Here’s something not any of you thought would happen — at least, not with this current iteration of the Golden State Warriors: They managed to shoot 16 threes out of 38 attempts, good for an exceptional 42.1 percent. This is without two of their best shooters, let alone the two greatest shooters of all time, in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
To put such an accomplishment into perspective, this was done despite the Warriors shooting a measly 32.8 percent on threes so far during this season — good for third-worst in the league. Additionally, they only average 9.4 three-point makes per game, which is the second-worst mark in the league.
With this kind of anomalous (and somewhat miraculous) three-point shooting performance, you would think that the Warriors would have done enough to win against the Portland Trail Blazers, especially since they’ve already beaten them once before earlier this season. D’Angelo Russell top-scored for the Warriors, with his 26 points coming mostly on a 5-of-12 clip from beyond the arc. Glenn Robinson III had his best three-point shooting performance, shooting 5-of-7 from three-point range and finishing with 17 points. Alec Burks hit 4 of his 9 attempts from beyond the arc and finished with 16 points.
The Warriors can take it upon themselves to shoot the ball successfully every once and a while, but apparently, they still can’t find it within themselves to be a competent defensive team. The effort is definitely there — no one can fault the Warriors for a lack of trying — but effort can only go up to a certain point, especially if it’s effort without purpose and cohesion. The Blazers shot 45.4 percent from the field, much better than the Warriors’ 39.8 percent success rate — and they did so on fewer shot attempts.
Where the Warriors defense massively failed, however, was represented by a particular sore thumb sticking out in the Blazers’ box score — 28 free-throw attempts, 25 of which the Blazers were able to knock down (89.3 percent). To be fair, there wasn’t a huge discrepancy between the Warriors’ attempts and those of the Blazers. The Warriors themselves were able to go to the line for 23 attempts, and their once league-leading free-throw percentage as a team would make one think that 23 attempts is 23 attempts too many for the Blazers to have allowed.
But the Warriors botched their charity shots by managing to knock down only 14 of those attempts, which translated to a success rate of 60.9 percent — well below their 80 percent mark for the season.
The Warriors were punched in the mouth as early as the first quarter, where their defense was exploited out of the gates through a 40-point quarter from the Blazers. The Warriors came roaring back with a 37-27 second quarter to trail the Blazers by a single point going into the halfway mark. Such a rally was made possible by the Warriors’ bench outscoring the Blazers’, 25-13, as well as scoring 17 points off the Blazers’ 9 first-half turnovers. Of course, the Warriors’ 10-of-19 clip from beyond the arc wasn’t too shabby, either.
Looking at the advanced metrics at the half, it was apparent that this was a game being played by two teams that treated defense as an option rather than a necessity, although it was to no one’s surprise — these are two of the worst defensive teams in terms of efficiency, with the Blazers’ 111.1 rating ranked 20th in the league and the Warriors’ 113.0 rating ranked 26th.
Warriors at half vs. POR:— Joe Viray (@JoeViray90) December 19, 2019
Defense is apparently optional in this game.
The third quarter saw the Warriors maintaining their close deficit, albeit slightly giving ground to the Blazers, who entered the final quarter with a 5-point cushion. It was still anyone’s game up to that point, and judging by how much these teams valued the defensive end of the floor, the possibility was there for either a rally by the Warriors to overtake the Blazers, or for the Blazers to pull away from their pesky challengers.
The latter scenario was the one that came to fruition, with the Blazers fending off the Warriors in the fourth quarter by a score of 25-20 and finishing the game with a 122-112 victory. The usual suspects from the Blazers shined the brightest — Damian Lillard finished with 31 points, while his backcourt partner-in-crime CJ McCollum scored 30. Resurgent veteran Carmelo Anthony finished with 17 points, while Hassan Whiteside had a double-double of 16 points and 23 rebounds.
“They made shots down the stretch, they got stops down the stretch, and they got those extra possessions down the stretch that can really dictate the game,” Russell said after the game. “We gave ourselves a chance and that’s a positive.”
The Warriors finished with an improved defensive rating (118.4) as compared to their rating at halftime (127.4). But their offensive rating at the half (125.5) steeply declined by the end of the night (109.8). Their overall success from beyond the arc belied their relative inability to shoot the ball during the second half, where they shot a mediocre 6-of-19 on threes (31.6 percent) and an overall 18-of-51 clip (35.3 percent) from the field.
“It’s hard when we don’t practice that much because of the way the schedule’s set up,” Willie Cauley-Stein, who finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds, said after the game. “You gotta take learning it from the film and paying attention to really understand it because practice days are limited in this league.”
Practice days will continue to be a rare commodity, especially since the Warriors will only have one day in between last night’s loss and the next one in Chase Center against the New Orleans Pelicans, which will be the first of a five-game Christmas homestand (which inlcludes a back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, two teams the Warriors have already lost to). One can only hope that this sudden stroke of success — no pun intended — from beyond the arc will continue, as the upcoming slate of games won’t provide the Warriors with any kind of respite.
If one more item can be added onto the Christmas wish list, it would probably be the hope — however improbable it may be — that the Warriors will show any semblance of a defensive identity during this upcoming homestand.
Postscript: Kevon Looney’s DNP
Veteran Kevon Looney was a notable DNP against the Blazers last night — in fact, the only one in the active roster who did not see minutes on the floor.
“It’s hard to play 12 guys, and Looney is struggling to get his game back right now and we’ve only been able to give him spot minutes here and there,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “I talked to him today. I thought I would get him out there for some minutes, but with the way the game turned out, I stayed with the other guys.
“(Looney) is one of our foundational players. He’s had a really rough go because of the condition that he dealt with. He missed training camp. He’s trying to find his way now, but has not found a rhythm. He still doesn’t have the conditioning. ... It’s not really fair to him or the team until he’s really in a better place physically.”
Kevon Looney received a DNP tonight. Steve Kerr gives a detailed explanation why, still calling him a “foundational” piece for the future, but admitting his body/rhythm just won’t allow Kerr to play him much right now. pic.twitter.com/tN7GwDYV9j— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 19, 2019
The Warriors’ most reliable center has struggled in his 8 games this season, averaging only 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in only 11.4 minutes per game. Regaining his conditioning and game fitness coming from a long layoff due to a neuropathic condition is a difficult mountain to climb — Looney clearly hasn’t been that beacon of reliability he’s been for the Warriors in years past. Putting him on the shelf and giving him time to get his old self back may turn out to be a very prudent course of action.