The Warriors didn’t make a three-pointer in the first half. Steph Curry scored 5 points and played only 24 minutes due to a minor ankle injury. Andrew Bogut might have been less effective, fouling out in just 16 minutes of playing time. But none of it mattered; Golden State, clearly, is good enough to win even when playing far from its best.
The Warriors 106-93 drubbing of the Timberwolves in Minneapolis last night was as encouraging as November wins get. Golden State wasn’t splashing away from deep, Curry hardly controlled the pace, Bogut didn’t own the paint, and early-season turnover woes persisted, though the final score indicates no such struggles. The major in-game narrative doesn’t even tell the real story. By the time Klay Thompson began his routine shooting exhibition early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors were already up by double-digits.
This is what great teams do. Nothing was going right for Golden State on the surface last night, their long-range prowess and most impactful offensive and defensive players laboring, sidelined, or both for the game’s entirety. It was the second of a four-game road trip, and the Timberwolves – finally healthy – look like a legitimate playoff contender. A hard-fought Warriors loss would not have surprised. Sometimes in the NBA you just don’t have it.
But the league’s elite find different means of success when the going’s tough, and Golden State now has that malleability. The Warriors might have won this game last season, but certainly not with such a controlled and measured tenor. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry are gifted individual scorers, but may be just as deficient on the other end. Last year’s frontcourt tried its damndest to protect the paint while Bogut recovered, but was easily and consistently overmatched. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes showed flashes of awesome defensive potential, but frequent lapses befitting young players, too.
The 2012-2013 Warriors would have had to win a shootout against Minnesota last night, a likely losing proposition with a hobbled Curry. This year’s team, though? They can definitely win a high-scoring affair, but are just as likely to lock an opponent down, too.
Warriors World alumnus Ethan Sherwood Strauss profiled Golden State’s defensive prowess in-depth over at TrueHoop, and that analysis doesn’t bear nuanced repeating. Just think of it like this: Iguodala, Thompson, Barnes, Bogut, O’Neal, Green, Douglass, Bazemore, oh my! The Warriors have a wealth of defensive talent in the starting lineup and on the bench now, and are married to the system implemented last season that spurred such dramatic improvement on that end of the floor. Their familiar identity is still offensive juggernaut, but reality lies somewhere close to the middle – Golden State can be great defensively, too.
Iguodala’s worth goes both ways, of course. A vocal minority questioned the offseason decision to let Jack – shortcomings not withstanding, so crucial to the Warriors success last year – in free agency. Who would back-up Curry? What about three-guard lineups? Those concerns were never valid; Iguodala’s rare defensive ability masks just how influential a playmaker he can be when surrounded by similar talents. ‘Playmaker’ is an important distinction here; Jack could be more accurately labeled ‘scorer’ for the Warriors. The latter is beneficial to any team, but the former is of additional value to one replete with weapons like Golden State.
Iguodala’s 5.8 assists per game should come as no surprise, but it’s the style and tempo his play promotes that better tells the story. The ball never sticks for the Warriors this season, and that development is especially pertinent when Curry’s not himself or on the bench. Steph played just six second-half minutes last night, but Golden State still scored 56 points on 55% shooting, connected on 8-of-12 from three-point range, and racked up 15 assists nonetheless. All six of Iguodala’s dimes came in the second stanza, and he played point guard for its vast majority; Douglas notched just two minutes after halftime. More encouraging? Lineups featuring Iguodala, Thompson, and either Barnes or Green on the perimeter were downright dominant on both ends. The sample size caveat applies here, obviously, but such early success springs optimism going forward.
It’s a tired sports cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate: great teams simply find ways to win. Classifying the Warriors thusly or otherwise at this point in the season is premature, but there’s no doubt they possess such unique adaptability. Should they show it consistently as the year wears on, that label will apply soon enough.
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter.