Well, that was exhilarating.
The Golden State Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls 129-128 on Sunday night. They had a fourth-quarter comeback. They had a game-tying tip-in by Kevon Looney with 16.9 seconds remaining.
And then, after Zach LaVine hit a go-ahead jumper with five seconds remaining, the Warriors found their first win of the season on an improvised inbounds play by Damion Lee.
Game. Set. Match.@Dami0nLee || #DubNation pic.twitter.com/9nhH3JNVHg— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 28, 2020
The end result put a smile on your face, but the Warriors still needed some heroics to avoid a loss to the paltry Bulls, so it wasn’t all good. Let’s make some observations.
Winning is always a positive
The football people say it best. You play the game to win. Just win, baby.
It wasn’t pretty (until the end). It wasn’t particularly encouraging. It was a bit maddening.
But the Warriors won, and 1-2 looks so much better than 0-3 for a team that still has every intention of grabbing one of the eight playoff spots in the West. The wins all count the same at the end of the season.
The Warriors found a way to win, even though Lee’s jumper in the final seconds gave the Dubs their first lead since the 9:08 mark in the third quarter.
Sometimes a win is enough.
Steph says "We needed something to smile about"— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) December 28, 2020
Damion Lee: "This is a win. We got it. It doesn't matter how we got it. It's a check in the left column."— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) December 28, 2020
Kelly Oubre Jr. still can’t find his shot, but made his impact
Kelly Oubre Jr.’s Warriors tenure is off to a remarkably painful start, and he’s been anything but what the verb in “shooting guard” would suggest.
He shot 3-for-16 on Sunday, and 0-for-6 on three-pointers.
That brought him to 7-for-40 on the season, and 0-for-17 from beyond the arc. Not just bad — historically icy. And worse yet? All seven of those makes have been dunks (with the possible exception of one basket on Sunday when he tried for a dunk but seemed to come up short, but the ball went in anyway).
But he was a catalyst defensively when the Warriors started to buckle down, with Lee and Steve Kerr both calling out Oubre’s defensive performance.
Damion Lee credits Kelly Oubre for "setting the tone" defensively.— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) December 28, 2020
After the game, Eric Paschall said that the team “just kept fighting.” Oubre embodied that, by bringing the defensive effort even when he had to know that the entire basketball-watching populace was wondering where his jumper went.
Defense to offense
The Warriors don’t have the margin for error that they’ve carried in prior years. They can’t slack in one phase of the game, and expect to make up for it in other phases, or with overpowering talent.
Things need to work together.
We saw glimpses of that on Sunday, when the Warriors would put the clamps on Chicago, force a stop, and then get out on the break where their offense can shine.
The Dubs need to play with that in mind. Their offense isn’t good enough to bail out poor defensive performances, nor is their defense good enough to make up for a rough scoring night. They need to play good defense, which in turn provides easier opportunities to play good offense.
We’re starting to finally see that.
Steph fights through it
Steph Curry looked rusty as all heck in the first two games of the season, shooting 2-for-10 from beyond the arc in each game.
Sunday started out similarly. Curry was missing jumper after jumper, including plenty of open ones. His teammates were still having a hard time finding him, and it felt like Curry was taken out of rhythm even when open.
Then he started to flip the switch in the second half, and for the first time all year we saw the MVP that we know, love, and expect to witness this year.
Here were his first half stats: 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting, including 1-for-6 from distance, with no free throw attempts.
And his second half stats: 25 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-9 from distance, and a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line. It was a joy to watch.
Stephen Curry. BUCKET.— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 28, 2020
Relocation three from SC30— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 28, 2020
After the game, Kerr said that, “Coming to a new team is difficult,” before pointing to Oubre’s shooting struggles, and mentioning that he himself had always struggled when changing teams. He said that he thought Curry, with such a change in personnel, was going through something similar, saying, “I think Steph is actually going through the same thing right now.”
Curry echoed the sentiment, but presented it with optimism.
Steph says the offense is completely different because of different personnel, but "That's OK. We're learning and growing."— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) December 28, 2020
When Curry plays the way he did in the second half, the Warriors have a chance in every game. But he needs his teammates to do their parts, so he can do his.
Wiggs shows what he can bring
Andrew Wiggins didn’t have the most efficient game, with 19 points on 6-for-15 shooting, and 2-for-3 from distance.
But for the first time this season, Wiggins looked comfortable in his role, and showed the value he can bring. He was aggressive, but smart with his shot selection. He flew to the rim for nine rebounds, and dished out four assists.
His defense was pesky and aggressive, but measured and smart. He helped the team stay afloat when Curry was on the bench, but didn’t commit a turnover.
It wasn’t a great game, but it was a good game that served as evidence that Wiggins can be an impact player on the Dubs.
And he helped get win No. 1.