The conditions were ripe for the Golden State Warriors to win convincingly on Wednesday night and maintain the momentum from their four-game winning streak.
The visiting Toronto Raptors rolled into Oracle on the second night of a back-to-back. Kawhi Leonard’s right hip kept him out of the lineup, while the Warriors were relatively healthy. Ironically, those same conditions were ripe for the reverse.
At times, the Warriors have a nasty habit of giving into their malaise and boredom. They also have a habit of letting their guards down when there’s no presence of “appropriate fear”. The Raptors, fresh off of a game against the Clippers the night before sans Leonard eliminated the motivation for the Warriors to get up for this game. Forget about facing the best team in the East with the best record in the league and the notion of playing for revenge for the overtime loss weeks ago.
It did not matter. The Warriors didn’t feel threatened. In fact, the Warriors didn’t have a care in the world before tip-off, and consequently played as such. Which is why you have heard the following after the game:
“We didn’t start the game off with a sense of urgency,” Kevin Durant said in the postgame scrum. “That’s the story of tonight.”
“We did not bring the required energy,” says Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Regardless of why it happened, the Raptors ran the Warriors off of their own floor. The champs were thoroughly outplayed. The Dubs got punched in the mouth, which happens from time to time. Let’s look into how it happened.
Other than holding the edge over the Raptors in blocks (11 to 3), the Warriors were out of sync and sluggish on D. Golden State did not hustle back on defense after misses or committing one of their 19 turnovers in the game. As a result, they surrendered 25 points in transition. In addition to the poor effort in transition, the Warriors, as expected, did not defend the paint well. They gave up 58 points in the lane.
The Warriors didn’t communicate well on defense. Stephen Curry pretty much spotted Danny Green 15 points. Why? Because the Raptors created that mismatch in the post and no one came to help Curry on the double team. DANNY GREEN! I’ve seen him post up maybe twice in his career before.
The Raptors’ solid defense
Toronto has enough of athletic and lengthy players that can disrupt a defense, and that’s what happened on Wednesday. Instead of Kyle Lowery guarding Curry, Fred VanVleet did so with success. VanVleet pestered Curry by pick him up full court and did everything he could to contain him with help of course.
The Raptors were successful in running Curry off the three and switched everything to force Durant into a series of ISO matchups. The Raptors also held the edge in steals with 12 to the Warriors’ 5, and scoring 11 points off of the Warriors’ 19 turnovers.
Curry’s weird, off night
Granted, the Raptors did a great job frustrating Curry. However, the NBA is a make or miss league and he missed quite a few shots that he usually makes. Curry’s 3-for-12 from the field was his fewest since game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals. His 10 point night was an anomaly, but it is one that’s worth looking into because of the fact that he only attempted 12 shots, and didn’t really attempt to drive the lane. Usually, he and Durant get roughly about 19 to 20 shots per game, and heres the thing: Kerr prefers Curry off the ball more often than not. But it’s fair enough to wonder if he was off the ball too much.
In Kerr’s free-flowing motion offense, the ball is out of the best players’ hands. However, the ball usually find its way back. Against the Raptors, Curry had only one assist the entire game. Usually, the Warriors rely on the the gravity, chaos, and floor stretching that Curry creates to keep the ball circulating for clean and open looks.
Again, Kerr relies on the Strength In Numbers approach when he should either use the strengths of the numbers that he has or rely on the strengths of his all-stars. In a game where a defense overplays the passes and is applying ball denial liberally, a simplistic adjustment was needed. It could have been simply a Curry/Durant pick and roll to jump start Curry’s rhythm and re-establish spacing and gravity.
On the year, Klay Thompson, a 44 percent career shooter from three, is shooting just 35 percent. In eight of his 73 games last season, Thompson made one or fewer 3s. This year, he’s made one three or fewer in 11 of the 29 games. Against Toronto, Thompson shot 0 for 5 from three.
Part of the explanation is just a slump from which Thompson will eventually progress to the mean. It also helps to explain his recent penchant for the midrange shot.
When locked in and engaged, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable. They have the hardware to prove it. But losses like this one proves that the biggest threat to their tittle aspirations isn’t the Raptors, Bucks, Celtics. It’s themselves.