PHILADELPHIA -- The Golden State Warriors held off the Philadelphia 76ers 119-108 in the type of game they’d have perhaps squandered last season. Although Golden State still isn’t a high free throw attempt-earning team, the acquisition of Kevin Durant (27 points, 11 free throws on Monday) has helped the Warriors in that regard. On Monday, they earned their victory at the stripe, by bashing their way to 39 free throw attempts, 33 of which they made.
“I knew we’d go to the line more this year, just based on Kevin’s presence, but this was pretty dramatic,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “I mean, 39 free throws, and almost all of them in the flow of the game. It’s not like they were fouling to stay in it. I was pleased. I think it made up for the fact that we couldn’t make a 3, but we were getting good shots and attacking and putting a lot of pressure on the defense. All good stuff.”
On an unseasonably warm Northeast evening, the Warriors brought the chill. They began the game wholly off from deep, going 1-of-16 on 3-pointers to close the first half and ending 6-of-29. Stephen Curry was especially out of sorts, with two early air balls, and he finished 0-for-11 from distance. That qualifies as the most he has missed without a make in his career, and it ties the NBA record shared by Utah's Trey Burke and Boston's Antoine Walker for 3-point misses sans a make.
“The weatherman said it was like a low-pressure system that was coming in, and I forgot to adjust to the thinness of the air, the thickness of the air, whatever it is,” Curry wryly said. “It happens, but you’ve gotta find other ways to try to impact the game, whether it’s trying to get to the paint a little bit more, defensively just trying to make plays.”
On the other side, the underdog Sixers were playing with some serious verve. If not for their propensity for fouling Golden State, they would have led on account of their speed in transition and ball movement.
The Sixers also might have had a chance but for their starting center, who moved at a lumbering pace. Golden State had considerable success targeting Jahlil Okafor, against whom they drew five fouls in his first 11 minutes. In that span of play, the Sixers were minus-15, and Okafor coughed up six turnovers.
Okafor was also a contributing factor in Zaza Pachulia’s excellent evening. The bruising Warriors center went 5-for-5 for 16 points in his 15 minutes, looking in rhythm again after his eight-game break due to a right shoulder injury. Pachulia, who canceled his All-Star break trip to Napa so he could work out at the Warriors' practice facility, has seen the fruits of that labor. “The strength coach did a great job keeping me in shape,” Pachulia said of his Oakland recovery. Both Pachulia and David West, who canceled his North Carolina vacation to recover from a thumb fracture and also looks to be in fine form, have helped Golden State’s post-All-Star-break depth.
Golden State led by a mere three points at the half, but it was only a matter of time before the Warriors broke out. They got the necessary separation at the start of the third quarter.
The Warriors began the third period with a Steph/Draymond Green pick-and-roll that led to a missed Green dunk with a Durant 3-pointer off the ricochet. After that came a Pachulia and-1, then a Curry layup in Okafor’s direction, followed by a Green interception that became a Durant dunk. The Sixers never quite recovered from that run. They ate away at the lead here and there, mostly during Golden State’s bench run to begin the fourth, but the game was over for all intents and purposes. Despite the shooting woes, Golden State’s defense, anchored by the ever-handsy Green and Andre Iguodala, did not relent enough to let Philadelphia back in.
It was another classic Warriors game against a lesser opponent. It was competitive, it was close, but it was all an illusion undone with a third-quarter run. That seems to be the pattern, regardless of circumstances.
Even when something as anomalous as Steph Curry shooting 0-for-11 from deep happens, the Warriors overwhelm.