Two nights after the Golden State Warriors learned another harsh lesson in failing to close out an opponent with their backs against the wall, they proved that they take such lessons to heart.
Say what you will about these baby Dubs — they are inexperienced, unskilled, cannot defend, cannot run Steve Kerr’s highly-intricate motion offense — but you cannot fault them for a lack of heart, for an abundance of hustle, and for their sponge-like propensity to absorb the wave of disappointment thrown at them on a near nightly-basis. Those tenets were on full display during their fourth win of the season, one that took the form of a final score of 104-90 over the visiting Chicago Bulls.
This was a matchup that was somewhat anticipated by Warriors fans, if only for the possibility that this was one of the more winnable games for the Warriors. The Bulls, very much like the Warriors, are one of the worst teams in the league, going into last night’s game with a 6-12 record and ranking low on several metrics.
One metric the Bulls ranked low on was their offense — in fact, they were the third-worst team in the league in terms of offensive efficiency, with a rating of 103.6 going into last night’s game. For what seemed like the first time since forever, the Warriors were going up against an offense that did not possess the tools to severely punish their league-worst defense. It was a prime opportunity for them to shine and look better than they had been all season long.
While the Warriors offense itself isn’t anything special (104.9 offensive rating, 24th in the league before last night’s game), they could count on the tried-and-true system and culture of theirs, one that places trust in each other and one that still espouses the egalitarianism and camaraderie that have been the lifeblood of this team, even if their highest peak has now been relegated to nothing but fond memories.
These new memories — even if they will never amount to a playoff run this season, let alone a championship — have their own charming qualities. There is the memory of Draymond Green, the last superstar standing, the master among the apprentices whose task is to pass on his winning pedigree to those who are still finding out what it means to be a winner. Green finally returned to the lineup after a short absence. and his fingerprints were all over this victory.
As is the case with Green in most instances, he did not score the most points, nor were his contributions the flashiest or the most eye-popping. His stat-line was modest: 7 points on only three shot attempts, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. But like he has always been, Green was the beacon of intangibility, those often hard-to-see factors that are not necessarily perceived by the casual observer, and even less so by Green’s detractors.
“I enjoy just helping these young guys figure their s*** out,” Green said after the game. “It’s exciting as hell to me, so I try to call every play I can for them when I’m out there. ... That’s been exciting for me to watch and just kinda try to help them navigate the season early.”
Draymond Green: “Lot of shit has changed. Klay didn’t even like doing interviews, now he’s interviewing people.” pic.twitter.com/yi3zTQcOKd— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 28, 2019
Green had the freedom to teach and to be that beacon of intangibility, and that freedom was provided by several of his young wards, the most notable among them being Omari Spellman. The second-year player finished the night with a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds that made up the majority of the Warriors’ 54 total rebounds, which dwarfed the Bulls’ 42. Spellman’s effort on the boards provided much needed hustle and energy, and it translated to his contributions on the offensive end.
Much was made of Spellman’s weight issues — he weighed at a less-than-ideal 315 pounds during the Summer League. Spellman attributed this problem to dealing with several issues during his rookie year with the Atlanta Hawks.
“Forget physically — this is the best I’ve felt as a person since college,” Spellman said after the game. “That is not a knock on Atlanta. It was just things that I was going through, things I didn’t understand, that made it harder for me that first year in Atlanta. Having people come around me and see that I needed help and help me in the way that they have, especially my family, my close circle, and the Warriors organization, it’s made it a really easy transition from a very bad place to being happy and just playing basketball.”
Omari Spellman: “Forget physically, this is the best I’ve felt as a person in a long time.” Says it’s “no knock on Atlanta” he was just in a “bad place” mentally as a rookie. pic.twitter.com/lQu6Aamx4S— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 28, 2019
Spellman has now lost 55 pounds since then, and the positive effects of his newfound focus on losing weight perhaps showed its greatest yield against the Bulls last night.
While Spellman was in the process of creating better memories for himself, he had plenty of help from his fellow teammates, all who were equally eager to erase unwanted memories of their own. Eric Paschall, the Warriors’ rookie sensation who was relegated to being the 41st overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, continued to prove wrong those who passed him over. He finished the night with 25 points and 7 rebounds, on an efficient 9-of-17 shooting clip (52.9 percent) and knocking down both of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Right behind Paschall was veteran Alec Burks, who himself had several memories to burn: That of being a former lottery pick whose career amounted to being a role-player; of someone who had his career and potential derailed by an extensive history of injuries; and of someone who was forced to start all over again in a new environment that had the potential to be more of the same for him, if not worse.
But Burks has been given plenty of playing time and plenty of opportunity to show what he’s capable of as the go-to scorer. He will never become a star, nor will he be included in the category of elite “professional” scorers such as Lou Williams — but when the Warriors simply need points in bunches, they can turn to Burks, who is capable of providing them in a pinch.
He finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. With the Bulls threatening to pull ahead during the 4th quarter, Burks contributed to the successful attempt by the Warriors at fending off the Bulls and putting them away for good.
Marquese Chriss and Glenn Robinson III provided ample support themselves. Chriss, the former lottery pick who had to prove that he still was capable of maturing and progressing as a player, is showing flashes that he is indeed someone who can positively contribute, finishing with 11 points on a perfect 5-of-5 clip from the field. Robinson, a former slam dunk champion, is having the best stretch of his Warriors tenure. After scoring 25 points against Oklahoma City on Monday, he finished with a more modest but still respectable showing last night: 11 points and a plus-12 rating on the floor.
On the other end, the Warriors finally garnered another defensive showing worthy of being lauded, albeit against an offense that is rated among the worst in the league, as previously mentioned. The Warriors had 9 blocks against the Bulls, all of which played a big part in the Warriors giving up only 40 points in the paint, well below their season average. They forced the Bulls to turn the ball over 17 times. The Warriors’ energy on defense — their scrambling to rush to open players, collapsing the paint on drives, and overall intensity — was a breath of fresh air and certainly a sight for sore eyes for those who watched the game.
Perhaps the only knock on their defense were the 18 fastbreak points they gave up against the Bulls. It was enough of a pressing problem to force Kerr to break another clipboard.
Steve Kerr broke a clipboard tonight -- the first of the two he said he's allotted per year -- and it cut his hand. Had a towel for the blood on the bench. Said he was upset after a bad stretch of transition defense that put this W in danger. "We were 3-15 coming in," he said.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 28, 2019
In a season where Green has described most things surrounding the team as “weird” — mainly due to the new home environment, the new cast of players, and the absence of the team’s dynastic staples — Kerr victimizing another clipboard was perhaps the only familiar sight to make its presence known last night, evoking memories of when the dynasty itself, full of theoretical perfection, had its moments of frustrating their coach.
This time, the memory presented itself anew, one of a few surviving links between the successes of the past and the struggles of the present. But such struggles will only make this team better. This win was much needed for the psyche of such a young and impressionable team. And as the memories of years past continue to slowly fade into the distance, the new memories created from now on will one day be looked upon fondly, if it will serve to be the precursor to another golden age of Golden State.