Call it what you want — a slump, a losing streak, a reckoning, a slow and inevitable death. The Golden State Warriors have gone through perhaps the toughest stretch of their five-year dynastic rampage in the NBA. On the court, the Warriors have been struggling to find their groove and rhythm on offense, as they constantly try to find a remedy for the absences of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
Off the court, the Warriors are recovering from the tense ordeal between Green and Kevin Durant. Although the team may have mended fences and moved on from that incident, the national media still insists on monitoring the situation, like a pack of vultures ready to pounce on what they expect to be the carcass of what once was the Warrior dynasty.
The Warriors, under the microscope of the nation for entirely different reasons, passed the test of stabilizing their internal strife. Now that the ordeal has passed them, the only test left to take was if they could make the proper adjustments on the court in order to put a halt to their unprecedented losing streak.
They passed their first test against the Portland Trail Blazers, where a vintage offensive performance ran the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum out of Oracle Arena. It was a performance that served as proof of the carrying power of Durant and Klay Thompson, and a pleasing callback to the Warriors’ identity as a team that wins games with elite defense. With a significant amount of help from their supporting cast, Durant and Thompson were able to power through and dominate in classic Warriors fashion.
Now that the Warriors have proven that they are capable of generating offense from a lineup bereft of Curry and Green, they needed to prove that they were capable of coming through in the clutch. Against the young but vastly improved Sacramento Kings, the Warriors were maneuvered into a corner, faced with the prospect of taking a clean shot on the jaw and staying down for the count.
But the Warriors persevered, showing heart, grit, and determination — and their counterpunch managed to put the Kings away for good.
The Warriors’ 16-4 third quarter run
To the casual basketball fan, a four-point deficit against the Kings at halftime would elicit surprised reactions. But everyone who follows the NBA to a much deeper degree knows that the Kings have exceeded the expectations of pretty much everyone outside of their organization. With a record of 10-8 — and ranking second in the league in terms of pace at 105.97, per NBA.com — the Kings were hell-bent on running and gunning their way to an upset victory.
The Warriors open up their third quarter scoring with a one-legged fadeaway shot from Dirk Nowitzki.
Well, its not exactly Dirk Nowitzki, but Durant certainly has adopted the Dallas legend’s signature move and made it immensely impossible to defend.
During the Warriors’ next possession, they opt to go with something basic and simple, yet still very much effective. By now, most fans should recognize this play, as the Warriors are fond of running plenty of their actions from the low post — a clear influence from Steve Kerr’s days running the Triangle Offense as a player.
Thompson recognizes his defender’s obvious attempt at overplaying him, which is a common tactic against someone who is deadly from beyond the three-point line. With no one to patrol the paint, Thompson pushes away from his man and makes a swift cut toward the basket, receiving the pass from Damian Jones for the easy layup.
Additionally, the Warriors begin to generate three-point shots off of basic screening actions, instead of forcing them up early in the shot clock. Durant and Quinn Cook screen for each other under the basket, which allows Cook the space to run out toward the three-point line. Cook’s defender navigates around Jones’ screen, but chooses the wrong side and is too late to challenge the shot.
Continuing the theme of pushing the pace in transition to generate quick baskets, Durant hauls in the rebound after a miss by the Kings and wastes no time in making a fast but controlled beeline toward the basket. With Thompson setting up in the left corner, the outcome of this possession is all but set in stone.
The Warriors then decide to run their standard double high screen set leading to a Durant post up, with a slight revision — instead of Thompson getting a flare screen from Jones for a three, he instead cuts toward the basket. This is well defended, but Thompson, ever the dangerous sharpshooter, waits for a pass. Durant clears away from the post and makes the pass to Thompson, who has his defender scrambling to contest his shot.
Never deprive the hand that goes hot — and the Warriors most certainly do not deprive Thompson of another three. A simple pin down from Jones allows Thompson to break free from his defender, and with no switching involved, the Kings gift some free points to the Warriors.
Damian Jones makes a statement
Jones has seen his fair share of criticism from the Warriors Twitterati due to his lackluster performances against the Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was rendered severely ineffective against Steven Adams, and his total number of rebounds after that game was a big fat zero. Given another chance against the Blazers, he was instead thrown into the pick-and-roll meat grinder and was soon overshadowed by both Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell.
Amid calls for his head, Jones didn’t shy away from the challenge of vindicating the trust that the coaching staff puts in him, contributing 13 points and 6 rebounds in a solid bounce-back effort against the Kings.
Two of his most eye-catching moments came in the third quarter. Instead of vocally protesting the criticism directed toward him, he let these two putback dunks speak for themselves.
Livingston steps up
To close out the quarter, Shaun Livingston is involved in two crucial sequences that help maintain the Warriors’ lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Warriors run another low post split, with Livingston screening for Thompson, who flashes toward the three-point line. Miscommunication results in two defenders switching onto Thompson, leaving Livingston all alone to cut and get the ball for the poster dunk.
In the next possession, Livingston turns back time and summons a burst of speed, getting past his defender to drive toward the basket. This forces Looney’s defender to help, leaving Looney all alone to receive the pass from Livingston for the dunk.
Durant takes over
With a narrow two-point lead, the Warriors start the fourth quarter with Durant as their sole scoring option. An offensive board by Jonas Jerebko allows Durant to stretch the lead further.
Kevin “Dirk Nowitzki” Durant makes a reappearance with this one-legged fadeaway, making his defender ponder about defending such an impossible shot.
It’s anyone’s game at this point, but Durant is an enormous luxury for the Warriors. With how he is being massively underappreciated in some circles nowadays, it’s prudent to count your blessings in times of adversity, and Durant is a blessing to the highest degree.
The Kings surge past the Warriors for the six-point lead, and things are once again looking bleak for the Warriors. But Durant does not let the Warriors sink into the depths of despair, burying a three off of a simple pin down action.
And after getting a stop against the Kings, Durant gets the rebound, crosses the halfcourt line, and shifts into a higher gear. He pulls up for a jumper that goes in, with a foul to boot. And just like that, the game is tied.
The endgame flex
Cook does a great impression of Curry by moving and relocating after giving up the ball. The Kings’ defense fail to keep track of him, and he buries the three to break the deadlock.
And Durant continues to wax hot by burying another fadeaway shot — perhaps the most unstoppable shot in the league right now, despite how hard he had to work for it.
But the Kings just won’t go away. With 26 seconds left in the game, the Kings fight back to take a one-point lead, courtesy of the Warriors sending De’Aaron Fox to the line for two clutch free throws. Kerr calls a time out to draw up a play.
What does that play end up being? A simple isolation for Durant, who is defended by Iman Shumpert. Durant misses the shot, but fortune favors the Warriors — the ball is rebounded by Andre Iguodala, who finds Thompson on the perimeter.
Thompson takes it upon himself to end the game by driving inside, going up bravely against Willie Cauley-Stein and missing badly. But he gets his own rebound and sticks the dagger (and his biceps) into the heart of the young lions.
A win like this — where the Warriors came up big in the clutch — can only serve to tighten the bond in the locker room. In some ways, it serves as a much stronger glue than a dominating, one-sided win. Problems still persist, and the Warriors still need to be in full operational strength. But this is a test that the Warriors needed to pass. And as most people would know, passing a test of this magnitude often serves as the gateway to brighter days ahead.
Twenty-one down, 61 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.