The Golden State Warriors finally notched their first win on the road this season — even though it came against a rebuilding Houston Rockets team that is, on paper, of an inferior quality in terms of talent.
It took a massive game from Klay Thompson to help them overcome the hump, one that was replete with youth, audacity, and a boatload of athleticism. The result — a seven-point win where the Rockets led by as much as nine.
Problems still exist, the biggest of which has been the Warriors’ second unit. After mounting a 12-point lead after the first quarter, a stretch of misses, turnovers, and general lackadaisical play from the bench mob resulted in a second quarter that saw the Warriors outscored by 17 points, with a five-point deficit at the half to show for it.
It took a monumental effort — a vintage effort — from the Splash Brothers to overcome the Rockets. Thompson scored 41 points on 23 shots, including a 10-of-13 clip from beyond the arc, good for an 82.8 TS%. Curry added 33 points on 20 shots, including a 7-of-14 clip from beyond the arc, good for a 74.3 TS%.
Even though his numbers look comparatively pedestrian, Draymond Green’s impact — as always — was anything but. The Warriors outscored the Rockets by 18 points during his 32 minutes on the floor. He dished out eight assists and was in his playmaking groove, seeing cutters around him and finding Curry and Thompson on a bunch of movement possessions around screens.
The Rockets aren’t world beaters, especially in terms of defense. They cough up the fourth-most points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, per Cleaning The Glass. A roster inundated with youth that is learning how to play defense on an individual and collective level will result in a team that bleeds lots of points.
It’s tough enough to defend conventional NBA offenses — i.e., pick-and-roll heavy — on a nightly basis. The difficulty is ramped up when an unconventional offense such as the Warriors’ breaks all the rules and makes a young team have to re-learn how to play defense on the fly.
Thompson established his shooting groove by punishing the young Rockets using the aforementioned unconventionality:
Klay is still waxing hot. Just big shot making. pic.twitter.com/8uQRqrKBj3— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 21, 2022
Unconventionality in the instance above takes the form of constant off-ball movement and continuous movement after a pass is made. It’s basketball nature — human nature, to a certain extent — to be complacent after your assignment stops being involved directly in a possession.
Thompson and Curry are both the best at taking advantage of that tendency and punishing teams to the utmost extreme. Relocation threes after giving up the ball has been their trademark. For a young team such as the Rockets who have yet to establish an identity on defense, it’s no surprise they looked lost against masters of their craft.
Thompson getting into a rhythm on offense has always been a personal goal of this season — often to the detriment of the team’s collective flow. But as this game against the Rockets showed, there is a viable way for the former to be achieved without having to sacrifice the latter.
When the Warriors go to a favored end-of-quarter set, the Rockets are wise to close Thompson’s space as much as possible. But having drilled several shots prior, there’s no stopping Thompson when he has bouts of unconscious sharpshooting.
Not the cleanest example (and lol Steph getting bumper car'd), but the Warriors go to their favorite end-of-quarter "Fist" Ram exit action and Klay gets a three off to give them the lead. pic.twitter.com/Gjj2KNsvfS— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 21, 2022
Even the most experienced of defensive squads in the past — some of them championship-caliber defenses — have fallen victim to the threat of Thompson and/or Curry moving around trying to get open looks. A classic scenario of such has been on “exit” screens, otherwise known as “pin-in” screens where a screener sets a pick with his back to the corner.
The panic generated by the Splash Brothers causes a boatload of confusion. In their rush to close out space in a short amount of time, defenders often commit a cardinal sin on defense: committing two bodies to one offensive player.
As was mentioned, even though he didn’t have as flashy of a stat line, Green was again paramount in terms of the impact he made on the game. Much of that was with his fellow two franchise cornerstones, but an intriguing lineup change by Steve Kerr made strides in stabilizing what was a shakey second unit.
Instead of Kevon Looney and/or Anthony Lamb to start the fourth quarter, Kerr inserted Green at the four alongside JaMychal Green at the five, with Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, and Moses Moody occupying the remaining three spots.
This lineup was a net zero in the three minutes that it saw on the floor, but a net zero is worlds better than the 13-0 run the Rockets rattled off to start the second quarter. It maintained a precarious three-point lead with Curry on the bench.
Bench units have sorely lacked the requisite frontcourt playmaking due to the lack of depth behind Green at those spots. JaMychal Green hasn’t been that kind of player. While serviceable, Anthony Lamb has bouts of inconsistency. Jonathan Kuminga has ways to go in order to develop into a dependable decision maker. James Wiseman is in the G League trying to salvage what has been a rocky season.
As such, Kerr made the executive decision to insert Green in the second unit for much needed stabilization.
Draymond Green being the grown-up in the room with this second unit. pic.twitter.com/Zmjrwzmusc— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 21, 2022
The Warriors won’t be facing a team like the Rockets every night. Curry and Thompson going off at the same time won’t be a sustainable source of victories in the regular season. The bench problems still exist, and Kerr still has his work cut out for him in terms of cobbling together lineups that survive with Curry on the bench.
The New Orleans Pelicans are up tomorrow, and there is the possibility that a few key pieces will rest. The Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz loom ahead. This tough stretch will ask more questions of the Warriors, and the hope is that the answer they provided against the Rockets will be the same answer they’ll provide against the rest of this week’s opponents.