I don’t know how common of an occurrence this is, but it does happen — sometimes, there is that one student who never shows up in class. Consistent bouts of absenteeism would make people think that this person is lazy and doesn’t possess the attention span to sit in an hour-long class and listen to an instructor drone on and on about a topic that doesn’t seem all too interesting.
That person does show up eventually, but only during exams when grades matter the most. He or she manages to pass those exams despite being a non-entity for most of the semester. You can’t help but feel somewhat cheated by life, that someone who seemingly doesn’t put in as much effort as you do in showing up to class manages to do just enough to pass.
That same sentiment is similar to what the rest of the league probably feels about the Golden State Warriors, who have a notorious tendency to be “absent” in several of the games they play. Instead of trying to play to the best of their capabilities — during which they are nigh unstoppable and nearly invincible — they opt to play with fire instead. Sometimes, they manage to put the flames out before they become uncontrollable; despite not showing up for most of the game, they show up when it matters to pull out a victory in the end. But other times, the fire turns into an inferno which eventually burns the Warriors out.
Wednesday night against the Miami Heat was another instance of the Warriors playing down to the level of their opponent. This isn’t to discredit the Heat’s effort on both ends of the floor; disciplined, well-coached, and full of players who are invested in the system and culture, the Heat are the kind of squad built to punish a team who is capable of hitting them with a nuclear missile, but instead shows up with a knife.
The Warriors had an abysmal first half, going down by as much as 24 points. The deficit was whittled down to 15 by halftime, but it was clear that the Warriors had an enormous mountain to climb. Allowing 74 points due to a variety of factors — continuous fouling that resulted in 17-of-20 free throws made for the Heat, as well as 9-of-18 shooting from three — defense was an afterthought for the Warriors.
To make matters worse, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were both missing the target from deep — both sported a 1-of-6 clip from three at halftime. They were bailed out by Klay Thompson’s 21 points at the half, with a 9-of-12 overall clip and 3-of-6 from three.
A stinker of a first half can be masked by a perfume-laced second half from the Warriors, as they have done several times before. The Warriors managed to outscore the Heat 66-52 in the second half. If you do the math, that would be good enough for ... a one-point loss.
The Warriors showed up, brought their pencils, studied just enough to know the important stuff — and yet, they still failed the exam.
To Curry and Durant’s credit, they were intent on making up for their first half struggles. Team adjustments are important, especially on the defensive end — but individual adjustments can be just as crucial, especially if those individuals are two of the best players in the league.
Curry starts off the second half with a 6-point personal run, starting off with this floater that was made possible by a fortuitous offensive rebound. After the Heat answer with a three, Curry pushes the pace by throwing it ahead to Kevon Looney on the right side, which distracts the defense enough to lose track of Curry speeding toward the right wing, receiving the ball back from Looney, and going up for the three while getting fouled in the process.
Meanwhile, Durant was able to score a couple of times through a conventional and-1 sequence and a made three, as well as dishing out passes to Thompson and Jonas Jerebko that led to crucial three-point shots.
But the most valuable player of the third quarter for the Warriors was arguably Jordan Bell, who showed tremendous spurts of effort and energy during his time on the floor. With DeMarcus Cousins resting, Bell had plenty of chances to showcase his worth, and he largely did not disappoint.
That effort started back in the second quarter, where Bell’s focus on the defensive end allowed him to steal the ball, leading into a layup for Thompson on the other end. This is followed up by a put back dunk for Bell, made possible by his roll to the basket and being left all alone by the defense to grab the offensive board.
Bell’s effort would carry over to his third quarter minutes, where he would show flashes of the defensive potential and energy that many touted him to have. He starts off by drawing a charge, standing his ground and allowing his man to crash into him uncontrollably. This is followed up by his effort on the boards — he runs after the ball and gives it to Curry. He then hustles toward the rim and beats the defense, allowing him to receive the ball and draw a foul. Just a tremendous display of effort from the second-year player.
Defense would be the name of the game for the Warriors in the fourth quarter — a stark contrast from the effort displayed by them during the first half.
Pay close attention to Thompson during the first two clips. While good team defense was a factor during all of these sequences, Thompson’s individual effort was the catalyst of these stops. He blocks a shot, and also makes life difficult for the Heat in the paint by staying close to his assignments and smothering them. This culminates in a sequence where the Warriors do not allow the Heat to get off a comfortable shot from three; they close out and try to shut down their open looks. When the Heat finally manage to get a shot off, it is well contested.
Thompson would continue to be the most consistent player for the Warriors during the fourth quarter. The Warriors run a slightly modified post split action, where Durant receives the ball at a slightly higher point from the left elbow. Curry and Thompson would then run the split action, where Thompson’s initial backdoor cut is shut down. This flows into a screen by Curry for Thompson, who relocates to the left wing and receives the pass. He shoots, scores, and draws the foul for the four-point play.
The Warriors run the same exact play in this sequence, but the Heat adjust by switching. Durant hands it off to Thompson, who is matched up with Bam Adebayo. He pulls up for the three to take the lead for the Warriors.
Durant also did his part in the Warriors’ comeback attempt. He used his ability to score one-on-one in the mid-range to keep the Warriors close and well within striking range, enough for the Warriors to take the lead through the aforementioned Thompson explosion.
In what was seemingly the dagger to complete the Warriors’ comeback victory over the Heat, Durant went up for a shot that turned into a four-point play.
With only a minute left to go, all the Warriors needed to do was to stand firm and stay focused. With a four point lead, the Heat draw up an out-of-bounds play for Dwyane Wade, who gets a screen and goes up to bury a three that cuts the Warriors’ lead to one. The Heat subsequently foul Durant to send him to the line.
Durant could’ve easily made both of his free throws to make overtime the worst-case scenario for the Warriors. The Heat were inexplicably given extra time to huddle up around Erik Spoelstra, as if a time out was called. However, the Heat were out of timeouts — yet the officials allowed the Heat to practically take a free one.
The result? Durant gets iced out, makes only one of his two free throws, and the Warriors were suddenly in danger of losing from a last gasp three-point shot.
This was, for all intents and purposes, Wade’s final game against the Warriors. While the fact that the Warriors weren’t able to complete their furious comeback is somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow, the blow was softened by the fact that Wade was the one who took the final shot.
The Warriors did all that they could to make the last stop, and they could not have defended this any better. Wade is forced to give up the ball after being stopped inside, and he relocates to the arc and receives the ball back. His shot gets blocked by Durant, and with slightly less than a second left, the ball finds its way back to Wade’s hands. Living on nothing but luck — and a prayer — Wade throws the ball up, banks the shot in, and calls game.
In the end, when the Warriors needed only one more problem to answer correctly in order to pass the test, Wade turned out to be the one that they couldn’t find an answer to.
Sixty-one down, 21 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.