After opening up the Chase Center with a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors set out on a quick two-game road trip that began on Sunday afternoon with a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite a 23-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist game from Stephen Curry, the Warriors suffered another large defeat, losing to the Thunder by the score of 120-92. The Thunder jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, leading by as many as 42 points on their way to a comfortable win over the defending Western Conference champions.
Lack of size allows the Thunder’s offense to roll
With both Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein missing this game due to injury, the Warriors gave up a ton of size to the Thunder, a team poised to take advantage of that mismatch. On Sunday afternoon, the Thunder certainly did and Steven Adams was the main beneficiary. The Thunder big man scored 8 points and grabbed 9 rebounds while dominating the painted area in just three quarters of action. 5 of Adams’ 9 rebounds were offensive rebounds, preventing the Warriors from taking advantage of the rare Thunder missed shot.
With the Thunder able to control the paint, their shooters were left open for three-point attempts which they knocked down. The Thunder shot 15/32 from long distance in the win and 9/17 in the first half, as they jumped out to a 33-point halftime lead that rendered the rest of the game not terribly competitive. After struggling offensively in the first two games of the season, the Thunder looked like a team reborn against the Warriors as they put on a shooting clinic.
Leading the three-point barrage for the Thunder was Danilo Gallinari, who scored 21 points while going 4/9 from three-point range. Dennis Schroder got into the act as well, coming off the bench and scoring 22 points while going 1⁄2 from beyond the arc and handing out 6 assists. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t give the Thunder much long-distance scoring (shooting 1/5 from three-point range) but was still an offensive threat as he dropped in 19 points of his own.
Perimeter defense was going to be a problem for the Warriors this season even with everyone healthy. But not having Looney or Cauley-Stein out there, thus giving the opponent an automatic advantage in the front court, makes a difficult situation even worse.
Russell struggles as the Warriors’ offense stagnates
After playing well in the opening-night loss to the Clippers (scoring 20 points and handing out 8 assists), D’Angelo Russell turned in a poor performance against the Thunder. The Warriors desperately need Russell to score, both to compliment Curry and to give other teams something else to focus on defensively, freeing up Curry to get better shots. But if he’s not giving the Warriors anything on offense, then he’s a real liability (unlike players like Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, he’s not giving you a boost on the defensive end) and the team is going to scuffle.
Russell did not contribute much of anything offensively against the Thunder. He scored just 6 points on 3/10 shooting, missing countless layups and easy shots before, mercifully, getting ejected from the game in the third quarter.
D-Lo ejected after this play pic.twitter.com/5NSyRmbP7F— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) October 27, 2019
Russell’s offense is what allowed the Warriors to stay close to the Clippers in the first half of Thursday night’s loss, before the Clippers pulled away in the second. But that scoring wasn’t there on Sunday afternoon. Thus, the Warriors weren’t able to keep things close enough to where they could get back into the game and it was a fait accompli by halftime.
While the defensive issues continued, the Warriors also had to deal with offensive woes. The Warriors shot 32.6% from the field against the Thunder and went 5/33 from three-point range. While those numbers were in part the work of the Thunder’s defensive effort, some of that was the Warriors missing shots they would make (and that they should make). The Warriors couldn’t convert on layups and other good looks, misses that usually let to a Thunder fast break, which they subsequently converted into points.
The Warriors also turned the ball over 15 times, empty possessions that led to 26 Thunder points. Marquese Chriss led the team with 4 turnovers, frequently forcing passes rather than taking a point-blank layup or dunk attempt, passes that often resulted in turnovers or a missed three-point shot. Chriss played well enough in the preseason to earn that roster spot and even a place in the starting lineup with Looney out. But if he wants to continue to be a part of this team, he’s going to need to play better and, perhaps more importantly, make better decisions when he’s on the court.
While Warriors head coach Steve Kerr certainly doesn’t deserve the entire blame for this rough start to the season, it’s become increasingly clear that his pass-heavy motion offense just won’t work with this team right now. If overpassing was a problem when you had great players like Durant, Thompson, and Andre Iguodala out there, it’s going to be an enormous problem when you’re putting players out there who just don’t possess that kind of basketball IQ and experience (this is a young roster, don’t forget that). While these players are learning and thus you have to give them some time (and that's why having Curry go full Westbrook would not be good for their development)(you never go full Westbrook), I think Kerr and the coaching staff need to alter their offensive gameplan slightly.
Spellman and Paschall bring something to the table
Two bright spots in an otherwise dreadful game was the play (in the first half at least) of Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall. With Looney and Cauley-Stein sidelined, both of these players knew they were going to be pressed into action, something that was compounded with Chriss picking up two early fouls. Spellman was the first player off the bench, blocking 2 shots and grabbing 2 rebounds in the first quarter. After not playing well in the loss to the Clippers, Spellman looked good for stretches against the Thunder, playing good defense against Adams that forced him into some misses.
Paschall came into the game later in the first and gave the Warriors more size as well as playing decent defense, particularly when he would get switched onto one of the Thunder’s perimeter players. Paschall has looked good through the first two games of the season, appearing like he might be a Draymond Green-esque steal from the second round. If Paschall keeps developing and Jordan Poole’s shots finally start falling (he went 1/9 from the field and 1/5 from long distance in the loss to the Thunder, but he still got good looks), this year’s rookies will be able to make some good contributions to this team going forward.