OAKLAND – It didn’t take long for the Warriors to feel the absence of power forward Draymond Green. About five minutes after tipoff, with a 10-point lead, seams suddenly opened in the defense and the offense hit a rut.
The Timberwolves, perhaps the friskiest young team in the NBA, were taking advantage, needing only four minutes to wipe out the double-digit deficit.
With the score tied 22-22 and 3:40 left in the first quarter, Warriors coach Steve Kerr called a timeout that didn’t help. Minnesota kept at it, going up five at the end of the first quarter and six early in the second before things started to turn.
Though the Warriors, behind Kevin Durant, picked up the pace on offense, it was their defense that ignited the rally that pushed them to a 115-102 victory Saturday night at Oracle Arena.
“Our defense showed up in the first three to four minutes, and we got a nice lead off of that,” Stephen Curry said. “Once the game kind of slowed down, we’re used to having Draymond and his playmaking ability at the top of the key and moving the ball from side to side and having that look. With him out, we had to figure out another way to get the ball moving and not get into too much (one-on-one) early. Make them work. It took us a while.”
The Warriors midway through the second quarter rediscovered their offensive pace but, more important, manufactured the kind of defense that tends to come naturally when Green is on the floor.
Durant was crucial at both ends, making shots and grabbing rebounds and defending, while becoming the first Warriors player to accumulate at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots in one game.
“We missed Draymond,” Durant said. “He usually posts seven or eight assists per night and his defensive prowess, just being around the basket, just rebounding and challenging shots. So I just stepped in and tried to play as hard as I could.”
It was enough to give the Warriors (15-2) their 11th consecutive win, tying the fourth-longest streak in franchise history. The bulk of the offense was generated by Curry (34 points) and Durant (28) and Klay Thompson (23), but it was rebounding and defense that kept the Timberwolves at bay.
After 62.5-percent shooting in the first quarter, Minnesota was limited to 40 percent over the final three quarters. That Timberwolves star center Karl-Anthony Towns was 2-of-11 from the field over final 36 minutes was partly because of Kevon Looney, who started in place of Green, but mostly the result of getting different looks, highlighted by constant harassment from Durant.
“We knew Loon could do a good job and that he would start on (Towns), but we told Kevin that he would have some minutes on Towns,” Kerr said. “I didn’t say anything else about him having to do this or that. He’s a basketball player. He knows the game, he knows what’s going on and he knows what’s needed from him.”
With Green (ankle contusion) out, along with Ian Clark (throat/neck soreness), the Warriors basically patched up the areas usually covered by Green. It’s a lot of area, as he leads the team in assists, rebounding, blocks and steals. He may have the most unique set of skills in the league.
Durant handled the rebounding, with Curry also plucking eight to tie his season-high. Durant also handled the blocks, nearly doubling the amount he and Green combined to average per game. The steals and assists were group efforts, with nine players recording assists and seven in the steals column.
Looney handled himself well enough in his first NBA start, totaling 6 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 minutes.
“Looney was great, gave us the minutes we wanted and played excellent defense,” Kerr said. “He’s just a guy that has a good feel for the game. He’s a good rebounder and understands NBA defense.
“ . . . I would say anytime Draymond is going to miss a game, Looney will start for us at the 4 because we feel very confident in his ability.”
That’s all Kerr and his staff wanted from Looney. Just plug the Draymond hole for a game. It was not the same, and there is no way it would be the same. It doesn’t have to be when everybody pitches in.