Warriors bench lights a fuse in loss to Rockets

Shooting eight percent from distance isn’t something that will keep the Warriors in many games.

That wasn’t the case Thursday night, though, as Golden State lost narrowly to the Rockets, with a final score of 97-96. The Dubs’ starting five went 1-for-12 from beyond the arc, and Marreese Speights was 3-for-6 from long-range.

The loss at Houston was a reminder to the world about how dangerous their bench can be. On a night without Stephen Curry, and while Klay Thompson played 40 minutes that excluded much offensive production, the Warriors almost won.

With a few seconds left and a deficit that would be cleared with any shot, the Warriors attempted to inbound the ball to Draymond Green. Who subsequently failed to reel in the pass, giving away the final play, and the game.

That single play summed up the evening for the Warriors starters — stymied by officiating that almost never went their way, a flopping Rockets team, but mostly themselves.

The sixth men, since the Warriors seem to have so much depth that there’s no clear sixth man from an impact perspective, came through. Ian Clark, Speights, and of course the duo of Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, carried the Dubs to crunch time.

Their depth on both ends of the court moved through the adversity on enemy ground, and without their star in Curry, kept things interesting when their opponent was playing as good as possible.

Golden State trailed for the majority of the ballgame, and it seemed a foregone conclusion 20 minutes through that they weren’t going to win. A late surge in the second quarter closed the margin, and a fourth quarter comeback turned a lopsided teeter-totter into must see T.V.

That’s what having a guy like Mo Speights will do for a team.

But when you have an entire bench who can step in and make an instant impact on a game? That’s when your team wins a championship.

Measuring an individual bench player on the Warriors is like trying to move five cups of unsifted flour into a pan, five yards away, and without a vesicle to do it with. Try all you might, but it’s not going to be accurate.

The bench as a collective unit, though, was measured in Game 3, against a team who made it to the Conference Finals just one year ago.

Minute per minute, they outscored Golden State’s star-studded starting unit, out-rebounded two of the best in the league in Green and Andrew Bogut, and Clark tallied five assists in 21 minutes — second fiddle to Green’s seven, though the latter played twice as long.

Clark also scored 11 points, driving to the hoop and staying strong despite whistles powered by unscrupulous officials that seemed determined to extend the series for the league’s financial gain.

The Warriors have nobody to blame for the loss but themselves. But without the incredible contributions from the bench, this game wasn’t going to be very close.

And when Charles Barkley is praising a Warriors team after they lose? That’s some next level stuff.

Barkley’s post game commentary, usually commenting on how jump shooting teams can’t win in the NBA, was anything but abrasive.

He gave due credit to the bench — the first time in recent memory where he has heaped praise onto the Dubs while losing to a team on the road.

Of course, the Warriors losing a game has been as common as Kanye West publicly displaying any semblance of humility. But over the past few seasons, it feels like Barkley would give all his efforts to deny that the Warriors are elite in an elite bunch.

And even when that was true Thursday night, Barkley couldn’t get that out. He saw what everyone else did: a collective group of guys, elite competitors, coming together and giving it their all.

Maybe he saw the light. That the Warriors are much more than a jump-shooting team — which they are — but a team that also plays elite defense and selfless ball. A deep team, with a 10th man who can play just as well as the best player on a playoff roster.

Minute per minute, both Clark and Speights out-played James Harden, and everyone else on the Houston Flopping Rockets. They outplayed their own team.

This isn’t a coincidence.

This is something bred from excellent leadership, drive, confidence, and preparation. It’s from the cloth of the 90’s Bulls, who won six titles in eight years, one of their losses coming while Michael Jordan was on a basketball hiatus.

And if the bench keeps this up for several seasons, we might see a squad who can challenge the Boston Celtics, who won 9-of-10 titles spanning from 1959 to 1969.

For now, though, the Warriors are only going to be as good as their bench. And that’s very, very, excellent.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.