The Warriors traveled to Philips Arena in Atlanta to face the Hawks on Monday night for the third game of this current five-game road swing. The road has been unkind to the Warriors of late, as the team had lost the previous six games away from the friendly confines of Oracle Arena.
But the defending champs were able to snap that streak, jumping out to a big lead in the first quarter while never letting the Hawks get back into the game as they coasted to a 128-111 win.
A better three-point game for Curry, Warriors
In his second game back in the lineup, Stephen Curry played like his usual, two-time-MVP self. Curry scored 30 points on Monday night while shooting from 6/10 from three-point range. Curry’s final points of the night came on this long-range shot that is pretty good evidence that Curry really is back and starting to get into the groove he was in to start this 2018-19 season.
Curry struggled in the first half of Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons but he came on strong in the second half, seemingly playing his way out of the rust that had accumulated after missing 11 games. That trajectory continued against the Hawks as Curry was positively locked in to start the game, scoring 18 of his 30 points in the first quarter, missing just one field-goal attempt while shooting 4/5 from three-point range.
Curry’s dominant start allowed the Warriors to race out in front of the Hawks, holding a lead as large as 17 points in the opening frame.
As a team, the Warriors’ three-point shooting was much better on Monday night as they went 13/24 from long distance. This was their best team three-point shooting performance since their November 23rd win over the Portland Trail Blazers and their fifth-best game of the season in terms of team three-point percentage.
Klay Thompson contributed to this by going 3/5 from three-point range on his way to a 27 point, 8 rebound game against the Hawks. The game was Thompson’s ninth-straight game with 20+ points, a career high for him.
The Warriors’ three-point attempts were still on the low side as they took just 24 on Monday night, still below the league average of around 31 three-point attempts per game. However, that relatively lower total had more to do with the fact that they were in control for the entire game, never having to overcome any deficits, and were also able to empty the bench in the final minutes of the game and more or less run out the clock.
What was important was that there wasn’t a great discrepancy between how many three-pointers the Warriors took and how many their opponent did. That is a very good sign and hopefully means that, with Curry’s return, the Warriors can start looking like the Warriors again offensively.
Looney and Bell step into the spotlight
Kevon Looney got the start on Monday night, replacing the injured Damian Jones who will be out for a while with a torn pectoral muscle. With Jones and Draymond Green out (and DeMarcus Cousins still rehabbing), a great deal of responsibility was going to fall upon Looney. Against the Hawks, the Warriors’ big man from UCLA showed everyone that he was up for the job and why the Warriors were more than happy to bring him back this past offseason.
Looney scored a career-high 14 points, showing more moves and flair on the offensive end than we are accustomed to seeing from him.
In addition to his scoring, Looney contributed to the Warriors’ win by grabbing 4 rebounds, handing out 5 assists, getting 2 steals and blocking 2 shots. Looney’s defense against the Hawks was also outstanding, as he routinely was able to contest Hawks’ shots without fouling and sending them to the free-throw line. Looney finished the game a +21, positively impacting his team’s performance on both ends of the court.
The Warriors were also going to need quality minutes from Jordan Bell with their big-man rotation so depleted. The second-year player from Oregon struggled mightily in his nearly four minutes in the second quarter, a stretch when the Hawks were able to cut the Warriors’ lead to seven points before the Warriors were able to push it back to 14 points by halftime. But Bell played much better in the third, scoring two points, grabbing two rebounds, and handing out two assists as the Warriors increased their lead to 24 points and rendered the rest of the game a somewhat moot point.
Hawks can’t overcome turnover problems
The Hawks are trying to build their team in a way that follows the Warriors’ model. Their coach and general manager both came from the Warriors organization and they’ve also set themselves up with a Splash Brothers-esque backcourt in Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. Whether they get results like the Warriors have remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the Warriors are their inspiration.
The Hawks did look very Warriors-esque in one particular way on Monday night—they turned the ball over a ton. The Hawks turned the ball over 19 times against the Warriors, resulting in 26 Warriors points. In the first quarter alone, the Hawks turned it over 9 times, which led to 13 Warriors’ points and allowed them to grab that early control of the game. The Warriors’ defense was much more active and focused, especially Looney and Kevin Durant, which led to those turnovers as well as a better offensive game. The Warriors did end up with 20 turnovers of their own, but most of those came late in the game when the outcome had been determined.
John Collins led all Hawks scorers with 24 points while Young had 20 points of his own, though he shot an abysmal 0/5 from three-point range. The Hawks have some young pieces to build around in Young, Huerter, and Collins. They need time to mature and grow, but there are signs that this could be a team to watch in the Eastern Conference in the future.
A quietly great Durant game
Curry had the eye-catching night but we shouldn’t overlook Durant’s performance against the Hawks.
Durant scored 28 points while also grabbing five rebounds and handing out eight assists, another stellar all-around game from the back-to-back Finals MVP. One of Durant’s eight assists came on this play in the first quarter as he got the ball to Curry for the corner three-point shot.
I’ve been writing about this throughout the season thus far, but I continue to be impressed with Durant’s growth as a distributor. Durant’s assists numbers this season, which are at the highest of his career so far, do not really fit with the overused narrative that he is only an isolation scorer, someone who stops all ball movement and can’t get his teammates involved.
Durant has shown the ability over the past month or so to play the Draymond Green role when the Warriors are without their versatile forward, particularly when it comes to playmaking and generating assists. The Warriors’ ball movement was much better against the Hawks as they ended the game with 33 assists, their most since November 8th. After having to struggle and not being able to play the way they would like, the Warriors looked like themselves on Monday night. It showed in their three-point shooting and it showed up in their team assist totals as well.