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Three sidelined stars, two ejections, one shot short

The bench almost pulled off the win of the year.

Chris Paul dribbling by Mike Conley Jr. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Before the ball was tossed in the air for Tuesday night’s opening tip, the Golden State Warriors knew they had a tall task in front of them. The Dubs were rematching a Minnesota Timberwolves team that had not only swiftly beaten them on Sunday, but was riding a six-game winning streak. And to make matters much, much worse, the Warriors — at a time when they’ve been increasingly playing like a one-man show — were without that one man, as Steph Curry was sidelined by a knee injury.

The game hadn’t started yet, and the Warriors were already fighting an uphill battle.

And then that hill got a whole hell of a lot steeper.

Before either team had scored a single point, the Warriors found themselves without their other two future statues. Less than two minutes into the game, Jaden McDaniels grabbed Klay Thompson by the jersey, and seemingly dragged him half the length of the court before tossing him to the floor, ripping his jersey in the process. A predictable and justified angry scuffle ensued, and Rudy Gobert put his hands on Thompson.

You can guess what happened next. Draymond Green, who has been Gobert’s biggest hater for many years, found an excuse to unleash on someone who openly dislikes, while protecting a teammate and exorcising the demons of a struggling team.

It was all very ugly.

It took many, many minutes on the phone with Secaucus before the dust was settled, and when it was, McDaniels, Thompson, and Green were all ejected.

Klay — who had already had his ripped in half jersey replaced — was angry, and he should be: I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do there.

Green’s ejection, on the other hand, was not only an obvious move, but will likely come accompanied with a suspension. There’s uhh .... no way to sugarcoat this one.

With no points on the board, the Warriors were without Curry, Thompson, and Green, while the Wolves were left to replace (respectfully) their fifth-best starter. You would understand if they didn’t try to win, and focused solely on making Gobert (who was not ejected) rethink his life decisions. And, in fairness, they did the latter part .

He even did it to himself!

But that wasn’t good enough for Golden State. They had visions of a shocking win, and fueled by energy from the youngsters, they set out to make it happen.

Kevon Looney, who was replaced by Dario Šarić in the starting lineup for this game, entered to replace Green, and the defense and rebounding became an asset. Andrew Wiggins, lacking in energy all year, showed the most hustle and athleticism we’ve seen from him as he flew around the glass and on defense, even if his offense again abandoned him. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody were active.

But above all else, Brandin Podziemski made magic happen.

Podz jumped into the game for Thompson, and he barely sat again, logging 39 minutes — a season high for a Warriors player. At times it felt like there were three of him on the court, the way he was making offense happen with and without the ball, scoring in magical ways, setting up teammates with ease, crashing the glass, and being a disruptor on defense.

His energy was contagious, and the Warriors somehow led by eight points after the first quarter, and by five at halftime. But it wasn’t just energy and creativity. It was a competitive spirit and level of intensity that simply has been lacking around the team lately.

To use his own words, he was a tough you-know-what. And the team followed that lead.

The momentum Podziemski and the Warriors took into halftime did not dissipate. He came out of the gates firing in the third quarter, which include a creative and sensational buzzer-beating three that pushed the lead to seven as Golden State entered the final frame.

Quick side note: if you have a loved one in your life who is a Warriors fan, get them a Podziemski jersey for the holidays. Thank me later.

But while the Warriors had mounted a borderline miraculous rally to take the lead, their car started to leak oil in the final frame. The instant offense of Curry, spacing of Klay, and playmaking of Green started to become missed, as Golden State took more than four minutes into the quarter before scoring their first points.

Along the way, Karl-Anthony Towns had rediscovered that he is one of the best offensive players on the planet, and started to beat the Dubs inside and out, en route to a game-high 33 points.

The Dubs didn’t back down. Chris Paul started to quarterback in a trusty veteran way, setting up Moody, Podziemski, Šarić, and Gary Payton II. And young Podz kept doing his thing, even taking it straight at the the 7-foot-1, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert for a go-ahead and-one late in the game.

From there the teams went back and forth, until a Towns three gave Minnesota a lead they wouldn’t relinquish with just over a minute left. The Dubs had a two-for-one while trailing by a point, but Šarić couldn’t hit a three on the front half, and they gave up a triple to Mike Conley Jr. on the other end, to give Minny a four-point lead with under 10 seconds remaining. A Moody three provided a little bit of window dressing, as the Dubs lost a highly bizarre game, 104-101.

Podziemski, who entered the game with just 52 total minutes of action, had a team-high 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists. The Warriors were +11 with him on the court, and I think it took all of one game for him to cement a spot in the rotation.

Šarić added 21 points, hitting the 20-point mark for the second time this season ... he and Podziemski are still the only Warriors other than Curry to do that.

But the Dubs were once again doomed by poor three-point shooting, making just 33.3% of their looks. And with the offense in panic mode, they committed 19 turnovers. It was about as good of a loss as you can get (minus the potentially losing Green for a few games thing), but still a loss, and it dropped them down to .500 on the season and in the in-season tournament standings.

They’ll try and figure out how to win a home game on Thursday, when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7:00 p.m. PT.

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