Welcome to Warriors Weekly after one of the more eventful stretches of the season so far.
The Week that Was:
On a per game basis, this may have been the most exciting week of the Warriors’ season.
Stephen Curry had his marquee performance with 25 points in the first quarter and 51 overall against the Wizards but Washington making a game of it says plenty about both teams.
After meeting the President and enjoying their ceremony at the White House (in a ceremony definitely worth watching if you have the chance), the team got to return home for a short stretch.
I will have more on the OKC game below but one thing that did not make that section was Mo Speights’ performance. He did an excellent job holding the fort defensively while adding some offensive wrinkles in a game where they absolutely needed his contribution. Mo Buckets may be marginalized when the team is at full strength but nights like Saturday loom large for a team looking to make history.
Stephen Curry Above the Break Three Update: Stephen Curry has made 198 above the break three pointers this year, more than the Heat and tied with Minnesota. Curry’s 45.5% shooting from there is better than ever NBA team from mid-range and all but the Spurs in the paint (non-restricted area) without even accounting for the fact that 3 > 2.
Stephen Curry Total Three Pointers Update: Stephen Curry now has 233 made three pointers on the season, 10th all-time. With eight more threes, he will pass Peja Stojakovic for 8th in a single season and then have half of the top eight season totals in league history.
The Soapbox: What We Learned from the OKC Game
As expected, the Thunder are a substantially different matchup for the Warriors than any other team. Beyond their remarkable individual talents, my frequent podcast partner Nate Duncan noted that at its best, Golden State’s defense forces opponents into bland, isolation-heavy basketball. Iso-ball is a key part of OKC’s offense anyway and Durant is the best isolation player in the league.
If these teams ever play a playoff series, that dynamic should lead to Andre Iguodala playing more minutes with the starters. Harrison Barnes struggled defending KD (not exactly a surprise- nearly everyone does) and Iguodala’s presence would make a big difference in both that individual matchup and the team defense because of his instincts.
The Warriors did pretty well defending Russell Westbrook as a scorer but focusing on that aspect of his game opened up lobs to Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on pick and rolls. Having Festus Ezeli would help because he can do a nice job helping both places but it will be a challenge anyway- like the Warriors, OKC can force a defense into some undesirable choices.
One big development from Saturday’s game is that Billy Donovan learns from his mistakes much faster than Scott Brooks. In the first half, the Thunder had a stretch without Durant and Westbrook and with both Adams and Kanter playing together. Both were pretty spectacular failures and helped provide the margin for Golden State’s halftime lead. Neither situation happened in the second half- Donovan did a nice job staggering his stars’ minutes and having big men combinations that would not get annihilated in transition.
It is partially a matter of perspective but the Warriors should appreciate that they beat a strong opponent despite missing shots they usually make. While Curry and Thompson’s threes were felt more closely contested than they usually have been this season, they will not go a combined 2-15 from deep very often at full strength. Counteracting that was a low 10-turnover performance (they have only had less five times this season) and a pretty successful offense outside of the missed threes.
From a pure entertainment standpoint, I would rather see a Warriors/Thunder playoff series than a Warriors/Spurs one. These two teams at full strength have only played fun, close games and that has been on much smaller stages. With a better tactician on the bench and so much uncertainty surrounding OKC’s future, it would be an absolute blast.
The Week to Come:
After the wildness of the last few weeks, the All-Star break might actually be a break for this team despite their obligations.
Before that, they have to face an astonishingly inconsistent Houston team. Most of the time, a talented opponent who lost the way Houston did both on New Year’s Eve to the Warriors and in their last game (getting waxed by the Blazers) but the Rockets do not follow those kinds of rules.
They Dubs then head to Phoenix for the tail end of a back-to-back, which would be daunting if the Suns were not in a long, long tailspin. The coaching change has given them more competitive fire (and Markieff Morris more playing time) but that still should not be enough.
From there, the team will have more than a full week between games with Steph, Klay and Draymond playing in the All-Star Game on Sunday while the Splash Brothers compete in the Three-Point Shootout and Draymond will try to win the Skills Challenge on Saturday.
It is pretty remarkable that in the last few years the Warriors have gone from a team that gets most of their action on Friday (Rising Stars game) to headlining Saturday and Sunday nights.
In terms of predictions, the team will go 2-0, Isaiah Thomas, Zach LaVine and Stephen Curry win the Saturday events and the West wins the All-Star Game.