The Warriors have been eliminated from the In-Season Tournament, but they’ve got bigger issues to address than that.
To advance to the knockout round, the Warriors needed to beat Sacramento by at least 12 points. Because of Minnesota’s victory over the Thunder and the tiebreaker system that decides group play, the Warriors not only needed to win, but win comfortably. They did neither.
Hot early shooting to start had the Warriors up 10. They stretched their lead to 24 at one point in the first half, getting the contributions from Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson they’ve been waiting for.
Yet a strong Kings third quarter, fueled by De’Aaron Fox and a massive free throw advantage, brought the Warriors’ lead to nine heading into the fourth quarter. The Warriors, without Chris Paul and Gary Payton II — both of whom exited with injuries — played Stephen Curry as much as he could stand it.
It wasn’t enough. Sacramento went on a 16-6 run to begin the fourth quarter, erasing GSW’s lead as Draymond Green lost his cool, picking up a technical foul in his first game back from his suspension.
Then in the last minute, the Warriors completely unraveled. Consecutive brutal turnovers from Green and Curry turned a Warriors win into a deflating loss. They coughed up a four-point lead with 44 seconds left with those 19th and 20th turnovers, giving Malik Monk the chance to bank in the game-winner.
By blowing their 24-point lead in a 124-123 loss, the Warriors (8-10) have dropped eight of their past 10 games. This one started with the club at full strength, and ended with Golden State far from it. Defending without fouling and limiting turnovers, two of Golden State’s priorities, went in the tank. They operated as if the In-Season Tournament was a priority and still couldn’t come up with the win — even despite the Kings missing 15 free throws.
Here are three takeaways from the thrilling loss.
Draymond Green’s presence is so obviously felt, in every way
Almost immediately, Green reminded the world why the Warriors stand by him through all the distractions he has created.
On a three-on-one fast break for the Kings, Green pinned Chris Duarte’s layup off the glass, initiating a transition bucket on the other end for Golden State. It was the type of extraordinary play Green has made countless times over his 11-year career.
Green stayed in shape during the course of his five game suspension for putting Rudy Gobert in a headlock, training at the Warriors’ facility and scrimmaging when possible. He didn’t miss a beat. The Warriors won his first seven minutes by 10 points; in that spurt, he gathered three points, two blocks, two assists and a rebound.
The Warriors aren’t the same without Green. He has admitted that he needs to do more to be available for Golden State more consistently.
In the second quarter, Green gave Golden State a 15-point lead with a corner 3-pointer. After it fell through, he stared down Sacramento’s bench. That’s the kind of fire Green can bring without crossing the line that would risk taking him off the floor even as the league has him under a microscope.
His behavior in the fourth quarter, though — as the game’s intensity boiled — showed how tenuous Green regulating his behavior could be. He constantly argued calls, appeared to flop on an elbow that may or may not have connected with his face, picked up a technical foul and got too aggressive 40 feet away from the basket for a needless foul.
Steve Kerr needed to take Green out of the game in that moment. As the Warriors’ lead dwindled, Green needed to be removed so he could calm down. Then with a one-point lead with under 30 seconds left, a miscommunication led to Green bouncing a pass out of bounds for his fourth turnover. He finished with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a full, 360-degree view of the Draymond Green Experience.
Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson: the swing men.
It certainly didn’t look like Andrew Wiggins had any problems with his conditioning on Tuesday night.
The veteran forward was aggressive offensively from the jump, mostly passing up outside shots in favor of getting to the rim. He exceeded his season average of 11.8 points in the second quarter. He drove a closeout for an and-1 through Domantas Sabonis inside. He hit two 3-pointers as part of an 18-point, 7-for-10 first half.
He wasn’t just scoring, either. On back-to-back possessions, he found Klay Thompson for a wing 3 off a baseline drive, then again bounced a pass to Thompson on a give-and-go for a layup.
The pair of wings is the biggest barometer for the Warriors’ success. In Golden State’s 8-9 start, both have vastly underperformed. But the Warriors have vowed patience with the championship-caliber players, and they showed why that’s wise against the Kings.
Still, it was questionable that Kerr went with Thompson in the closing lineup over Moses Moody. Thompson had scored just three points in the second half as the Warriors trotted out their starting lineup to finish the game, sitting Moody as he was lightning hot. Moody went 4-for-4, including a stepback 3 to keep the Warriors from slipping away in the fourth.
All three of Wiggins, Thompson and Curry had 20-point triple-doubles. Both Wiggins and Curry had 29 and 10. The Warriors will take that type of production.
Bottling up Sabonis
If it wasn’t already decided, the Warriors have Domantas Sabonis’ number.
Green and Kevon Looney’s physicality bothers Sabonis in the post, and he hasn’t taken the Warriors’ invitation to take midrange jump shots. Sabonis is shooting 62% from the field this year, even better than last season’s high water mark for him. But in his two games against the Warriors entering Tuesday, he was 15-for-31 (48.4%).
Then with the In-Season Tournament knockout round on the line, Sabonis started 2-for-7. The Kings needed to turn to rookie Sasha Vezenkov, who provided a massive boost on both ends.
As the game hung in the balance, everything for Sacramento ran through De’Aaron Fox. That’s not abnormal for the Kings, but they desperately needed another look as the defense keyed in on the point guard. That should come from their All-NBA center. Instead, they were lucky it came from Monk.
Sabonis was still a factor. He tallied 10 assists and eight rebounds. But the Warriors have the blueprint on negating Sabonis as a scoring threat.