OAKLAND – The offensive spacing was different, tighter and less advantageous.
The defense was looser, giving Philadelphia 76ers playmakers more room to create.
And then there was Stephen Curry, the axis on which the Warriors spin, taking silly risks in an effort to manufacture what usually comes naturally.
Few performances over the last five years better illustrate the comprehensive value of Klay Thompson to the Warriors than that which was on display Thursday night in a 113-104 loss to the 76ers.
Thompson is such an integral part of what the Warriors do, and how they are able to play, that they realize they have little choice but to pay him lavishly when he becomes a free agent in July.
He simply must be retained, at whatever the cost.
Thompson, who hadn’t missed a game all season, was a late scratch Thursday. Coach Steve Kerr replaced him with Alfonzo McKinnie, who perfomed well enough, playing generally respectable defense while also scoring 11 points without missing a shot.
“Zo played well, especially in the first half,” said Curry, who scored a game-high 41 points. “He got us a couple extra possessions and finished around the rim.
“But when you’re missing a guy that can create space whether he’s getting shots or not, you just have to be able to slow the game down a little bit and get the right calls, get the ball in the right hands and get the right spacing.”
The Warriors were robust early, submitting strong offense in the first quarter, scoring 35 points on 66.7-percent shooting and recording 12 assists. But even then, the court chemistry was off, a natural reaction when someone who is always there suddenly isn’t.
This only became more evident as the game went on. In an effort to make something happen for his teammates, Curry racked up six turnovers. DeMarcus Cousins had three giveaways in 25 minutes.
Thompson’s absence was felt no less on defense. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia’s rugged 6-foot-10 point guard, pretty much had his way with the Warriors, using finesse when needed and brute power whenever he pleased. He’s a load once he gets the ball, and Thompson is very proficient at ball denial.
The Warriors threw four different defenders at Simmons, and he still scored 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting – all within 15 feet of the rim.
“We tried to play as we normally do,” Curry said. “Over 48 [minutes], you’ve got to make a little bit of a subtle adjustment without him out there. That’s a collective effort from everybody in terms of seeing the game a little differently, and we didn’t make those adjustments.”
Kerr wasn’t in the mood to assess the effect of Thompson’s absence. The coach was disappointed with his team’s effort and execution over the final three quarters – particularly in the second half, when the Warriors were outscored 60-44.
Philadelphia’s 42-point third quarter wiped out the Warriors’ seven-point halftime lead, and swung the game to the visitors. Simmons, by the way, scored eight points and was plus-16 for the quarter.
Asked if the timing of losing Thompson – less than an hour before tipoff – may have caused issues with rhythm, Kerr wasn’t having it.
“It disrupts the rotation a little bit,” he said. “But that’s part of it. That’s the way it goes. We have enough guys and still got a lot of talent – enough to win, that’s for sure. But we didn’t play well as a group.”
The second half was about as bad as the Warriors have played at any time during what had been an 11-game win streak. They were outshot (46.8 percent to 38.1) and outrebounded (25-22). They also punished themselves with turnovers, committing eight, leading to eight Philly points, while not scoring off any of the six turnovers the 76ers committed.
There is a pocket of fans and NBA observers that consider Thompson’s success a product of Curry’s gravity and, therefore, maybe the Warriors won’t skip a beat if Thompson were move to another team this summer.
That’s false, 1,000 different ways. Curry and Thompson are at their best when they have each other. They didn’t on this night, and the concept of adjustment seemed to escape them by the time they realized it.
They already realize Thompson’s importance. They paid a steep price to see it reiterated.