(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Weekly Dish, Presented by Mountain Dew Kickstart
By Brian Witt
In getting off to strong starts last week, the Warriors helped ensure they'd get off to a strong start to the stretch run.
For the week of Tuesday, Feb. 26 – Sunday, Mar. 4
The Warriors were hoping the All-Star break would reinvigorate the team with the energy necessary to attack the stretch run of the season. Based on the results from last week, it appears they made good use of that brief respite.
The Dubs began their first post-All-Star break week of play with a victory over the Clippers, Golden State's closest competitor within the Pacific division. Then, Golden State followed that up with a sound home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that had beaten the Warriors in both prior encounters earlier this season. In both cases, the Warriors addressed one of the major pitfalls that had afflicted them going into the break.
Over the 18 games the Warriors played before the All-Star break, they allowed their opponents to average 126 points per 100 possessions in the first six minutes of the first quarter. In the wins over the Clippers and Thunder, Golden State held their opponents to a combined 22 points on 32 combined possessions in the first six minutes of their respective games. Now, advanced statistics can get a bit convoluted, but you don't have to be a math major to know that's a significant improvement.
At the end of those two first quarters, Golden State held leads of 34-23 and 24-19. They limited their opponents to four combined fast break points in those first frames, and held them to 3-of-21 (.143) combined shooting from three-point range. Now, Golden State's staunch defense may have relented somewhat throughout the remainder of the victory over the Clippers, but they managed to sustain it throughout the entirety of the win over the Thunder, in which the Warriors held Oklahoma City to a grand total of 80 points. That not only tied a season-low for points allowed by Golden State, but was also the Thunder's worst offensive efficiency of their season.
"That's our staple," Kevin Durant said of the team's strong defensive performance. "That's what we need to do in order for us to win. If we want to win a championship, we're going to have to lock down on the defensive end and rebound. We have to give them one shot. Guys have to come in flying and get the rebound. I think we did a good job of making them shoot tough shots over us. They are great players so sometimes they're going to make them. If we make them shoot tough shots all game, after a while they'll get worn down."
Both games last week had a playoff feel to them, and before we know it, all of them will. Those two wins improved Golden State's record to 46-14 on the season, meaning that 22 games remain on their regular season schedule. The Warriors currently have a 14-game lead on the Clippers for the Pacific Division title, but they still sit a half-game behind the red-hot Rockets for the top spot in the conference. Golden State will have plenty to play for over the final 22 games, but the two wins last week were a great start.
Standout Spotlight: JaVale McGee & Nick Young
One commonality between the Warriors' fast starts last week was the presence of JaVale McGee in the lineup from the opening tip. Steve Kerr chose to give McGee the start at center in place of Zaza Pachulia for both games with the hopes that he would inject some energy and bring a more vertical dimension to the lineup, and the move paid off immediately. With McGee in the starting lineup against the Clippers, Golden State accumulated assists on their first eight baskets, and the Dubs held both the Clippers and Thunder to less than a point per possession with McGee on the floor. Certain matchups seem to play more in McGee's favor than others, but there's no disputing he had a considerable impact on the Warriors' strong starts to their victories.
And if McGee got the Warriors off to a strong start, Nick Young played a big role in helping them finish in similar fashion. Young had his best performance in weeks against the Thunder, making four of his five three-point attempts in the game, including one that beat the third quarter buzzer and swayed the momentum heavily in favor of the Dubs. Although the Warriors rank fourth in the NBA with an average of 11.8 three-pointers per game, they've gotten only 2.1 made threes per game from their bench, which ranks dead last in the league. If Young can provide a consistent three-point threat off the bench, it could do wonders for the spacing and effectiveness of Golden State's reserve units.
The Week Ahead:
The Warriors have only one remaining road trip consisting of more than two games in length, and that takes place in the week ahead. Golden State's three-game road trip will take them from north to south along the East Coast, beginning with a matchup in New York later tonight. This Tuesday marks the five-year anniversary of Stephen Curry's 54-point game at Madison Square Garden, and it would not be surprising at all to see the two-time MVP go off once again on the big stage. After Monday's game against the Knicks, the Warriors will head to D.C. to face the Washington Wizards on Wednesday before closing out their road trip in Atlanta against the Hawks on Friday. Once Golden State returns home from the trip, they'll have only one remaining road game against Eastern Conference teams this season (4/5 at Indiana). Considering the Dubs have only lost one road game to an Eastern Conference team this season, the week ahead presents a great opportunity to clinch a thoroughly dominant interconference road record.
Till next week.