The Golden State Warriors appeared to show the importance of injured MVP Stephen Curry in a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. Entering Thursday’s matchup at the Houston Rockets as underdogs for the first time all season, the defending champs closed out 2015 by proving that they have plenty of ability even without Curry and three other rotation players in the lineup.
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After struggling to dual 4-of-15 shooting nights vs. Dallas, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green excelled against Houston with star-level performances that should indicate neither is wholly reliant on the presence of Curry for their All-Star reputations. Thompson scored a game-high 38 points (16-of-27 FG, 6-of-11 3FG) and Green posted his league-leading fifth triple-double with a career-high 16 assists as the Warriors grabbed a 114-110 win over the ever-frustrating Rockets to improve to 30-2. Despite the narrow margin, the Warriors looked in control most of the second half and led by 10 with 15 seconds on the clock.
Thompson’s scoring will grab most of the headlines, especially considering that the Warriors lacked Curry’s game-changing ability to shoot from anywhere across the halfway line. Yet Thompson didn’t exactly fire from anywhere on the court — the Warriors instead attempted to slow the game down (with varying degrees of success) and create openings for shooters within the flow of the halfcourt offense. It was a different look for a group best known for overwhelming opponents with rapid double-digit runs, but a reminder that Golden State won the title in large part for its unparalleled versatility.
Green deserves the bulk of the credit for making this approach work, because he assumed the role of the offense’s primary facilitator with few problems after a poor game against the Mavericks. He far exceeded his previous career high of 13 assists (set January 2 vs. the Toronto Raptors) in an impressive team-wide performance that saw the Warriors assist on 35 of their 43 field goals. That ball-sharing was a big reason why the team shot 51.2 percent from the field and 11-of-23 on three-pointers without its biggest offensive weapon.
While Thompson and Green were the biggest producers, the Warriors were arguably just as reliant on the performances of secondary players like Andre Iguodala (20 points on 6-of-7 FG), fill-in starter Shaun Livingston (13 points on 6-of-12 FG, seven assists), and little-used reserve Ian Clark (12 points on 2-of-4 3FG). Curry has understandably garnered the most attention, but reserve center Festus Ezeli and veteran guard Leandro Barbosa have also missed the last two games to join starter Harrison Barnes (missing his 15th-straight game Thursday) on the sidelines. The ability of those players to step into bigger rules could convince the Warriors not to rush Curry and others back from injury. We’ll see who suits up for their next game on Saturday against the Denver Nuggets at Oracle Arena.
The Rockets will have to consider this game a missed opportunity, especially considering that they got good play from James Harden (30 points on 8-of-19 FG) and Dwight Howard (21 points on 8-of-9 FG, 13 rebounds, five assists). As ever, though, Houston’s biggest issues came at the defensive end, where they were beaten backdoor often and regularly lagged in transition to give up easy buckets. The Warriors deserve credit for exploiting these known problems, but there is still no convincing excuse for why the Rockets look distracted and unenthused several times per week.
Meanwhile, Golden State finished out a stellar calendar year that saw the team go 72-12 in the regular season, the second-highest mark of all-time. That stat is obviously somewhat meaningless considering that the NBA season does not start in January to December, but it’s a sign of just how dominant this team has been. Don’t be surprised if 2016 turns out just as well.
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