After what seemed like an eternity, the words “winning streak” and the Golden State Warriors can finally be combined in the same sentence once again.
The Warriors’ 113-104 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves provided Dub Nation with an early Christmas gift. (Let’s face it — the Warriors will be massive underdogs against the Houston Rockets on their Christmas day showdown, and unless the final buzzer sounds on that day with the Warriors scoring more points than the Rockets, this win from last night will have to do.) Facing a Wolves team that had lost 10 straight games going into last night, a potential two-game winning streak was practically being handed to the Warriors on a silver platter, and they were more than willing to grab it.
There was plenty to love about the Warriors’ performance last night. Here are five of them.
1) The Warriors’ incredible first half
Against a Timberwolves team that was in the middle of a 10-game losing streak — and who were without their star Karl-Anthony Towns due to a knee sprain — the ball was in the Warriors’ court, so to speak. Jumping all over a crippled and struggling team was well within their capability, and they managed to do just that by the end of the first half.
The first quarter ended with the two teams struggling to pull away from each other — both of them managed to score 22 points. But the Warriors pulled away with a 35-21 second quarter, and it provided them with a 57-43 advantage at halftime. The Warriors held the Timberwolves to 39.5 percent shooting from the field, and only 21.4 percent from beyond the arc. They forced 11 turnovers and limited the Timberwolves to only 6 assists.
On the offensive end, the Warriors shot 45.1 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from beyond the arc, had 16 assists, and had a 14-6 edge in fastbreak points. This resulted in rare efficiency metrics at the half that harkened back to the dynasty Warriors of years past.
Warriors at half vs. MIN:— Joe Viray (@JoeViray90) December 24, 2019
14-6 fastbreak points lead for the Dubs, 45.1 percent shooting from the field vs. Wolves' 39.5 percent shooting.
Dubs have 16 assists at the half and are keeping their turnovers down (6), while forcing 11 from MIN
The second half saw the Warriors being outscored by the Timberwolves, 56-61. If not for their strong first half, the Warriors may very well have lost last night’s game. But it seems the Warriors have learned their lesson in the importance of having strong starts to their games, and it was a lesson that benefited them last night.
2) D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors’ main man
Coming off a clutch performance against the New Orleans Pelicans last Saturday, Russell continued where he left off against the Timberwolves. He led the Warriors in scoring, finishing with 30 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field (44.4 percent), 5-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc (45.5 percent), and 9-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line.
Russell continues to prove that he is more than just another high-profile trade asset the Warriors can potentially use in the near future. Sure — in many ways, Russell is the antithesis of the Warriors’ offensive philosophy. A pick-and-roll maestro in a system that tries to minimize pick-and-roll possessions is bound to be the odd man out, but in a season where the main cogs of the Warriors’ motion offense — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — are recovering from their injuries, Russell is the closest to an elite offensive talent the Warriors have left, and they have no choice but to rely on his on-ball playmaking and scoring skills to survive.
Russell has had a knack for hitting timely shots, and when the Timberwolves cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to near-DEFCON 1 levels, Russell hit this catch-and-shoot three coming off a pindown screen to provide the Warriors with a bit of breathing room:
3) Willie Cauley-Stein’s best performance of the season
Willie Cauley-Stein hasn’t been the most consistent player for the Warriors. His performances have pretty much caused Warriors fans to scratch and shake their heads in frustration and enmity. He hasn’t done much to gain their love and support, and at times has shown little to justify his place in the depth chart.
What causes most of those frustrations is the fact that Cauley-Stein is full of possibilities that aren’t being realized. He is a 7-foot athletic big man who possesses the physical tools to be a solid contributor on both ends of the floor. He can be a vertical spacer, capable of being a lob threat in the pick-and-roll. He can be an excellent rim protector and shot blocker on the defensive end.
The operative word in those statements is “can” — because while he can be those things and more, he just hasn’t shown it this season. He shows flashes of being that athletic lob threat, but they haven’t been consistent enough. He is a liability in the pick-and-roll, where he often gets caught between a rock and a hard place.
But Cauley-Stein was different last night. Against the Timberwolves, he scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, two of which came on being the beneficiary of Russell’s pick-and-roll playmaking excellence (shown in the clips above). He had 3 blocks and more than held his own in pick-and-roll defense. He showed consistent hustle and energy on both ends of the floor that has often waxed and waned in the past.
“Willie Cauley-Stein has put together some good games,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “Three blocked shots tonight, good rim protection. The guys are just playing hard and playing with a lot of energy, so it’s good to see.”
“(Cauley-Stein’s) been amazing,” Draymond Green said. “He’s really been great at protecting the rim. ... He’s been giving us a spark on the offensive end. There’s no big in the league that can run the way he runs the floor. ... He’s been playing great on both ends of the floor.”
4) Alec Burks’ reliability down the stretch
Alec Burks the scorer isn’t much of a surprise to Warriors fans anymore (in a good way). His consistency in that aspect has become one of the few bright spots this season, and his performance against the Timberwolves was no different. He finished with 25 points on an efficient 8-of-13 clip from the field (61.5 percent), with a 3-of-6 clip from beyond the arc.
But Alec Burks the passer is a phrase that not a lot of people would’ve thought existed before last night. Burks is averaging 3.0 assists per game this season, which is on pace to tie his season high set during the 2014-15 season when he was a member of the Utah Jazz. He averages only 1.8 assists for his entire career.
Burks exceeded playmaking expectations by dishing out 8 assists against the Timberwolves last night, with the most important one being this lob to Cauley-Stein late in the fourth quarter to stretch the Warriors’ lead to 10:
Burks also scored 8 of his 25 points in the final 6 minutes of the fourth quarter, which helped the Warriors stave off a late-game rally from the Timberwolves.
5) The Warriors finally have their first win streak of the season
This two-game stretch of victories against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves, both at Chase Center, will do wonders for the Warriors’ morale (and for the morale of the fanbase).
It’s been a while since the Warriors had a stretch of consecutive wins. The last time that happened, Kevin Durant was still with the team (albeit sidelined with a calf injury), Andre Iguodala was still around to be their most valuable utility player, and the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green were in the process of sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.
The last time the Warriors won consecutive games, before beating the Pelicans on Friday and the Timberwolves on Monday, was in May. The WC Finals. A sweep over the Blazers.— Monte Poole (@MontePooleNBCS) December 24, 2019
“It feels f****** amazing!” Green said about the Warriors current win streak. “I never thought I’d be so excited for two regular season wins in my life.”
A feeling, I’m pretty sure, that is being echoed throughout all of Dub Nation after last night.