The Golden State Warriors have looked lost ever since they lost Steph Curry to a Marcus Smart rolling block Wednesday night. But in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s game in Orlando, they recaptured their classic third quarter form, hitting threes, making passes (10 assists in the quarter!), and forcing turnovers. When Jordan Poole hit two quick buckets to begin the fourth, the Warriors had a 14-point lead and Steve Kerr started thinking about resting his stars for the back-to-back against the Miami Heat. Then everything got all fouled up.
Literally. In the next three minutes, the Warriors committed a whopping six fouls, three of them on offense. They turned the ball over four times in a scoreless stretch that lasted nearly five minutes, and after Otto Porter Jr. finally ended the scoring drought, they turned the ball over again and went another two minutes without scoring. Somehow, they still clung to a lead until Wendell Carter Jr. found a hole in the Warriors’ zone and banked in a jumper to with 1:43 to go. After a jump ball, a shot clock error, and a lengthy delay let the exhausted Warriors catch their breath, Andrew Wiggins - who was shooting 4-18 before this - hit a corner three to re-take the lead, 88-86. Crisis over?
No it was not. Perhaps forgetting that they themselves had just hit a corner three, the Warriors once again helped off of the strong-side three. Draymond Green left Mo Bamba in the corner to gamble on a double-team, and Bamba calmly sank the wide-open three to give Orlando the lead.
It’s hard to say if that was the worst three-point defense of the quarter, or the following play. Down by a point, the Warriors played tough defense as the shot clock went down, forcing Franz Wagner to put up a prayer of a three-point shot. But for the third time in the last two games, Klay Thompson fouled a shooter behind the arc. Wagner made all the free throws, and the game was effectively over. In two games, Klay’s awkward close-outs have netted eight points and a possession for the Warriors’ opponents - one of them was also a flagrant foul. Just for good measure, Klay threw the ball away at the end.
Jordan Poole led the Warriors with 26 points, his tenth straight game of 20+ points, albeit on inefficient 9-23 shooting. He scored 17 in a red-hot ten-minute stretch spanning the third and early 4th quarters, and even threw in four assists. Poole was so hot, even his mistake shots were going in.
But Poole appeared to tire after playing all but two minutes of the second half, as the Warriors’ offense bogged down and got increasingly desperate. During the Warriors extended fourth quarter offensive malaise, Poole had three turnovers and zero buckets. Klay Thompson had 15, but he also looked tired, and missed his lone shot in a scoreless 4th.
The Warriors wasted another monster rebounding effort from Otto Porter Junior, who pulled down 15 rebounds - 10 of them offensive, and 6 in the final quarter - to go along with his 14 points. Jonathan Kuminga also scored 14 points but committed his fifth foul early in the 4th quarter and never returned. His exit coincided with the scoring drought, which the Warriors seem particularly vulnerable to recently. When shots aren’t falling, an NBA team needs to be able to draw fouls, and Kuminga is the only Warrior who consistently does that - he drew three last night, and for the season he’s drawing a foul every eight minutes. They might as well have kept him in with five fouls - Steve Kerr basically fouled him out himself!
Andrew Wiggins used to draw fouls, but a lack of aggressiveness or a phobia of the free throw line have made him a non-factor in that area. For the 4th quarter, the Warriors committed eight fouls, and drew zero. For the game, Orlando shot 16-20 from the free throw line and the Warriors were 11-16, and made free throws were agruably the difference in a four-point game.
For Orlando, it was a balanced effort among their young prospects. Wendell Carter Jr. led the way with 19 points and the go-ahead bucket. Rookie Franz Wagner had two steals and 18 points, including three clutch free throws to ice the game. Cole Anthony had 14 points and five assists, often making the Warriors look like they were playing in Timbs, and Markelle Fultz had six points and two assists in the decisive final quarter.
After the game, Draymond Green announced that the Warriors were “getting punked,” in recent games. “We’re playing soft...playing stupid,” he said. Green had seven assists himself, but only two points in that game, and in the crucial 4th quarter, his only box score stats were a missed field goal and two fouls: No points, no rebounds, no assists.
The third quarter was neither soft nor stupid for the Dubs, as they outscored Orlando 36-19, and seemed to be open 24/7 from three-point range, probably why they shot 7-11 from deep. In the first half, they went 2-14, a big reason they had only 38 points at the half. Although it would have been 36, had the refs not realized Klay got this crazy shot off before the shot clock expired.
In the third, the Warriors racked up ten assists, partly a function of ball movement, and partly a result of their jumpers actually going in. They also shot 5-9 around the basket, a sharp contrast to the 4th, where they missed eight separate times from inside the free throw circle and got four shots blocked.
For the third game in a row, the Warriors went down by double digits in the first quarter, raising questions about how prepared or motivated the starters might be. Is it the Wiggins slump? Non-shooters Draymond and Kevon Looney playing together? It wouldn’t be a surprise to see some changes to the starting lineup on the rest of the road trip, even apart from whichever games Klay and Draymond rest (which includes tonight’s game, where Otto Porter Junior also gets a night off). Perhaps adding the returning Moses Moody or Gary Payton II to the starting lineup would give them a spark, because the current group is certainly struggling.
The road doesn’t get any easier soon, as the Warriors face coffee impresario Jimmy Butler and the first-place Miami Heat tonight. Kyle Lowry is still looking for revenge against the dirtbag minority owner (Mark Stevens) who shoved him during the 2019 Finals, because he knows Joe Lacob let Stevens back onto the executive board. Golden State remains two games ahead of the Utah Jazz for the third seed in the West, as the Jazz are also in the middle of a brutal five-game road trip. The April 2 game is looming very large for the Dubs, who need to solve their first quarter and fourth quarter issues in the final eighth of the schedule.