His re-evaluation is set for November 24, and at that point, only the training staff can assess if he will have recovered sufficiently to come back and play without hindrance.

His on-court absence is a pain that the Warriors are having a hard time dealing with. Their offense puts on an entirely different mask without Curry to provide gravity and space.

Steph Curry on/off statistics
Basketball Reference

Despite the ongoing process of rehabbing his injured groin, Curry traveled with the team to Texas, where his constant presence in the locker room and on the bench during games was sorely needed. There is no question that Curry is the most respected player in the Warriors’ organization — a status that is well-deserved, considering that he is the longest-tenured Warrior on the roster.

He has witnessed the organization transform from being a piece of refuse in the proverbial NBA trash heap, to a top-tier organization that has become the golden standard of the NBA. He had an enormous hand in that transformation, enduring a personal journey that ended up in a transformation of his own — from a promising young player limited by recurring ankle injuries, to that of a two-time MVP and one of the best players in the league today.

Curry’s clout in the locker room and in the organization as a whole is, without question, the force that keeps the Warriors afloat. Amid the conflict between Durant and Green, he has become the mediator and peacemaker. To Green’s yin and Durant’s yang, Curry represents the delicate balance that must be maintained in order to establish harmony, to prevent discord, and to keep the wholeness of the team.

Coming from someone who made a promise and kept it with flying colors:

When he reassures everyone that nothing can stand in the way of the Warriors achieving their goal:

He is not merely paying lip service. He has proven, time and time again, that through his leadership both on the court and off of it, he will lead the Warriors to the promised land, and that in the end, nothing can stand in the way of the Warriors’ continuing journey towards immortality and a place among the legends of the NBA.

Simply put, there is no need to panic.

Seventeen down, 65 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.