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Analysis: Warriors earn fifth-straight Pacific Division title with blowout win over Hornets

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The Warriors dominate from start to finish, blowing out the Hornets 137-90 and reclaiming the top spot in the Western Conference.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After that bizarre loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, the Warriors returned home to begin a two-game homestand with a Sunday evening matchup against the visiting Charlotte Hornets. Given the way things have gone after the All-Star break, one would not have been surprised to see the Warriors come out uninspired and unfocused and gift a victory to a less-talented opponent. But on this particular Sunday night, the Warriors turned in a locked-in and dominant performance to earn the 137-90 win. The blowout win also secured the Pacific Division title for the Warriors for the fifth year in a row.

Strong start by the Splash Brothers

Since this game would feature one of the best guards in the NBA today in Kemba Walker, you knew the backcourts for each team would play a large role in determining who won or lost. But while Walker struggled, scoring just points on shooting in the Hornets’ loss, the Splash Brothers both played great in this blowout win. The Warriors’ starting backcourt really shined in the first quarter, making sure the Warriors didn’t fall behind and getting them off on the right foot. Klay Thompson scored 12 of his 24 points in the first quarter, going 23 from long distance. Thompson scored the Warriors’ first 9 points of the game.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson was dialed in from the start, scoring the Warriors’ first nine points as they blew out the Charlotte Hornets, 137-90.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry, playing in front of both his father Dell and his son Cannon, scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the opening frame, going 2/4 from beyond the arc. One of those long-distance makes came on this play, in which Curry gets a great look thanks to an excellent screen from Draymond Green, sets both feet, and knocks down the shot.

At the end of the opening quarter, the Warriors held an eight-point advantage. They could have led by more were it not for the play of Willy Hernangomez. Hernangomez provided the Hornets with their sting in opening quarter, scoring 12 points of his own in the first. The primary way Hernangomez was able to score those points, and the reason the Hornets were able to stay within striking distance, was the free-throw line. Hernangomez attempted 7 of the Nuggets’ 9 first-quarter free throws (the Warriors attempted just one).

Cousins and Cook increase the lead

The Warriors continued their impressive play in the second quarter and it was the second unit responsible for increasing the Warriors lead.

Much like he did in their earlier meeting in Charlotte, DeMarcus Cousins played well against the Hornets. It wasn’t just Cousins’ play on offense that was impressive, though he did once again take advantage of a Hornets’ frontcourt that couldn’t stop him. Cousins played well on the defensive end as well, including getting this block on a driving Frank Kaminsky.

However, Cousins’ evening ended much earlier than he or anyone else anticipated. Cousins was called for a flagrant-2 foul after hitting Hernangomez with an errant forearm and ejected from the game

While the play warranted a flagrant-1 foul, the flagrant-2 (with its automatic ejection) seemed to be a bit excessive.

Luckily, the Warriors had Andrew Bogut resting on the bench, ready to fill the big-man void left by Cousins. Bogut scored 6 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, making the most of the extra minutes.

Another reason the Warriors didn’t miss a beat in that second quarter even after Cousins exited the game, as they were able to increase their lead to 22 points by halftime, was the play of Quinn Cook. Cook scored 13 of his 21 points in the second quarter, making 3 of his career-high 5 three-pointers in the second as well. Sunday night’s game was the eighth time in Cook’s career that he’s scored 20+ points and the second time this season he’s crossed that threshold. It was another quality performance from Cook, who seems to be getting into a rhythm with the playoffs getting closer and closer.

Point KD turns the game into a blowout

Unlike that controversial overtime loss to the Timberwolves on Friday night, the Warriors did not let up in the third quarter, playing even better as they led by as many as 45 points in the third before ending the quarter with a 32-point lead. Kevin Durant played an important role in the Warriors getting that insurmountable third-quarter lead, turning the game’s final quarter into extended garbage time. But once again it wasn’t Durant’s scoring that played the large role. In fact, Durant attempted just 5 field goals in the win over the Hornets, though making all 5 attempts on his way to scoring 11 points.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Golden State Warriors
Durant didn’t shoot much against the Hornets but when he did he made them count, making all five of his field-goal attempts in the dominant win.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

While Durant wasn’t scoring like we’re accustomed to on Sunday night, we once again got to witness how great he’s become as a distributor and leader of the offense. “Point KD” was very much in the building against the Hornets, especially during that third quarter. Durant had 5 of his 9 assists in the third. One of those assists came at the very beginning of the quarter as he found an open Thompson who promptly drained the three-pointer.

Durant had another assist here as he found Green for one of his two makes from beyond in the arc in Sunday night’s win.

If Durant can bring that element of passing and running the offense into the playoffs and Green can knock down those open three-pointers, it’s going to be very very tough for anyone to stop this Warriors team.

Big news from a mile high

There wasn’t much to care about during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena on Sunday night as both teams were clearly playing out the string to get to the end of the game. But something very important for the Warriors did happen during that period of time, only it transpired over a thousand miles away and a mile high...

With the Denver Nuggets losing that game against the Washington Wizards, coupled with the Warriors getting the win over the Hornets, the defending champs reclaimed the top spot in the Western Conference. This sets up a Tuesday-night game at Oracle Arena between the Warriors and Nuggets that will likely decide what team has the number-one seed in the Western Conference. It should be a fun game, one that will give us a little taste of the excitement and quality basketball we can look forward to in the 2019 playoffs.