The buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper by Andre Iguodala did more than just push the Warriors’ record to 6-3. It did more than cap the leader in the clubhouse for the best game of the season, a 116-115 Warriors win over Oklahoma City.
As the Warriors look toward another playoff run, victories like the one Iguodala secured have psychological value. It was confirmation the Warriors can beat the best teams in the league, even when they don’t play their best. It will be a reference point if they grow into their new presuned identity as Western Conference power.
“You begin to establish a belief that you belong,” coach Mark Jackson said. “You believe that no matter who you’re facing, you should win. And when you talk about facing heavyweights, you can win no matter where you play. And I think we’re there.”
This game was lost. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook drilled a 29-footer with 2.3 seconds left — erasing Golden State’s once 14-point fourth-quarter lead — to put the Warriors down a point and force the Oracle crowd to watch him holster his imaginary guns and scream about his greatness.
Doubt was ready to creep in. Criticism was making its way to the fingertips of the news gatherers and the lips of NBA fans. And now, thanks to Iguodala, the next time such is on the cusp the Warriors will have something to draw on.
“It shows confidence,” Jackson said. “We’ve got guys who believe, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ I think at the end of the day what that does is it develops something. It prepares you for the moment. Later in the playoffs, as you advance as you move on. You know you can do it.”
It also validates Golden State’s belief they have added a weapon that can get them over the hump.
Some, like me, contend Iguodala was exactly the piece this core of players needed. He showed exactly that in the biggest game of the year so far, well before he hit the winner.
Having him as an option in clutch moments is a bonus.
“That’s why we’re so deep and talented,” Stephen Curry said. “That’s why ‘Dre was such a big acquisition for us because he has the history of making big shots and playing well late in games and down the stretch. He showed that tonight and showed why he is so important to our future and where we’re trying to go, he’s huge for us.”
More on Thursday’s victory…
Most Valuable Player (MVP)…
Andre Iguodala.He held Kevin Durant to 20 points on 5 of 13 shooting (below his average coming of 30.8) with five turnovers. He scored half his 14 points in the third quarter, when the Warriors took control of the game. Iguodala finished with nine assists, a steal and a block with no turnovers.
And then, to cap it, he created a moment that could end up a benchmark in a memorable season.
“I’m proud of him,” Klay Thompson said. “It went from a terrible mood to the best mood you could have, so thank Andre for that.”
Most Disappointing Player (MDP) …
David Lee. He always says his biggest responsibility is rebounding. He managed to pull just four, all in the second half. Three were key offensive rebounds, but the Warriors were destroyed on the boards and Lee did little about it. He had zero boards at halftime.
On top of that, Golden State went to him in the crunch when it really needed a bucket and he couldn’t produce.
“He got great looks,” coach Mark Jackson said. “He missed layups. He missed chippies.”
Lee was being defended by Kevin Durant (who had five fouls) on a couple of his fourth quarter attempts. He finished 2 for 9 in the fourth quarter. It was a very uncharacteristic David Lee performance.
In all fairness, he did dunk on Ibaka, though.
The Warriors were 14 of 23 from 3-point range (60.9) percent. That’s their highest percentage when taking at least 20 3s since March 5, 2012 at Washington. They’ve only shot 60 percent or better in a game six times since 1985-86 (minimum 20 attempts).
The Warriors’ great equalizer came in especially handing in the first half. Making 9 of 11 from deep, Golden State offset being doubled up on the boards and allowing 55 percent shooting.
AT LEAST WE LEARNED …
That Harrison Barnes can be aggressive despite coming off the bench. He took a season-high 14 shots (previous high was eight) in 23 minutes. He finished with 16 points. Golden State called his number and he had no problem answering.
He went at Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant. It wasn’t a model of efficiency, as most of his action came on isolations from the mid-post area. He was most effective during a 9-0 third quarter run, scoring seven points on three iso situations.
The trick for Barnes is to have the same aggressiveness each night, a struggle for him last season. It is especially important because he is the primary offense off the bench. If he doesn’t give the Warriors offense, the burden on the starters is increased.
So he has to figure out how to attack when he doesn’t have the obvious mismatch. How to provide some scoring when he’s having an off night. How to manufacture points and get better at being a factor off the ball.
Or, Jackson could just pencil him in 10 shots per game.
“Well, he’s a scorer and those plays were designed for him,” Jackson said. “That is his role. Coming in from the bench I want him to be a play-maker. I want him to be a scorer and when the defense adjusts, I want him to be a facilitator. I want him to create offense for guys, and I thought he did an outstanding job when guys came over to get a breather of carrying us offensively.”
THE KEY MOMENT …
If the Warriors live up to the hype this year, Iguodala’s shot will end up being one of those moments that made it feel like destiny. Just in case, let’s break it down.
* It was I’ve been a proponent of putting the ball in Curry’s hands at the end of games. But I have to say that was a good call using him as a decoy. Curry had played 43 minutes, his highest total of the season, and much of it was going around double-teams. He’d missed his previous four shots in the fourth quarter, the last one falling short and hitting the front rim. I am a big believer in percentages, and his for making a shot wasn’t good. But as long as he is on the floor he has value. Russell Westbrook, who had three steals and is an incredible athlete who can cover a lot of ground, was taken out of the play by Curry.
“The majority of the nights, Steph is going to have the basketball,” Jackson said. “But in short-clock situations, I just try to figure out the best matchup and the best situation and the best possible play that can get us a quality look.”
* Jackson said the play was designed for Iguodala. Thabo Sefolosha started out on David Lee, which was a tip they were going to switch on the pick. Common practice on last plays, especially with so little time left. If Lee would’ve screened for Curry, Sefalosha would’ve switched on Westbrook. Knowing that, Iguodala was to come off the screen from Lee and catch it at the top.
* Jackson said Iguodala had the option of catching it and handing off to Thompson, the inbounder (often considered the most dangerous players in such scenarios because he’s forgotten about). But Sefolosha blew that play up by overplaying and jumping in front of the passing lane. (Why is Thabo even doing that? Don’t you want the catch up high, furthest away from the basket as possible? Perhaps he thought Iguodala would just extend and take it out even further, even into the backcourt.)
So, Iguodala cut back towards the baseline. Thompson instantaneously picked up on it and didn’t even look at the other options, which I am presuming was Harrison Barnes coming toward him from the opposite wing.
“Option 1 wasn’t open so it was just Andre’s ability to read and react and create something out of it. It was also Klay’s ability to understand it and go through the different options on the play. So it says a lot about how far he’s come. … If I would have (used Klay to inbound) two years ago, the players would have been rolling their eyes like ‘This guy can’t coach a lick.’”
* The pass from Klay was perfect, and it had to be. If it’s behind him, it slows up Iguodala and gives Sefolosha that split second he needs to recover (or gets deflected by Serge Ibaka). If it is too far ahead, it probably takes Iguodala too close to the baseline and maybe not leave him enough space to execute the shot he has worked on.
“It was great Klay made the pass,” Iguodala said. “We both read the same thing.”
* Iguodala has a ton of room. Westbrook is attached to Curry. Ibaka is glued to Thompson. Sefolosha is trailing Iguodala. The only thing between Iguodala and the rim is Durant, who doesn’t want to leave Lee.
Iguodala said everything slowed down for him at that point.
“There were so many things going on in mind in that moment,” he said after Friday’s practice. “I watched the play a couple of times and I can see what I was thinking through each step. From him denying me the ball before I even took the switch. Once I caught it, once Klay threw me the ball, I thought about driving for a split second. And then from the time he threw it to the time I caught it … I had five or six things I was thinking about. but you kind of have to just play off instincts.”
* Iguodala said since Sefolosha denied him to the top, he “took a page out of Kobe’s book” and went for the baseline fade-away. Iguodala said when he caught it, a bit of muscle memory just kicked in.
“When Klay threw the pass, I was thinking I could get to the basket,” Iguodala said immediately after the game. “But as soon as the ball hit my hands, my feet were set to just turn around and shoot. That’s something I have worked on A LOT in my career. The situation was there and everything just worked out.”
This play was such a growth from what we used to see. Just six months ago, the Warriors could scarcely get the ball in bounds. In the recent pass, the only end of game action was the ol’ four corners with Monta Ellis dribbling out the clock to set up the dramatic basket.
Makes you wonder: what would Mark Jackson do without his Xs and Os guy, Pete Myers?
You know what else I’m wondering? Who is this fan practically at half court?
COACH’S CORNER …
*** Mark Jackson was asked how he felt about his fourth quarter offense.
“I couldn’t be happier. David Lee going against Kevin Durant, got good shots, missed ‘em. Missed ‘em. Very happy. I don’t think you can panic as a coach or as a team, because this is a make or miss league. And as long as you get quality possessions, you’ve got to be satisfied with it.”
He’s right. The offense was not good in the … Wait … What?
The Warriors were 8 of 26 in the fourth quarter. They took 8 more shots than the Thunder yet managed to score 8 fewer points. They were 5 of 15 in the paint and totaled 3 fast-break points.
No question he could be happier.
Oooooh. I get it. I see what you did there, coach. You were just protecting your star player.
One of the dangers of milking advantages is it may cause you to get away from your strengths. That’s what happened to the Warriors on Thursday.
They got so hung up on milking mismatches that they got away from what got them 95 points the first three quarters.
On paper, in a vacuum, posting Harrison Barnes on Reggie Jackson is an advantage. Posting Lee against Kevin Durant with five fouls is an advantage on paper. But the Warriors went too far out of their way to take advantage. (For the record, posting anybody on the Warriors against Ibaka is not an advantage).
I thought Jackson stuck to that formula too long, so long it killed the Warriors’ rhythm. I do feel like I’m kind of contradicting myself because I am a big proponent of high-percentage offense late. And I’ve criticized Jackson for not going to those opportunities in the past.
But it wasn’t working last night. Barnes was hot for a moment but cooled off. David Lee struggled all night and I think all of his success came from the right block (where he can go to that patented lefty turnaround off the glass).
“Down the stretch we got good looks,” Jackson reiterated after Friday’s practice. “(Lee) got great looks. He missed layups. He missed chippies.”
Going exclusively to the iso/post offense took away the transition game, took away Curry’s penetration (he was hurting the Thunder off the high pick and roll in the third by getting in the paint), took away the secondary break 3-pointers, took away the passing and movement (Warriors had 22 assists through three quarters).
*** This kind of echoing the last point, but Warriors’ centers Andrew Bogut and Jermaine O’Neal played 10:27 of the fourth quarter. Nearly six minutes of that was with David Lee. This points out the difficulty Jackson will face all season, but against Oklahoma City, playing without a center, it’s a no brainer. The Warriors only needed one big. Bogut/O’Neal or Lee is the only question. But when Durant is playing the four, that’s when you need Barnes or Green playing the four. Yes, Barnes at SF gives him a size advantage on an off guard. But that takes the Warriors away from what they do. The best scheme of the Warriors is making you pick your poison, pick where you’re going to send the help.
Against big teams, go big (except Barnes on a PF may be a better advantage than Barnes on a SG). But the best lineup is four ballers and one big man. It was true in the regular season last year, when Bogut was out and Jack replaced Ezeli to make up the Warriors’ best lineup. It was true in the playoffs when Lee went down and Bogut was surrounded by four perimeter types.
This is going to come up again. Curry, Iguodala and Thompson are locks. That leaves Bogut ( or O’Neal, who was good last game), Lee and Barnes up for the last two spots. More times than not, Barnes needs to be on the court. And as he develops, this won’t even be up for debate. Whether you go with Bogut for defense or Lee for offense can perhaps be determined by match-ups, but the Warriors are their toughest to defend when Curry, Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes are on the floor. Especially against teams that go centerless down the stretch, such as Oklahoma City, Miami, San Antonio sometimes (if you count Duncan as a PF), the Warriors almost need to go with their four horses and one big.
*** Wish we could hear Jackson’s message to his team after that Westbrook 3. Must’ve been good because they executed crisply afterward.
“They were down. They were upset,” Jackson said. “You look and you say, how did they climb all the way back and now we find ourselves with a little over 2 seconds to go, down 1. How? And you start beating yourself up. But that’s where you have a moment. And they looked at each other and realized there’s still time left and we can execute. We work on it every day.”
*** Say what you want about Jackson, but his players love him. And its largely because he believes in them more than anybody.
Did anyone see Jermaine O’Neal producing like this? The fact that Jackson gives him looks goes a long way for the veteran center, who had three steals and a block.
When asked about his game-winner, Iguodala credited Jackson.
“At any given time, coach is going to call your number. That’s one thing I’ve learned from him. That’s the reason you see so many guys playing with so much confidence.”
WHAT HE SAID …
“It was good game. They are a good team and they play well at home. They shoot threes and run the floor. The crowd goes crazy when somebody goes between their legs or something like that so it is a good arena to play in.” — Russell Westbrook
TRENDING TOPIC …
The last two games, Thompson is 16 of 34 from the field the last two games. He’s made 8 of his last 13 from 3-point range.
In five of the nine games, Thompson has shot better than 50 percent. Thursday was his fourth game making at least 58 percent of her shots. In those games, Thompson is 41 of 59 from the field (69.5 percent).
BEFORE YOU GO …
Draymond Green played 10 minutes, 5 seconds. And they were huge. He had four points, three rebounds (two offensive) and a steal. Most important, he rarely steps on the court and not do something positive. It’s becoming more and more clear if you want to win, he needs to be on the court.
If Barnes is the sixth man, Green is the seventh. I don’t know what that means for Marreese Speights, who just signed a three-year, $11 million contract this offseason. But Green needs to be in the 15 to 20 minute range, I think.