The NBA had its version of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object on Monday night when the Golden State Warriors’ top-ranked offense ran up against the Atlanta Hawks’ highest-rated defense. Mike Budenholzer’s visiting Hawks had the Warriors’ historically great scoring machine operating in fits and starts for the entire game, but the home team found a way to grind out 105 hard-fought points, getting key contributions from Andre Iguodala off the bench and 70 combined points from Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson. In the final seconds of the contest, perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green recorded two out-of-this-world blocks to preserve the narrow victory.
1. If you were to go into a lab and construct the perfect post defender for today’s pick-and-roll heavy NBA, where everyone (positions 1 through 5) can shoot, but big men can still punish smalls inside, wouldn’t you create Draymond Green? A guy with enough bulk to not get tossed around on the low block, but still light enough on his feet to chase lightning quick guards on the perimeter. Throw in an albatross-like wingspan, a basketball savant’s understanding of defense, and a chip the size of Michigan on his shoulder and you have the making of a player that can completely alter a basketball game while scoring only four points. In the final three defensive plays of the game, Draymond blocked Dennis Schroder, threw the ball off his body, blocked Kent Bazemore, swatted the ball off his knee, and heavily contested a Paul Millsap 3-pointer to seal the win. How many defenders in the league can legitimately guard all five positions and do it with the game on the line? There’s Draymond, Lebron, and … ?
2. I mean, Dray did try to warn everybody. Don’t go at him for game.
3. Andre Igoudala (12 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, 5-9 shooting) had by far his best game of the young season. His minutes early in the first quarter sparked a 12-1 Warriors run when the offense was stuck in the mud. And then early in the fourth quarter, Igoudala made back-to-back buckets in transition to push the Dubs’ advantage to five and wake the Oracle crowd. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate was a game-high plus-18 in a spry, high-IQ, sound-defensive 28 minutes. (Plus-18 in a 5-point victory means the Dubs were outscored by 13 when Igoudala wasn’t on the floor.)
4. Kevin Durant shot 8-of-16 … and his field goal percentage went down.
5. If Curry is getting beat on the perimeter repeatedly (Schroder: 24 points, 6 assists), he’s going to need help on the back line from a center that can jumper higher than Zaza Pachulia. More JaVale McGee, anyone?
6. Ian Clark had 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting with no shot bigger than the 3-pointer he hit at the end of the third quarter. The basket cut the Hawks lead down to one and gave the team some momentum heading into the final 12 minutes. Clark, with his reliable scoring off the bench, is winning back some of the minutes he ceded to Patrick McCaw earlier in the season.
7. It’s hard to believe the Hawks are only 10-8. They have an All-NBA player in Millsap. Schroder is like a humming bird flitting in and out of the lane with the basketball (though his 33% accuracy from deep could improve) and he’s got a good lob-connection with Dwight Howard (14 points, 16 rebounds) when teams try to slow him down with a big from the weak side. If Kyle Korver can return to his pre-injury form and Kent Bazemore can shoot better than 4-of-15, it’s not hard to imagine this team making some noise in the East (before getting dismantled by Cleveland again).
9. Remember when Klay Thompson was a rookie and his post-game interviews were jarringly bad and made you wonder how in the world he’s the son of a broadcaster? It would appear Klay’s over that now. When dude’s not taking swigs of beer during Q&As, he’s now taken to boasting about his paper airplane folding capacity.
10. During the Warriors 12-game win streak, they’ve been able to shoot their way out of most games even when they weren’t playing particularly well. They were bailed out by Steph in Toronto, Klay in Boston, and Durant in Milwaukee. Each time the Dubs have run up against a tougher-than-expected foe, one of their superstar scorers has been able to provide a bit of shot-making to erase a deficit or increase a lead. That’s what makes this win so important. The Hawks burly front line of Howard and Millsap were bullying the Warriors down low, and their phalanx of long-armed defenders were closing passing lanes and generally clogging the offensive motion. But this iteration of the Warriors, with the help of Draymond’s defense, Andre’s all-around brilliance, and just enough gritty scoring from the Steph, Klay and KD showed that they can win any kind of game any kind of way. That’s a big test passed going forward.