22 Mar 19
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The Warriors beat the Pacers 112-89 Thursday at Oracle Arena.
Here are three thoughts on the contest:
Three kinds of smoke
Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) passes the ball to teammate Golden State Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins (0) during the first quarter of their NBA game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, March 21, 2019. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]The score might not indicate it, but Thursday’s game might have been the Warriors’ best offensive game of the season.
The ball was moving, players were moving, and for the first time, it felt like the team’s three kinds of smoke were all working in concert.
Golden State’s absurd luxury is that they have multiple ways of scoring on teams — they have different kinds of smoke. And for the past two seasons, the two kinds of smoke the Warriors boasted were the Stephen Curry-led pace-and-space “joy” brand of basketball and the Kevin Durant’s ruthless-in-isolation brand.
The Warriors have needed both — particularly in the playoffs, when Durant’s ability to be fed the ball and almost automatically get a bucket is a necessity.
At the same time, those two kinds of smoke have — at times — failed to mesh. At worst, there was a mutual exclusivity between them.
And that mutual exclusivity started to show up over the last few games — the Curry-led attack (which includes Klay Thompson and Draymond Green), lifted the Warriors to big wins over the Rockets and Thunder on the road, with Durant out with an ankle injury. There were 2015 vibes all over those wins.
When Durant came back, it was evident that he didn’t want to mess with the team’s positive mojo — there was a deference to his game, as he would let Curry lead the way or facilitate the offense for him when the two were on the court together, and when they were not, he’d go back to what he does as well as any player in NBA history.
It wasn’t a problem, but the juxtaposition was interesting.
Thursday, the two styles beautifully meshed together — there was an understanding on the court.
And for the first time since Cousins has joined the fray, his bullyball — a third kind of smoke that the Warriors have never had before he arrived — meshed, too.
There was no gear grinding between the three styles — the Warriors’ offense beautiful, unselfish, and seamless.
Outside, midrange, and in the post — the Warriors had an advantage on every spot on the floor on offense, and they did it against a damn good defensive team, too.
It was the kind of performance that makes you understand why people think the Warriors are unfair.
Surely, if the Warriors play like that on offense in the postseason, they’ll coast through the Western Conference bracket.
Of course, the Warriors’ success in June will be defined by their defense — and that was superb as well on Thursday. You could tell from the opening tip that it was going to be a special night — the team’s communal buy-in was evident from the jump.
It was as if the Warriors had transported into the playoffs. They were physical — they were downright bullying the Pacers at times; they were tracking the ball and moving on a string; they challenged shots with aplomb and looked to finish possessions with transition opportunities. The Warriors have played solid defensive games before this season, but I don’t think we’ve seen as cohesive of an effort — and certainly not with Cousins (who was stellar) in tow.
Durant set the tone early. He was playing with full investment on both ends and was downright dominant in the contest. Durant’s intensity was such that during a timeout after a third-quarter turnover, he went to the scorer’s table and gave it a full-windup, open-hand slam. You can’t slack when one of the best players in the world is playing like that.
Sure enough — no one was slacking.
Curry and Thompson were aggressive at the point of attack. Iguodala and Green were hyper-communicative amid their typical transcendent play. Cousins downright bullied the Pacers — again. He really does love playing those guys.
It should be noted that while Andrew Bogut played during the meaningful portion of games, his impact on the game was significant. Simply having him as a viable backup provides Cousins some defensive freedom — he can be even more aggressive with swipes (which is is stellar at) and trying to draw charges.
And when Cousins does that, he’s absolutely a plus defender.
Before Bogut was around, Cousins being aggressive on the defensive end could have landed him on the bench with early or untimely fouls, wrecking the Warriors’ rotations in the process — but now that the big Aussie is in tow, the Warriors don’t need to fret Cousins risking fouls. Bogut can enter the game and the Warriors can run the same offensive and defensive systems (albeit with less dynamism than if Cousins was in).
So don’t look at Bogut as someone who could steal Cousins’ minutes — his presence can maximize them.
In all, the Warriors’ focus and energy — something that was on point during the team’s four-game road trip — carried over and perhaps even reached another level once the team returned home.
This is a team displaying championship habits after 60-plus games where those habits were rarely consistent.
Just like they said, they had access to this level all along — they just needed the motivation to get there.
They certainly have found the motivation — perhaps in several different places. And given how comprehensive their performance was Thursday, you can almost forgive them for taking the next few games off.
They don’t need to make their ability to absolutely dominate so obvious, after all.
Rotations are coming to light
To quote NBA and Bay Area dad champion David Lee, the Warriors were #FullSquad on Thursday. And going up against one of the NBA’s best teams, Kerr had to show his hand — at least a bit — on his playoff rotations (or what he’d like his playoff rotations to be).
So what did we learn Thursday?
• Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are going to act in lock-step. The team is going to try to go back to the duo playing almost all of their minutes together, including playing the full first and third quarters.
• Cousins and Thompson seem tied together, too.
• Quinn Cook could well be the eighth man off the bench for the Warriors in the postseason. Kerr experimented with Cook as a quasi-wing on the second unit during the road trip, and it worked. Thursday night, he used it again back at Oracle Arena.
Playing alongside Cousins, Iguodala, Livingston, and Thompson, Cook has one job: knock down open looks. That’s something he does exceptionally well (though he went 1-for-6 Thursday).
With Thompson, Livingston, and Iguodala on the court, Cook’s defensive limitations (which are, unfortunately, tied to his size) are mitigated — he can hide in the corner on defense (good) and on offense (even better, as it allows him open 3-pointers).
And while the paradigm changes a bit when Livingston (roughly the 8-minute mark) and Iguodala (7-minute mark) come off the court, I can’t help but think that a clear role — spot-up shooter — has been carved out for Cook. It’s a bit of pragmatic coaching and creative thinking — they’re putting a plus offensive player in a position to succeed, and in turn, giving the second unit with something it’s needed all year.
• The ninth man off the bench is likely to a matchup option — Kerr passed over Alfonzo McKinnie for Jonas Jerebko on Thursday. I’m interested to see if that’s a trend or a one-off — Jerebko was fantastic in Minnesota, but McKinnie’s rebounding seems like something the Warriors would want on the court in the playoffs.
• Out of the rotation, after a nice showing on the road trip and in garbage time Thursday: Jordan Bell. The Oregon product has likely been relegated to change-up and extreme matchup status.
• Also not part of the regular rotation: Bogut. Cousins and Kevon Looney will keep their normal minutes — Bogut will come in for either if they find foul trouble.
Make some noise
Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) attempts to encourage the crowd while playing the Indiana Pacers during the third quarter of their NBA game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, March 21, 2019. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Indiana Pacers 112-89. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]Multiple times in the third quarter Thursday, Stephen Curry implored the Oracle Arena crowd to make some more noise.
He said after the game that he was looking for a playoff-like atmosphere.
I’m not sure if he got it, but the vibe in the arena was much better (aka: louder) after Curry egged on the crowd.
While it’s dangerously uncouth to call out the Oracle crowd — the way Klay Thompson did a few weeks ago — for being ostensively less enthusiastic as it was in years past, I have no problem with Curry encouraging the crowd during the game. The Warriors have six regular-season games left at the loudest professional basketball venue in America. And before the once-venerable venue becomes the East Bay’s Cow Palace — hosting arena football and cannabis conventions — it deserves as many earplug-busting, rafter-rattling performances as it can get.
The Warriors say they’re committed to putting on a show during those games — Curry’s actions and comments Thursday is him asking the fans to meet him and his teammates at least halfway.
I get that fans are following the Warriors’ lead and are generally bored by regular-season hoops, but I hope they pay heed.