We’ll take the Charlotte and Dallas games together since they were almost carbon copies of one another with two notable exceptions: The first was away and the second was at home, and Draymond Green didn’t play down the stretch in the loss to the Bobcats but did against Dallas.
The first difference didn’t matter all that much, from this vantage. The Oracle crowd was strong once again Wednesday night — something the Warriors didn’t have in the Charlotte loss — but from this view, the real difference between winning Wednesday against Dallas and losing Monday in Charlotte was the second-year forward from Michigan State. It’s this obvious: Green has become so integral to the Warriors’ success, they might be a sub-.500 team right now if not for his all-around tremendous play when it matters most.
The Warriors were poised to run by Charlotte on Monday, tying the game at 88-all with a little more than six minutes to go, when Green had to leave the game with a sprained left ankle. He was a big factor in the comeback from 15 down, but once he left, the team just didn’t seem to have it together despite Stephen Curry’s 43-point heroics.
Wednesday night, it was quite different with Green playing the entire fourth quarter. The Warriors can be thankful he’s a fast healer, because he was once again the difference. He set a key screen for Curry on a four-point play, whipped a crosscourt pass for another Curry three-pointer, pretty much smothered Dirk Nowitzki defensively and then made his own three-pointer on a pass from Curry with 49.9 seconds left. It gave Golden State a 93-92 advantage, its first lead since 10-7 early in the first quarter.
Once again, the Warriors got off to a horrible start. They made just four of their first 21 shots. Klay Thompson hit just one of his first nine attempts. Curry, despite finishing with 33 points, also couldn’t find the range. Dallas took a 7-point lead at the quarter break and upped it to 18 late in the first half. Pretty close to Charlotte, which led by 15 in the third quarter.
You don’t need me to tell you the Warriors are playing with nitroglycerin with these slow starts. Listen to Green after the game:
“We have to stop,” he said. “We can’t continue to get behind like that and continue to try to come back and win. Once again, our crowd helped us get back into the game. Yeah, we did play hard, but let’s play hard and beat a team by 15 or 20 points. Let’s not play lackadaisical and get down 15 or 20 points and then play hard and come back and win by one or two points. If we can play like that for the entire 48 minutes then that’s the team that everybody expected. Not even what everybody expected, what we expected, and that’s what we have to start doing. We see that we can do that but we have to stop putting those runs together for 10, 12, 15 minutes and do that for 48 minutes. That’s when we become an elite level team.”
Of course, there is an obvious slap-in-the-face notion: If Green is so instrumental finishing games, perhaps he’s the answer at the start of games, eh? Our old friend Marcus Thompson II — remember him? — actually tweeted that notion during the game. And he’s absolutely right. The Warriors at least have to try it to get off this disturbing pattern early in games.
It makes sense on so many levels. Let’s face it, the bench right now is an offensive disaster. Marreese Speights is not Carl Landry. And while he may be a factor once he gets back into playing shape after 14 games off with a stress reaction, Toney Douglas is not yet anywhere near Jarrett Jack. Hence, Harrison Barnes — or maybe even David Lee — are more valuable to that reserve group right now because they can provide the points that unit woefully lacks. What’s more, the starting unit has plenty of scoring. But maybe it needs Draymond Green providing the same kind of energy and glue he delivers so frequently at the finish.
I asked Curry directly if Draymond might be a solution for these awful beginnings to games.
“I don’t know, that’s up to the coaches to decide,” he said. “But as any player knows, you have to be ready for anything, any situation, any role the coach needs you individually to play. (Draymond) has done his job pretty much as consistently as he can through this part of the season, and if that role changes, I’m sure he’ll adjust. But we’re just waiting for Andre Iguodala to get back.”
A pretty nebulous answer, but Iguodala may not be back for awhile yet. And when you think about it, what Green does as a player is so much like Iguodala — he doesn’t look to score. He looks to facilitate in any way he can at both ends. And he plays so, so smart. So perhaps he needs to be in at the start. When Iguodala gets back, things can return to normal, but for the moment, this would seem to be an experiment worth trying.
Chatting with Jermaine O’Neal before the game, his prognosis did not sound good. He said his right wrist, which has torn ligaments, gives him constant pain. He said he can’t grip the basketball, and since it’s his shooting hand, his offensive game is severely impaired. He said it affects him off the court as well — he said he can’t even handle a TV remote or drive his car without pain, and added that it hurts even when he pulls a sheet over himself in bed.
O’Neal is scheduled to meet with an orthopedic specialist Thursday — his third such visit — and maintained he will make a decision for the long term based on the latest findings. The options do not sound rosy. It’ll either be surgery, which would likely end his season and possibly his career, or a lengthy immobilation of possibly 6-8 weeks that could require a cast. Bottom line, O’Neal sounds like he could be out for a good long while either way. In fact, Festus Ezeli could ultimately beat him back. It’s a huge loss for the Warriors because O’Neal early on looked like he could be a major contributor off the bench. But in the best-case scenario, that now looks like it won’t happen until the second half of the season, if at all. Keep your fingers crossed, Warriors fans.
It amazes me how Curry can take what is looking like a horrible game into a sparkler. He couldn’t find his shot early, had eight turnovers entering the fourth quarter and he got torced by Jose Calderson time and again. But in the end, he scored 16 with no turnovers when the chips were down in the fourth quarter. The final line looked tremendous — 33 points, 10 assists, 6 of 11 on 3-pointers, three steals, four rebounds, and the game winning shot, which he claimed was his first since high school.
“We blew everybody out at Davidson so we didn’t need game winners,” he mused.
Just an amazing player. Don’t know what else to say.
What constitutes the time of a game-winning basket? Curry’s game-winner went through the hoop with precisely 1.5 seconds left, and in my early story, that’s how I wrote it. But the final official play-by-play said Curry’s winning shot came with three seconds left. That’s a pretty big discrepancy. The explanation was that the ball left Curry’s hand with three seconds left, and actually swished through the basket with 1.5 seconds to go. So both are technically right. Ultimately, against my better judgment, I went with the media crowd who followed what the official play-by-play said, but to my mind, the winning basket isn’t the winning basket until it goes through the hoop. And that definitely came with 1.5 seconds to go.
Here’s the upshot: Dallas had 1.5 seconds to work with once the play was complete, so 1.5 seconds for the game-winning shot just sounds right to me.
That’s my rant for the night, but I’ve only been covering basketball for 40 years. Then again, I’m still on jetlag having spent 11 hours Tuesday working my way back from Charlotte, so perhaps I’m just losing it. Have patience with me, and the Warriors. We can only hope things improve.