The Warriors began the closing stretch of the 2017-18 regular season by hosting the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night at Oracle Arena. The Warriors occasionally looked quite impressive on Thursday night, yet allowed the visiting Clippers to hang around and make it a tightly contested game in the closing minutes. In the end, the Warriors’ talent advantage was too great as they secured the 134-127 victory.
For the first time in a while, Warriors have a good first quarter
The Warriors put together one of the best starts to a game in recent memory in Thursday night’s game against the Clippers. Slow starts and early deficits have plagued the Warriors this season, especially in the new year, but on Thursday night they started the game focused and energized.
Whether because JaVale McGee was in the starting lineup instead of Zaza Pachulia or because they’d finally had the All-Star break, the Warriors looked like... well, the Warriors in the first quarter.
Allowing opposing offenses to get off to hot starts has been a problem for the Warriors. But on Thursday night, they held the Clippers to just 23 points and 41.6% from the field in the first quarter. Draymond Green was particularly energized on defense and his effort galvanized the rest of the team. Throughout the game against the Clippers, Green displayed that energy as he yelled at players to try and pushed them to make a greater effort and get the team the victory.
Green finished the game with 14 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. One of those assists came in that first quarter on this pass that set up a difficult dunk for Kevin Durant.
KD up and under for the oop pic.twitter.com/JWWUzRnlxK— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 23, 2018
But more than any one number or statistic, it was the energy he brought on defense that elicited a better effort from the Warriors and was where Green made his biggest mark in this game against the Clippers.
Not only did the Warriors play good defense in the first , but their offense was dialed in as well. Klay Thompson was the main offensive threat in the quarter, making both of his shots from three-point range while getting a dunk here on the assist from Durant.
Dubs on the run! (TNT, NBCSBA) pic.twitter.com/tb1PCdx8mo— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 23, 2018
Thompson scored 19 points against the Clippers, including eight in that first quarter. Thompson missed just one shot (a wide-open three pointer that he would normally make) in the first half but cooled off as the game went on. Nevertheless, his hot start helped the Warriors get off on the good foot.
The Warriors ball movement was also impressive in the first quarter, as they had 10 assists on 12 made shots while only turning it over three times. Though, as we’ll discuss shortly, the turnover problems did return, but in the first quarter they seemed to be a thing of the past. The Warriors finished the game with 31 assists on 47 made shots as the energy and ball movement they displayed in the first quarter continued throughout the game.
At the end of the first quarter, the Warriors led by 11 points, which they pushed to a 12-point lead at halftime. While the Warriors have been using great second halves recently to win games, against the Clippers on Thursday night it was their first half that gave them control over the game.
Steph Curry gives us a spectacular second half
Stephen Curry didn’t start out the game like Thompson did, as it took him until the very end of the first quarter to sink his first three-pointer of the night.
Curry finished the first half with 15 points, which included another three-pointer in the closing seconds, this time in the second quarter.
While his first half was (for him) on the pedestrian side, Curry’s second half would more than make up for it. Curry scored 18 of his game-high 44 points in the third quarter, not letting Clippers owner Steve Balmer affect his shot.
Steve Ballmer thinking he can disrupt Steph by yelling at him. Laughable pic.twitter.com/RMt0U39hnm— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 23, 2018
But the bulk of Curry’s points in the third quarter came from him driving to the basket and getting layups. When a bigger and slower defender, like the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, switched onto Curry, the Warriors’ point guard took advantage.
Throughout the game, Curry used his quickness on defenders like Jordan, either getting a shot close to the bucket or a step-back three-pointer. Curry scored 11 more points in the fourth quarter, including this three-pointer that pushed the Warriors lead to seven and gave the Warriors enough breathing room after the Clippers had closed the gap late in the game.
Steph is going to Steph. 44 for the 2x MVP pic.twitter.com/PLzeg55knS— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 23, 2018
For good measure, Curry also handed out 10 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds, giving him an impressive and well-rounded stat line in his first game back from the break. Equally impressive was that Curry needed just 19 attempts from the field to get those 44 points.
Many, including The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, have noted that Curry’s numbers after the All-Star break trend upward and thus has predicted a big closing stretch of the season for Curry. After Thursday night’s game, that prediction looked pretty good.
Yes, turnovers are still an issue
Though they started out the game being careful with the basketball, as the game wore on the Warriors’ propensity to give the ball away returned. In the final three quarters of Thursday night’s game, the Warriors turned the ball over 12 more times for a total of 15 turnovers against the Clippers.
Now, not all of these turnovers were especially egregious or as head-scratching as the ones we saw before the All-Star break. Quite a few of the Warriors’ turnovers against the Clippers came from miscommunications and cuts that were supposed to happen but didn’t. That’s perhaps the downside of the All-Star break—you go almost a week without playing together as a team and thus your timing gets off.
But what this did was to allow the Clippers to have extra possessions, enabling them to take (and make) more shots and stay in a game that should not have been close. The Clippers took 13 more shots than the Warriors did, which explains why they were able to stay in a game where the Warriors shot 62.7% from the field and 56% from three-point range.
The game gets close in the fourth quarter
Though the Warriors led by as many as 18 points on Thursday night, the Clippers were able to make it a game in the closing minutes, cutting that Warriors lead to just two points. One reason for this was that the Clippers heated up towards the end of the game while the Warriors cooled off. While the Warriors’ defense was quite stingy in the first quarter, it was much more lax in the remaining three quarters, allowing the Clippers to score 35 points in both the second and fourth quarters as well as 34 in the third.
One player who got very hot for the Clippers was Lou Williams. After being held to five points on one of eight shooting for most of the game thanks to some good defense from Andre Iguodala, Williams came alive down the stretch.
Beginning at the two-minute mark of the third quarter, the Clippers’ guard scored 16 points while helping the Clippers erase the Warriors advantage. With Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and recent addition Tobias Harris all leading the way, the Clippers were able to make a game of it in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors didn’t help their cause in the fourth quarter by missing quite a few shots that they normally make. One way the Warriors made up for this was by getting to the free-throw line. Durant, who finished the game with 24 points, was very good about this. Durant shot four of his ten free throws in the fourth quarter, giving the Warriors points when they couldn’t get any shooting from the field.
Throughout the fourth, the Warriors would make a run to put a bit of distance between them and the Clippers only to watch the visiting Clippers close the gap and make things close. But in the waning moments of the game, Curry and Durant made their three-pointers to give the Warriors the win.
The game was much closer than it should have been and, after a good start, the Warriors lost their defensive focus, but it was a promising start to the final stretch of 24 games for the Warriors. Hopefully, the Warriors will put in a more complete performance when Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder visit Oracle Arena on Saturday night.
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