It’s hard to know exactly when the inherent unfairness of life as a Golden State Warriors opponent sunk in for the Atlanta Hawks, who fell in Oakland by a final of 105-100 on Monday.
But there’s a good chance it happened as Draymond Green was howling at the rafters.
Green closed out an imperfect Warriors victory, their 12th straight, with a pair of dynamic defensive stops in the final minute—first rejecting a Dennis Schroder drive on a switch and then adding a block and strip of Kent Bazemore.
He did some celebrating after each, as is his wont.
The closing stretch was cruelly fitting for a game that highlighted many of the Warriors’ frailties and showcased a foe, the Hawks, who seemed well-built to exploit them. Atlanta entered the meeting with the league’s No. 1 defense, which is a nice thing to have when you’re squaring off with what might be the greatest offense ever assembled.
Atlanta was supposed to succeed with stops, but the Warriors proved they could do the stymying when it mattered most. Defense is still a point of pride for Green and Golden State, as these postgame comments (via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News) indicate:
Draymond Green, uhhhh, displeased with the perception that the Warriors defense would take a step back this season pic.twitter.com/4IKWE7ZaBe
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 29, 2016
To the Hawks’ credit, they fought tooth and nail (beak and talon?), sticking with the Warriors for most of the game despite playing for the second straight night. Schroder largely outplayed Stephen Curry, scoring 24 points and handing out six assists while routinely jetting past the MVP on drives into the paint.
Atlanta’s defensive focus and strategy forced 11 Warriors turnovers in the first half, and it mixed up styles—sticking with pick-and-roll assignments for some stretches and switching them in others. Golden State fell into some of its typical mistakes, throwing half-hearted passes and failing to summon urgency on defense, particularly in transition:
Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area offered this evergreen assessment:
You know those stretches when #Warriors snooze on defense? They’ve had a few tonight.
— Monte Poole (@MontePooleCSN) November 29, 2016
But this is where the unfairness comes in—at least part of it, anyway. Because as the Hawks executed and exercised discipline with precision sets like this:
First play of the second half 👍 pic.twitter.com/9LRMOTwXc9
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) November 29, 2016
The Warriors answered with nonsense like this:
Against Golden State, you adhere to pregame plans and play with superior effort, only to watch as Curry brings the circus to town, accompanied by Kevin Durant’s one-footed runners, Klay Thompson’s fast-twitch flicks from three and Green’s unholy defensive wrath.
Something happens to opponents, something that feels like fate, when they do just about everything right and the Warriors, doing a great deal wrong, win anyway.
Curry, Thompson and Durant combined for 70 points, but only KD made half of his shots, and he finished with a curious minus-seven on the night. And it didn’t matter.
When Golden State’s four All-Stars get loose, it’s one thing. But when Andre Iguodala takes over a three-minute span in the fourth quarter, or when Ian Clark hits a desperation 26-footer to keep things close in the third…what’s the point?
Atlanta comported itself better than any recent Warriors opponent, as Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post observed:
Hawks have done a better job against the Warriors than just about anybody this season so far defensively. Showing why they’re top D in NBA.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 29, 2016
It forced Curry off the line, assigned a wing to Green in order to short-circuit Curry on switches. It slowed the pace and leveraged Dwight Howard’s size on the glass. It attacked the two-time MVP and made him defend.
And yet, all the Hawks did in the end was offer the Warriors a brisk training session.
Because that’s the truly scary, genuinely unfair thing about Golden State: Wins like this—ugly, disorganized, talent-and-desire-driven successes—are just opportunities for a still-forming juggernaut to keep figuring itself out.
You can’t mention the Sacramento Kings’ never-ending struggles without putting at least some of the onus on DeMarcus Cousins. The hiccups in defensive attentiveness, the constant griping to officials, the scowling—Boogie’s makeup is both symptom and disease.
But you can still feel bad for the guy.
Cousins pumped in 36 points and 20 rebounds in a 101-95 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday—a game the Wiz desperately tried to give away. John Wall turned the ball over 11 times, and Washington shot 41.2 percent from the field.
Worse still, after Cousins abused Marcin Gortat on consecutive possessions at the end of regulation, Rudy Gay hijacked the offense and took four of the team’s eight shots in the extra period. It was quintessential bad Kings offense: isolation-heavy, stagnant and centered around a player not named Cousins.
It’s a good thing Cousins doesn’t have to deal with this sort of thing often…oh wait:
DeMarcus Cousins: 36 points, 20 rebounds in loss to Wizards.
He’s rather familiar with 35/20 in a loss pic.twitter.com/pYThwBmwbp
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 29, 2016
The Kings are bound to make a move, and Gay asked to exit Sacramento before the season started. If Cousins is the Kings’ guy, here’s hoping they find him some help on the market.
Westbrook Triples Up
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double now. So that’s cool.
After posting 27 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists in a 112-103 win against the New York Knicks, the league’s stat-stuffing dynamo pushed his averages above a legendary threshold.
The gaudiness: 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.3 rebounds.
Westbrook needed 12 rebounds against the Knicks to get his average up to double-digits. Let’s just say he was committed to making it happen:
We probably overvalue counting stats, and we definitely put too much emphasis on the arbitrary accumulation of three of them—points, rebounds and assists—in the same game. Why is 10, 10 and 10 of something better than 12, 11 and nine?
It’s not, of course. But we love the numerical symmetry.