Just when you thought the Warriors could not get more unrecognizable, it got worse.
Losing Steph Curry, Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors were forced to send out a completely new starting-five. It got even more bizarre Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
Golden State held an advantage most of the game and had a chance to steal win No. 1 at the Chase Center. Instead, rookie Eric Paschall, who set a career-high in points (25), and the Warriors fell to the Hornets 93-87.
Prior to Saturday’s game, it was announced that Green will miss a few games after tearing a ligament in his index finger. The newest Warrior, Russell was also inactive for Saturday night’s game after injuring his ankle the night prior.
For the first time in a half-decade, the Warriors were faced with the reality of playing a game without any of their core players. Friday night, Russell took charge, leading the Warriors in points (30) and assists (8) over 33 minutes. Jordan Poole scored a career-high 20 points in 29 minutes Friday night. Many expected the Warriors to continue to utilize Poole with the absences of Curry, Green, and Russell, but that was not the case Saturday night.
With the abundance of injuries, the Warriors are facing early in the seasons, head coach Steve Kerr addressed the team’s mentality moving forward:
“It’s early in the season and everything is relatively recent. With Steph, Loon (Kevon Looney) and Jacob (Evans III) — it’s all happened in the last week basically. I don’t think there is an emotional toll it’s more of a reaction and it’s sort of what the hell is going on type of thing, but you just have to deal with it and move forward. It’s a great opportunity for the young guys and they know it, so they should take advantage of it.”
The Warriors came out of the gate aggressive, forcing turnovers and getting Glenn Robinson III and Paschall active early. The Hornets without star Kemba Walker, who left in free agency for the Boston Celtics, had trouble making shots early on.
With Curry and Russell both out, the Warriors plan on giving point guard Ky Bowman shots from beyond the arc. Bowman attempted two three-point shots in the first quarter, draining one of them, and his second of the season.
The Warriors led 30-25 after the first quarter. Robinson (8 PTS, 2 R, 2-3 3PT) and Paschall (7 PTS, 1 R, 1 A, 3-5 FG) led the charge out of the gate. Both Bowman and Damion Lee each drained three’s of their own.
Opening up the second quarter with a bang, the Warriors found themselves up 37-27 with 9:30 remaining in the half. Lee got hot, draining another three as the Warriors took advantage of sloppy play by the Hornets. Lee was the first Warrior to double-digits, collecting 10 PTS halfway through the second quarter.
Bowman was impressive early (9 PTS, 5 R, 2 A). With 5:25 remaining in the first half, he crossed up the Charlotte defense on his way to another layup. Nobody can emulate Curry’s handles and elusiveness on the court, but Bowman was giving the Hornets issues, and giving the Warriors a shifty point guard to complement the rest of the starting five.
As the first half came to a close, the Warriors spread the ball around well. Robinson (11 PTS, 4 R, 1 A, 3-4 3PT), Paschall (12 PTS, 2 R, 2 A, 5-9 FG), and Lee (10 PTS, 2 R, 2 A, 2-4 3PT) each reached double digits, with Bowman (9 PTS, 5 R, 2 A, 3-5 FG) and Poole (5 PTS, 3 A, 2-7 FG) getting involved as well. At half time, the Warriors led 55-50.
Paschall has been a force through the first six games of his NBA career. The rookie has filled in nicely at power forward, driving his way to the hoop and overpowering opposing defenders on a few plays. Shooting 63% (7-11) and recording a block, Paschall led the team in scoring with 17 points halfway through the third quarter.
The Warriors have struggled this season defending the three-point shot. Saturday night, the Hornets began a measly 2-17 (11%) from three as the third quarter came to a close. The Warriors, on the other hand, were 6-19 (31%) from beyond the arc. Not terrible considering who they have sidelined.
Closing out the third quarter, the Warriors hung on to lead 71-68. Paschall led the team in scoring with 20 points, followed by Robinson (13 PTS, 6 R, 2 A, 5-9 FG), Bowman (11 PTS, 5 R, 4 A, 4-6 FG), and Lee (10 PTS, 2 R, 2 A, 4-10 FG). Bacon (23 PTS) and Rozier (14 PTS) lead the scoring for Charlotte.
Post-game, Paschall explained why he was able to have so much success tonight as a rookie playing in his sixth NBA game:
“I felt like early i was just aggressive, they felt like I had a mis-match, so i just took advantage of it . They just allowed me to play my game. I thank my teammates for that, feeding me and believing in me that much, especially as a rookie. I got dudes that have been in the league for a little while that’s giving me the ball and saying ‘go attack’, so of course that’s a good feeling. It’s a long season, but I felt like we took a good step in the right direction as a team, just playing hard and even though everybody’s out, having fun. Let’s not take the fun out of the game, and today I felt like we did a good job of just going out there and getting good contributions from everybody. I felt like we did a great job.”
The Hornets took the lead quickly in the fourth quarter. Cody Zeller and Rozier helped Charlotte climb ahead of the Warriors 74-73 with eight minutes left in the game. Paschall, the Warriors leading scorer (22) came back into the game and put the Warriors back up 75-74.
After the game, Steve Kerr explained what made Paschall’s performance so dominant Saturday night:
“Eric is just so confident. He knows who he is, he’s powerful, he’s confident, and he’s got an interesting game. He’s an under-sized floor man, but he can put the ball on the floor and just blow past people, get to the rim and he showed he can knock down a jump-shot. He’s very confident already, and he’s doing a hell of a job.”
With 4:49 remaining in the game, the Warriors looked to make one last run, down 77-80. Who else, but Paschall to hit a clutch three with 3:30 left. Paschall tied the game at 80, recoding 24 points on the night. Bowman followed Paschall with a three of his own, tying the game at 83.
With two minutes left, Lee hit a huge three to tie the game at 86. Lee was now 3-6 from three on the night. The Warriors took a timeout with 1:00 left in the game, down 87-88.
The Hornets took a timeout with 30 seconds left, still leading 88-87. The Warriors got the ball back and took a timeout themselves with 25 seconds left. It was a chess match throughout the game’s final seconds. The ball was inbounded by Lee but then immediately turned over, giving the Hornets the ball. The Hornets inbounded the ball and were fouled in the paint.
Rozier missed both free throws before the Warriors fouled again. Cody Martin would make only one resulting free throw, putting the Hornets up 89-87. A jump-ball gave the Hornets the ball once again with only five seconds left. The Warriors fouled again, and the Hornets would put this one away as Rozier made both free throws. The Warriors fall to the Hornets in the final minute, by a score of 93-87.
Throughout the final minute of the game, sloppy play, and coaching from the Warriors ended up being their downfall. Post-game, Steve Kerr took full responsibility for the loss Saturday night.
“I thought our guys played fantastic basketball. They fought like crazy and then their coach decided to screw things up at the end. I take responsibility for that one. It’s a tough way to lose, I was proud of the guys and the way they competed and executed, they just did a hell of a job. We were right there, and a couple of things at the end if we could have executed better, maybe if I had made a couple of different decisions we would have been in good shape. Tough one, but I’m really proud of the group.”
Following Saturday’s (93-87) loss to the Hornets (3-3), the Warriors (1-5) continue their homestand on Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers (3-2), with hopes of both Green and Russell returning to action.
The circumstances for the Warriors have gone from bad to worse over the teams first week of play. With multiple rookies and bench players expected to see plenty of minutes, Steve Kerr still expects his team to play as well as it did Saturday:
“The way they pushed the ball, the way they defended, we held them to 42% percent from the field, they were 5-29 from three. They came in as the number one three-point shooting team, i thought we made really good improvement with our defense. The guys are starting to figure some things out, so some really positive steps. You gotta get some wins too, that’s why i feel so bad for them, i could have done a better job down the stretch to help them out. That’s the way it goes.”
Setting a career-high in points (25), Eric Paschall was not content with the good stat-line in the teams losing effort.
“For me, I’m more of a win type of guy than look at my stats. I mean 25 (points) is good, but i’d rather have 14 and the win. Obviously as a rookie to have 25, it means a lot, but for me, i’d rather have 12,10 and a win.”
A low-scoring game ended in the final seconds, with the Warriors victory slipping through their fingers.