After being lit up by Minnesota in the third quarter three days ago, Steve Kerr was asked why his team’s patented third quarter runs weren’t there this year.
“It’s early,” was his only reply.
After Monday’s resounding 117-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies (5-4), thanks to a plus-19 third quarter, it’s safe to assume Kerr won’t be getting any more of those questions.
Memphis had bottled up and frustrated the Warriors (10-1) offensively for the entire first half. But it was the Golden State defense coming out of halftime that spurred their offense. They held the Grizzlies to just 15 points, on 5-of-19 shooting.
Stephen Curry said it was fun to extend a lead with defense as opposed to just raining down shots:
“There was so much energy in the third quarter for us collectively. It was fun to try and create separation with our defense. And knowing the type of game Memphis likes to play, it’s choppy, it’s slow, they’re physical. So the way we like to play offensively it takes a little bit to get used to, but defensively we can be who we are no matter what.”
And they did it all without their defensive leader Draymond Green, who left in the second quarter with what the team called a right foot contusion. He was originally available to return, but didn’t start the second half with Jordan Bell taking his place.
And he continued to look out of sorts offensively. He hesitated on two wide open looks right at the basket, and on one possession instead of taking an open elbow jumper he’s been working on, used a rhythm dribble to get one step closer only to airball a floater.
But the way the team was flying around and contesting shots it was like Green was still on the court. Once they are able to get stops, their offense came alive.
Kevin Durant said it was as simple as making a few adjustments to the way Memphis was playing:
“This team uses up the whole possession to find their best shot and you have to respect it. We’re so used to teams shooting the ball with 15, 16 seconds on the shot clock and we get out and run. But they’re a smart basketball team over there, they know they can’t run with us, so they are going to slow the game down. I think we did a good job of matching their physicality, but also switching up our style of play.”
Kevon Looney scored all nine of his points in the third frame, and also finished with nine rebounds in his 22 minutes. Looney has been the Warriors most dependable big man so far this season and he showed that off, playing Marc Gasol pretty close to a draw.
Kerr said that Looney’s consistency is what impresses him the most:
“Kevon was great. He’s so solid for us, we know what we’re going to get night in and night out from Loon. I thought he led a great effort from the bench in general.”
Looney was called into action early and often as Damian Jones continued to struggle with foul trouble. Jones picked up five fouls in just 11 minutes, though he did look solid in those few seconds between fouls.
The Warriors also had to overcome a tough game from Curry, who may have played the worst game of the season. He still put up 19 points and seven assists, but he shot just 6-of-17 from the field and had a season-high five turnovers.
Durant and Klay Thompson took over in Curry’s absence however with 22 and 27 points, respectively.
Durant continues to be unconscious offensively, as he shot 5-of-6 to open the game, and finished 7-of-11 from the floor. He’s shot below 50 percent just twice over the first 11 games and currently sits at a blistering 56 percent from the field this year, which is the highest percentage by a wing player in the NBA.
His efficiency, as well as his ability to play the role of distributor like he did for much of the second half, is something that Kerr is constantly in awe of:
“This was kind of a typical Kevin night, where he doesn’t have to shoot a whole lot, and he may not even be interested in shooting a whole lot. He’s just out there and you look at the statsheet at the end and he’s unbelievably efficient and distributing the ball and he’s a plus-25. The guy’s amazing.”
And Thompson looks to finally be past his early season struggles as he hit multiple 3’s in back-to-back games for the first time all season, pouring in three from downtown.
They were joined in double-figures by Alfonzo McKinnie, who continues to be a revelation. McKinnie finished with 14 points and shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.
Thompson said he takes pride in watching McKinnie thrive in the NBA:
“I don’t want to jinx him, but he makes his first shot every time he comes in the game, since preseason. He’s so efficient and he fills up such a great role for us as far as defensive versatility and his ability to rebound and the ability to knock down jumpers. I can’t believe he hasn’t been in the NBA for years now.”
While his shot is probably unsustainable, he has shown no signs of slowing down as he’s shooting with confidence and is looking for his offense more and more.
The basketball world has had this next game marked on their calendars all year as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks travel to Oracle for the only time this season. The Bucks are currently 8-1 and have been lights out under new coach Mike Budenholzer.
Quinn Cook emerged from the end of the bench to regain Kerr’s rotation. He played 19 minutes and scored 13 points. It’s the second straight time he’s scored in double-figures as he did so in Chicago October 29, before getting no minutes in the next two games. … Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston both sat out Monday. Iguodala was simply resting, while Livingston’s foot injury forced him to miss his fourth straight game.