The Golden State Warriors left Oklahoma City on Tuesday with their fourth victory of the season. It was far from pretty, but the Dubs remained undefeated. Every season has trap games, where talented teams fall to subpar opponents because of some combination of bad luck and a lack of intensity. The Warriors avoided that fate on Tuesday.
The Thunder built a 7-0 lead at the start of regulation, and a great shooting first half helped them turn that into an 11-point halftime lead. OKC’s roster lacks offensive punch and has a shortage of outside shooting threats, but they shot 54.5% from the field and 43.8% from three in the first half.
On the other side of the ball, the Thunder gave young defensive standout Luguentz Dort the toughest assignment in the NBA against Warriors star Stephen Curry. Dort did a great job all game face-guarding Curry and limiting his opportunity. Steph’s shot fell early, and he might have recorded another 40-point night had he found more opportunities. Instead, Curry took just 14 shots and was limited to 23 points.
With Curry limited, the Dubs needed some secondary scorers to step up. Unfortunately, nobody was able to take charge early. OKC’s youth, length, and athleticism held Golden State to just 48 points on .391/.286/.857 shooting in the first half.
It’s early enough to chalk up the Warriors early-game struggles to a small-sample size, but they have become a staple of these early-season games. The dynamic offense that showed up this preseason has arrived in flashes but has yet to generate any regular-season blowouts. The culprit is Jordan Poole.
Poole’s standout preseason remained absent in Tuesday’s matchup. His shooting touch has evaporated over the past few games, and he finished 0-for-7 from three. The Warriors starting lineup can be unbeatable whenever Curry is at his best, but they need another scorer when he’s contained. With limited offensive players Kevon Looney and Draymond Green in the starting lineup, that puts a lot of pressure on at least one of Poole or Andrew Wiggins to handle that responsibility when necessary.
Given Poole’s shooting struggles, it seems reasonable to expect this unit to improve with time. Unlike last season, when Kelly Oubre’s dreadful shooting start was coupled with an otherwise stagnant offense, Poole fits within the flow of head coach Steve Kerr’s system even when his shots are not falling. In the moments when he does regain his shooting touch, the Dubs should be an offensive juggernaut.
While Poole’s shooting slump has been the most notable part of his start to the season, he’s also had struggles with turnovers. There were reasonable questions about entering the season without a proven backup point guard behind Curry, and Golden State has limited options if Poole cannot handle a primary ball handler’s responsibilities. However, in OKC, Poole quietly had his best passing performance of the season, recording seven assists while committing just one turnover.
Still, Golden State needed someone to rack up some points. Andrew Wiggins and Damion Lee each stepped up and did the bulk of the work.
Wiggins finished 0-for-5 from three but played with an offensive aggressiveness the Warriors needed. It’s well past the point of expecting the former first overall pick to live up to his lofty prospect expectations, but there were a few possessions where he so easily drove to the basket and finished in traffic that it does make you ask, “Why can’t he do this every game?” It’s the Wiggins conundrum. Nevertheless, Wiggins dropped in 21 points and finished 8-for-10 from the paint.
Lee, though, was the star of the night. In a way, he has been the Warriors biggest standout through the first four games of the season.
In the first half, Lee was the Warriors only bench player to score more than one field goal, but his spark in the third quarter is what finally broke Golden State out of their funk.
The Dubs continued struggling to cut the gap in the third quarter. Then, Lee reentered the game down 11 with 6:29 left in the third quarter. He immediately cut the lead to single-digits with a floater and followed it up by knocking in a three. Lee’s buckets finally opened the floodgates and sparked a 22-6 Warriors run to close the quarter.
Heading into the fourth leading by five, the Warriors were finally in the driver’s seat. The Thunder kept the gap respectable but were never able to make it a one-possession game. The Dubs locked in defensively, and perhaps just as importantly, the Thunder started missing shots. After their fiery first half, Oklahoma City shot .286/.278/.833 in the last two quarters.
Lee was in the Warriors closing lineup again, and he justified it with his play. After scoring 20 points on Tuesday, Lee is averaging 14.3 points per game and has been the third-most productive bench scorer in the league. Lee’s shooting output will surely regress, probably taking some of his offensive production with him, but this stretch is just a culmination of all that he does when he’s on the floor.
Lee’s comfort in Golden State’s system is evident when he’s dropping 20 or finishing with just two shot attempts. Of course, games like Tuesday’s win will be the ones that Dubs Nation will celebrate the most, but Lee is contributing in every facet of the game. He fits everything the Warriors want to do on both sides of the ball.
The Warriors now return home for an eight-game homestand. With four wins already locked into the standings, Golden State has an opportunity to build an early-season cushion. Despite poor shooting from Poole and multiple slow starts, the Dubs are undefeated. If they can put it all together, they have a chance to string together a fantastic early-season win streak.