Warriors ‘Big 3’ bite Timberwolves in homecoming win

With Draymond Green unable to play, suffering from a left ankle contusion, the Golden State Warriors battled through the absence of their emotional leader’s fire.

Scrapping every step of the way, the Warriors (15-2) found enough second-half offense to insert some breathing room between themselves and the Minnesota Timberwolves (5-11) en route to a 115-102 victory in game two of three over a four-day span.

This story has been updated with quotes and additional information from the Warriors locker room at Oracle Arena.

With their “Big Four” diminished to three, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were up to the challenge early, combining for 28 of Golden State’s 30 first-quarter points. Led by Curry’s team-high 11, the Warriors found themselves at a three-point disadvantage heading into the first break.

The back-to-back MVP said that the absence of his teammate was felt early, despite a quick start:

“Our defense showed up in the first three or four minutes — we got a nice lead off of that. But, once the game kind of slowed down, you’re used to having Draymond with his play-making ability at the top of the key. … With him out we had to figure out another way to get the ball moving.”

The greater problem with the opening quarter was the heavy load placed on the three. The All-Star trio combined for 33 minutes — on the second half of a back-to-back.

Durant, visibly slowed by his 11 minutes in the first quarter, was the only of the three to begin the second, but Minnesota was unable to take full advantage of the sluggish Warriors.

With a fader nearly four-and-a-half minutes into the quarter Durant opened the home team’s scoring. The Timberwolves were able to muster just a three-pointer in the stretch, though.

A sloppy back-and-forth ensued for the next five minutes, until head coach Steve Kerr called upon JaVale McGee. The rangy big man was able to wrangle a bounce pass from Looney for a lay-up to give the Warriors a 47-46 lead with just under three to play in the half — a lead they would never relinquish, instead expanding it to eight on a Durant 30-footer as the time expired on the first half.

While the Dubs continued to battle tired legs and a short bench in the third, Minnesota fought just to keep their head above water, putting together back-to-back buckets just once in the period.

Durant finished the night with the first 25-10-5-5 game in franchise history — 28 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks and five assists — did his best Green impersonation.

He said:

“We missed Draymond — we were a little stagnant early. … I just tried to step in and play as hard as I could.”

Added Kerr:

“He’s a basketball player. He knows the game; he knows what’s going on; he knows what is needed from him. I though he was spectacular.”

And his biggest contribution came with no statistical markers.

After the reigning rookie of the year Karl-Anthony Towns proved to be too much for Green’s physical replacement, Kevon Looney, in the opening period, posting 12 points on his fellow second-year player, it was Durant he stepped into the defensive position. The seven-foot winger stayed in front of Towns, challenging his every move, and holding him to just six points the rest of the way.

Said Durant:

“Coach called on me to guard Towns and we did it as a group. He’s such a great player. They got 40 points in the paint, out of 102, so the rest were outside the paint — taking tough shots — and we can live with those. I think that’s why we won the basketball game.”

Curry rode a 17-point third quarter to a game-high 34 points. The T’Wolves were led by guard Zach Lavine, who poured in 31. McGee, who finished logging just 11 minutes, was tops among all bench players with a plus-11 point differential.

The Warriors will finish their stretch of three games in four days, after a day off, when they play host to the Atlanta Hawks (10-6) on Monday night.

Notes

Kerr was impressed with Looney’s performance, saying that his night earned him the opportunity to serve as the back-up started should Green be forced to miss any further time. With their next day two days away, and Green experiencing some pain, Looney is a likely starter for Monday’s tilt. … The Warriors finished with 25 team assists, ending their consecutive-game streak of 30 or more assists at 10, enough to tie the 1972 Boston Celtics for the second-longest such streak in NBA history.