MINNEAPOLIS -- The Golden State Warriors, and most especially Stephen Curry, looked ragged, dragging through the last game of this road trip, fighting it out with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. It seemed they would finally lose two straight games, a fate they’ve so far avoided this season.
Maybe you could even forgive a loss here, with three defensive stalwarts out (Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli) and 6-foot-9, 240-pound James Michael McAdoo making his first career start at center. Enter human defibrillator Draymond Green, whose forceful skill galvanized the Warriors to a 109-104 victory.
Enter the bench as well, as a collective effort was needed to steady the ship in the absence of Curry’s expected greatness. The reigning and presumptive MVP looked half himself on Monday, coughing up five turnovers in the third quarter (he finished with five) and shooting 6-of-17 for the game.
“He missed a lot of shots he normally makes and over the course of an 82-game season, that’s going to happen,” Green explained. “And it hasn’t happened much for him, so it’s unbelievable for everybody, but it happens. But it’s our job to pick him up.”
Green continued, “You know, he carries us a lot of games. When the team can’t get it going, Steph gets it going and then everyone else. And now he’s struggling with his shot a little bit, it’s our turn to pick him up.”
The way in which Green specifically picked up Golden State was connected to Curry. Teams are switching screens against the Warriors, often putting a guard on Green, daring him to generate offense. He responded with a punishing effort against Minnesota screen switchers, finishing with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists.
Of the switching strategy, Green said, “If they’re going to continue to do that, I’m going to continue to make sure I’m taking advantage of the team’s guards, whether that’s in the post. And it’s not just scoring, it’s making plays out of the post, it’s attacking off the dribble, offensive rebound, offensive glass. ... Teams are going to continue to play us like that because they saw us lose one game doing that and they think it’s the answer. Well, that’s fine. We’ll do what we do.”
The switching sets the stage for Green to come through, to leverage his multifaceted skill set against a defense focused on the Splash Brothers -- Curry and Klay Thompson. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the phenomenon, “It’s been easy to see his shooting and scoring is coming back. It’s been coming back the last few games. What’s happening now is everybody’s switching out on the guards. Three games in a row now -- Dallas, San Antonio and Minnesota -- they’re just switching everything and that gives Draymond a ton of room to work with inside and down on the block. So, he’s going to score more when teams play us that way.”
Curry might have been off his game, but the threat he presents remains constant. The Warriors got good offense from Green briefly screening for Curry and rolling hard to the basket against a defense primed for a lingering pick on basketball’s most feared shooter.
Beyond Green’s contributions, the Warriors’ effort was shored up by the recently incandescent Marreese Speights, and the ever steady Shaun Livingston. Their contributions were crucial on an evening when Curry was a step slow.
Speaking of which, Curry’s current status is a bit of a mystery. Kerr posited that his fatigue was more mental than physical and Curry himself rejects the notion of being tired. When asked about fatigue, he said, “It’s the NBA, man. It’s 82 games, it’s the same way every year. If we can’t handle the challenges that come at us at this point of the season, we’ve got to do something about it.”
Eventually, Curry’s game will correct its course, and two consecutive poor performances isn’t cause for extreme alarm. The bigger mystery and concern might be Harrison Barnes (31 minutes, six points on Monday), who has largely been less than a factor since returning from an ankle sprain. It remains to be seen if Golden State needs a productive Barnes, but they could certainly use him.
In the meantime, Golden State will rely on a superstar and two All-Stars flanked by a roster replete with versatility. They’ll rely on “73 wins,” a motivating goal the players are increasingly open about. After the game, Green said, “I think it’s something that can help you focus because, obviously, you’ve got to win.”
It’s an enviable position, even for the highly fatigued. Maybe the Warriors can’t rest on their laurels, but they can certainly draw strength from them.