The Week That Was:
The Warriors pulling out the win against Utah totally changed the complexion of the week. It shifted from being two disappointing losses and a win against an exhausted opponent to a close but still disappointing loss and two wins- a substantial improvement.
At the time, I felt that losing at home to Washington after having a day off at home may have been the worst loss of the season so far since they played with the #FullSquad, the Wizards’ offense continues to be a disaster, and Bradley Beal’s minutes were restricted. While players always walk the tightrope of respecting opponents and showing frustration, it was clear that it was a game the team felt they should have won as well.
They rebounded nicely against the Clippers in a game that loses some luster since it was LA’s third game in four nights with the off day spent in transit. David Lee had another good performance against an All-Star Power Forward rival though having Andrew Bogut there to defend Blake in the first half helped immensely. After all, that’s a meaningful part of why the Warriors got him.
Friday’s win against Utah was a two-man salvage since every other Warrior had at best a mediocre game. The Jazz have been a .500 team since Trey Burke returned and played with energy despite missing Derrick Favors. Without Lee, we got to see more of Harrison Barnes at the Power Forward slot and while there were flashes they were fewer and further between than they should have been. Having Jeremy Evans (not exactly the type of PF Barnes can exploit) as Harrison’s cover did not help but he should have done better. Everyone other than Curry and Bogut combined to shoot 11/51 from the field (2/13 from three) while totaling 24 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, and 19 fouls in 166 combined minutes. Absolutely amazing that they won on the road considering the overall team performance.
The Soapbox: Ceilings and Floors
At about the six minute mark of the first quarter in the Clippers game on Thursday, I tweeted that the first stretch probably marked the defensive ceiling for this Warriors team. Even though their opponent was missing their best player, Golden State fully shut down a team that had been playing incredibly well. In those six minutes, the Clippers had as many turnovers as made field goals (three each, with 3-11 shooting) and Andrew Bogut had two blocks. We have seen plenty of flashes of how good the defense can be but it was encouraging to have that come at the beginning of the game immediately following one of the worst losses of the season.
Looking at the box score of the Washington loss does not fully explain just how bad the Wizards’ offense looked in the first half. Offenses can sputter because of defensive pressure, just being bad, or both. On Tuesday, the fail came in the form of unpressured turnovers and bad shots so the Warriors should not get much credit for it. Even with those benefits, Golden State could not take advantage and close the door on a team they should have beaten.
The Clippers game also had a great stretch by Jordan Crawford and the bench, another welcome sign. The second unit’s offensive struggles have been well documented and one nice game does not cover up the other failures, especially when everyone other than Curry and Bogut played so horrendously against the Jazz the following night.
Halfway through the season, we know that this Warriors squad has one of the highest ceilings in the entire league after beating Miami on the road (still their best game of the year) and Oklahoma City at Oracle along with other strong stretches for all or parts of various games. The defense can be stifling and the offense can be almost impossible to contain if the ball movement is crisp and the shots are falling. What makes the Warriors different than most other Western Conference contenders is just how badly it can go when things turn. The bench digs holes but the starters can get into trouble themselves as we saw against Toronto in December. Coach Jackson and various members of the team have attributed this to effort and/or attention to detail, both potential explanations. While great teams have poor stretches all the time, this Golden State team struggles with having them too frequently and at the wrong times. Strangely enough, it could actually be more beneficial if they played consistently against the mediocre teams since losing games a team “should” win can be bigger drags on a season than losing to tough opponents. After all, the Spurs have had plenty of trouble against the best squads in the league this year but still sit five and a half games above the Dubs in the standings because they take care of business against everyone but the elites.
Tweaking the rotations could also help raise the bench’s floor. Jordan Crawford has helped the Bench Mb become more of a Bench Mob but moving David Lee’s minutes to have him on the floor in the rare moments where Stephen Curry sits (while still starting and finishing games with the #FullSquad) would allow the defensive-minded players to play more complementary offensive roles without having to create. Jackson has done a nice job managing Lee and Bogut together defensively recently, so that problem could be fixed and help improve the starters’ consistency.
Klay Thompson’s remarkable offensive variability has played a major role in this as well. He has eight games with under 30% shooting from the field (four in his last seven contests) and ten games with 25 or more points. Three point shots are variable but his extremes have been severe and far too frequent. Contributing in other ways like rebounding and getting to the free throw line would help as well since a bad Klay night can be hard to recover from even though the Dubs won three of his most recent sub-30% games.
This team justifiably has the confidence that they can beat the best of the best- now they need to show they can reliably finish off everyone else.
The Week to Come:
Two home games against inferior opponents and one potentially important road game. The Dubs have three full days off before hosting the Bobcats and then get another rest day before the Bulls come to Oracle in a TNT game. Even though Chicago has continued their tough play after losing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, Golden State’s talent advantage should make both likely wins.
After losing a close one without Iguodala and winning in a rout at Oracle, the Warriors get their third game against the shocking Phoenix Suns. Despite missing Eric Bledsoe, the Suns have kept on humming and swept a home-and-home with the Indiana Pacers this week.
I am expecting a 2-1 week on the law of averages.