On Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors skipped practice and had a home run derby inside the Chase Center. Maybe they should have spent a few minutes preparing for Chris Duarte, because on Thursday, the extremely shorthanded Indiana Pacers shocked the Warriors in overtime, 121-117. Duarte had 27 points in a game where Indiana sat four of their starters and nonetheless had seven players score in double figures. Who else took the night off? The Warriors’ vaunted defense.
Steph Curry was nearly the entire offense for Golden State, scoring 39 points and giving out eight assists. Kevon Looney had a double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds, but as good as the Ground-Bound Mound of Rebound has been recently, it’s not a good sign when Looney is the team’s second leading scorer. Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole combined to go 1-18 from three-point range, with Poole delivering some awful bricks down the stretch, including a corner three in OT that hit the backboard. Andre Iguodala played a season-high 31 minutes and scored four points, along with four blocked shots, and led the team with a +16 point differential while he was on the court.
The game was shockingly close throughout, with the Warriors finally pulling ahead late behind two pairs of Curry free throws, which gave them a three-point lead with nine seconds to go. But the Warriors made two crucial defensive errors. First, they didn’t simply foul up three, forcing the Pacers to shoot two free throws and taking away their chance to tie with one shot. Second, when Isaiah Jackson momentarily fumbled the inbounds pass, Steph Curry left Justin Holiday, the team’s best outside shooter, to double the center 30 feet from the basket. The wide-open Holiday nailed a three-pointer to send the game to OT.
Steve Kerr blamed himself.
Steve Kerr on final seconds of regulation: “Tonight was about finding the right combinations and I did not do a good job of that.”— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) January 21, 2022
Also took responsibility for the no foul. “This was my night to stink it up.”
In overtime, the Warriors got a quick dunk and a Wiggins three, but TV viewers sensed trouble when Bob Fitzgerald boldly declared that the team who scored first in overtime seemed to always win. Maybe Chris Duarte heard him, because he hit back-to-back baskets and sparked a 10-0 Pacers’ run, highlighted by back-to-back baskets from Wisconsin-Green Bay’s own Keifer Sykes. (Yes, that’s a real player’s name, not just what the star of “24” yells when he pulls a prank.)
Still, the Warriors had their chances. Down five, they ran a sweet out-of-timeout play to get an easy Wiggins layup. After holding on defense, Juan Toscano-Anderson missed a three. Andrew Wiggins got the rebound, and Jordan Poole missed his fourth three of the game, but the Warriors retained possession and called a timeout. Undaunted by his misses, Steve Kerr called a play for Poole again, and he responded by launching a corner three that clanged off the corner of the backboard. JTA rebounded the crazy miss and found Curry up top, but he also missed his three. Four missed threes in a row, part of an overall 9-42 performance from deep. Take Curry’s shots away, and the rest of the team was 3-for-26.
Poole just can't find the hoop right now and I'm stunned Curry missed this one. pic.twitter.com/Fzqrw2qaB0— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) January 21, 2022
Still, the Warriors had another chance. They trapped Holiday and forced a jump ball, which JTA won. Klay Thompson re-entered the game, but couldn’t secure a pass from Iguodala and the Warriors had lost just their fourth home game of the year, and sixth in their last nine games.
It simply appeared that the Warriors didn’t take the Pacers seriously, who were playing on a back-to-back after defeating the Lakers Wednesday night. They didn’t have Malcolm Brogdon, Caris Levert, Myles Turner, or future Warriors Domantas Sabonis. Yet after going up nine points early, the Warriors let the Pacers hang around, and lost the lead by the middle of the third quarter. Besides the poor shooting, there were some inexplicable defensive moments, like this confused and wandering effort that got Jonathan Kuminga (five points, all on free throws) benched for the remainder of the game.
Lot of odd defensive errors from the Warriors last night, like this wandering non-aggressive triple-team from Kuminga/Wiggins, leading to open corner 3. This was end of a 13-3 Pacers run to open third quarter. Kerr pulled Kuminga for JTA after and never went back to rookie. pic.twitter.com/PgnDDUg4Th— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 21, 2022
Also benched down the stretch was Gary Payton II, who delivered six points and two steals, and also got Pacers center Goga Bitadze ejected after he dunked on him. Payton stared down Bitadze while scratching his head, prompting the Georgian big man to (lightly) head butt him, and get tossed.
It looked like that might light a fire under the Warriors, who led 96-93 after Payton missed his technical free throw. But a Kevon Looney flagrant foul gave Indiana two points, and then consecutive turnovers by Looney and Thompson led to two straight Indiana buckets, and suddenly Golden State was down four. For the quarter, the Warriors had five turnovers, which was actually an improvement from the seven-turnover third.
It took an incredible layup from Steph Curry over the entire Indiana team to finally even things up, which also saw Curry give Indiana - or the refs who didn’t blow the whistle - the gas face. He and Klay have clearly been working on their mean mugging.
Former Warrior Justin Holiday was excellent outside his big game-tying shot, going 4-9 from long range and scoring 16. Bitadze was a defensive force in the middle with 13 points and 9 boards before his ejection, and rookie Isaiah Jackson had a big 15 points off the bench. Big men continue to hurt the Warriors, even unheralded ones with Green out and James Wiseman’s season still not begun.
The Warriors continue to struggle without Draymond Green on both ends. Steve Kerr leaned heavily on Juan Toscano-Anderson down the stretch in the point forward role, seemingly to keep Curry playing off-ball. It simply doesn’t work the same without a genius like Draymond, and JTA is too prone to traveling and turnovers (4 in 15 minutes). There’s also far too much ball-handling from the team’s non-Dray big men: Looney shouldn’t ever have the opportunity to commit five turnovers in a game, many due to bad passes from Thompson and Toscano-Anderson. The offense is defined by Draymond and Steph, and at some point Kerr is going to have to simply put the ball in Curry’s hands more, or run his hated pick-and-rolls.
The return of Klay Thompson also seems to have paralyzed Wiggins and Poole offensively, to a degree. Poole looked absolutely awful, air balling a three at one point as well. Meanwhile, Klay is putting up a ton of shots - 13 in his 12 first half minutes. The two other wings are having trouble choosing when to be aggressive, probably because they know if they pass to Klay, he’s probably going to shoot it. We will see how things go tonight against the Houston Rockets, with both Thompson and Iguodala sitting out, and Curry likely limited after playing 44 minutes in the loss Plenty of shots to go around, fellas! Maybe they’ll play dodgeball today at shootaround to prepare.