For the first 36 minutes Friday, Minnesota took care of the ball, limited Warriors fastbreaks and bottled up what has been a colossus of an offense.
Two minutes into the fourth, all that work vanished as did any chance the Timberwolves (4-5) had of leaving Oracle with a win. Gathering momentum on three straight buckets from Klay Thompson to open the frame, the Warriors (9-1) pulled away for a 116-99 win.
Thompson hit two of his first four 3’s to open the fourth to take the Warriors from down four to up two in just 93 seconds — it is just the second game this season that Thompson has been able to bang home multiple 3’s.
Steve Kerr said that offensively that was key for them:
“We hadn’t executed well up to that point, but the third quarter we were kind of all over the map. And the fourth quarter we did a much better job and Klay set the tone, coming off some screens and knocking down big shots.”
He had the record 14 in Chicago, but aside from that his second-best shooting game had been a 1-of-5 performance the very next game. Thompson would finish with 22 points, 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter.
Golden State is a completely different team from last year, when they would seemingly struggle to open every game. They averaged 28.6 points in the first quarter last year but have bumped that all the way up to 34.4 this season.
Some of that has to do with the pace of play being elevated, but the Warriors just has a different feel to open games this year. It’s reminiscent of 2016-17 when it felt like they took pleasure in crushing the spirit of every opponent from the opening tip.
And it’s the third quarters that have given them problems. That continued Friday when they were outscored 29-22 in the third frame.
After a quick start, the pace and the Warriors offense slowed. And once it slowed down, the offensive miscues became magnified.
They turned it over 16 times, which is pretty good for the way they play, but off those turnovers the Wolves scored 17 points — while the Warriors scored just six points off Minnesota turnovers.
Kerr said the number of turnovers weren’t the real concern:
“Our turnovers didn’t feel that bad, but they were exacerbated the fact that Minnesota wasn’t turning it over. I think mid-fourth I looked at the statsheet and they had one turnover and we had 14, so that disparity was a big deal.”
Amid the chaos, Kevin Durant was his usual calming offensive self, hitting his first six shots of the night.
He has been unstoppable over the last few weeks. He entered the game shooting 56-of-88 over his last five games before Friday, and ended with a game high 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting and 13 rebounds.
He was essentially the only Warrior who was consistent offensively with Stephen Curry having an off night for just 28 points, but just 4-of-12 from deep.
Someone who didn’t have an off night was Draymond Green, who actually left the game in the second quarter and went straight to the locker room from the court.
He returned to start the third and had no visible ill effects.
Green has been very vocal about his quest for a second Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s been using his second-team all-defense as a slight to motivate himself, but he also needs to award if he wants to qualify for the designated player max contract — which he certainly does.
And while that contract would put the Warriors in a tough situation financially, they’ve reaped the benefits on the court, with Green being the defensive presence that they lacked most of the regular season last year.
He tallied a normal game for him with nine points, nine rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks.
Kerr said Green may be operating on the highest level right now:
“I thought Draymond set the tone. I’m not sure I’ve seen him Draymond better since I’ve been here then what he’s doing right now. His defense has always been fantastic but he’s taking such good care of the ball… He’s lifting everybody else up, it’s been really fun to watch him play.”
But while the all-stars will get much of the shine—and deservedly so—the one guy who might have been most pivotal in the closing minutes was Alfonzo McKinnie. He played 27 minutes, the most of anyone off the bench, and actually closed the game over Andre Iguodala.
His final line of eight points and eight rebounds doesn’t jump off the page, but watching him alongside the All-Stars he more than passed the eyetest. He hit a dagger 3 with four minutes to go that he shot with no hesitation and locked down defensively.
Durant said he’s a big fan of what McKinnie is doing right now:
“I just like that he’s getting more comfortable and shooting the 3 with confidence. The offensive rebounding, defending and playing hard every possession, that’s natural to him… I’m just happy that he’s got his confidence on the offensive side, because defensively those Chicago guys they can do that in their sleep.”
It’s almost unfair how the Warriors find these players who can fit seamlessly into their system and immediately contribute.
But not as unfair as being able to erase a team’s hard work with a couple of 3’s in just a matter of seconds.
The Warriors are in the midst of a long home stretch, where they’ll play six of their next seven games in Oakland. The Memphis Grizzlies are next on the list and will visit the Bay Area Monday.
Draymond Green finished with 11 assists, breaking double-digit assists for the fourth time this season. He entered the game second in the NBA with 74 assists on the season and is averaging 8.2 per game.