Warriors stars need to be great with a bench that could 'be better'


Warriors stars need to be great with a bench that could 'be better'

OAKLAND -- The Warriors thought they were all set last October. They’d added a combo guard through the draft, a floor-stretching veteran power forward through free agency and a hungry young wing who impressed in training camp.

This trio, along with a couple of respected old pros and three playoff-tested youngsters, would give the Warriors everything they’d need to support the star-laden starting lineup.

The front office was confident enough to leave one roster spot vacant.

Five months later, the Warriors are forced to accept that their plan hasn’t worked quite as well as they imagined.

“Our bench can be a whole lot better,” concedes forward Andre Iguodala, one of the “respected old pros” and the de facto leader of the team’s reserves

Coach Steve Kerr was consistent in stating the Warriors expected their first-round draft pick would be able to play immediately. Rookie Jacob Evans III, however, has spent only 116 minutes on an NBA floor.

Power forward Jonas Jerebko initially appeared ready to finally end the team’s drought of 3-point shooting from the bench, draining multiple triples in five of the first nine games. He has done it only once over the last 28 games.

After earning a job in camp, forward Alfonzo McKinnie scored in double figures three times in the first three weeks of the season. He has since, over a period of four months, scored in double figures only once.

Point guard Quinn Cook shot his way onto the roster last season but can’t seem to shake his slump this season. He was 7-of-41 from deep over a two-month stretch that ended last week when he drilled 3-of-4 in garbage time against the Celtics.

Forward/center Jordan Bell, after spending most of the first four months buried on the bench, is now starting to produce.

Point guard Shaun Livingston, the other respected old pro, has struggled to find a rhythm, perhaps because he has had a series of nagging injuries; he has missed 14 games but never more than seven in a row.

Iguodala has missed eight games with a variety of aches and pains but continues to be crucial to the team’s defense and ability to push the pace. His shot has been the least consistent part of his game.

The bench is in 29th in scoring (29 points per game) and 3-point makes (2.8), 20th in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating. Offensive efficiency has been fine, as Warriors reserves lead the NBA in field-goal percentage and fourth in 3-point shooting percentage.

There still is no go-to scorer coming off the bench, which is why at least one of the top four scorers -- Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins -- usually is on the floor.

Minutes have been sporadic for most every reserve other than Iguodala and Livingston, and some of that falls on Kerr, who has acknowledged tinkering with rotations more often this season than in the past.

The biggest problem, however, may be the steep dropoff between starters and reserves. So often it happens that the offense bogs down and leads shrink when the Warriors send out a bench-heavy group to open the second and fourth quarters.

“Sometimes we can be too passive, trying to get those other guys the ball and then trying to get out of the way when we have to look to be on the attack,” Iguodala says. “We have to be threats every time we’re on the court.”

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The bench can be better. It can be more productive. Jerebko and Cook are capable scorers. McKinnie can get a bucket when needed. But the ability to score rarely has translated into actual points.

Unless it does, the onus falls on the stars. Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Cousins have to goods to handle it, but this is not what the Warriors had in mind when they opened the season with this roster.

Kevin Durant shows his MVP self in Warriors' Game 3 win vs. Clippers

Kevin Durant shows his MVP self in Warriors' Game 3 win vs. Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Kevin Durant strolled into the interview room late Thursday night and made a reasonably good effort to downplay his scintillating performance, which wiped away three days of misery and reflection for the Warriors.

“I’ve been here for 12 years,” he said, referring to his NBA career. “I’m 30. I don’ t need to show nobody nothing at this point.”

He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway.

“Coach Kerr came up with some plays for me at the start of the game,” he said.

OK. Probably so.

“We were just more patient tonight, to sum it up,” he said.

Well, yes, they were.

But the Warriors also were more purposeful and insanely intense early, with Durant setting the tone, treating Staples Center as his personal playpen, with him having all the fun and needing only one fantastic half to bury the gritty Clippers and their “gimmicky” defenses into a deep, dark dungeon from which even they will have a devil of a time escaping.

For this tip-to-buzzer 132-105 victory that gives the Warriors a 2-1 series lead, Durant was as much the architect as coach Steve Kerr or any member of his staff. Durant punished the Clippers with his scoring, zapping the pest that is Patrick Beverley, and then finished them with the other elements of his game.

“He came out super aggressive, in kill mode,” Draymond Green said. “That was all the difference for us. We took control of the game right there in the first quarter and never lost control of it.”

Scoring 38 points – 27 in the first half on 10-of-15 shooting – and adding seven assists, four rebounds, one steal and one block, Durant didn’t do it all, but he did more than enough to bring his teammates along for the wonderful ride.

“He had a different mindset tonight than he had the other night,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He set a tone right away. Our guys loved it. His teammates were excited about the way he started the game. That was infectious, carried over to our defense too.”

There have been times when Durant seemed less than fully engaged, maybe lounging in a corner on offense or failing to hustle back on defense. Not in Game 3. He played at MVP level, with high energy and visible passion and flame beneath his feet.

He also was the center of the most fervent overall team spirit seen from the Warriors in recent weeks, even as they were closing the season winning eight of their last games. Durant didn’t just produce, he also was a galvanizing emotional presence.

This is the full Durant, the KD the Clippers didn’t want to see and the dude he implied he would be when he resorted to third-person reference to remind one and all of his elite status.

“He made those statements with confidence, you know?” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “He plays at a high level. We expected that. The only thing I’m disappointed about is he announced himself before he even got here. We didn’t come prepared.”

There likely was no preparation that might have helped Los Angeles. Beverley, such an irritant in the first two games, was rendered an irrelevant speck of futility. JaMychal Green, bigger and stronger, tried defending Durant and got burned for his effort; the only notable remnant of their matchup was the double technical fouls assessed after they got too gabby with each other for referee Jason Phillips.

Durant can shrug it off if he likes. It is, after all, no better than dozens of games he has played during his career.

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But this came under broad audience surveillance after Durant played below his standard in Games 1 and 2, leaving so many fans and maybe some teammates and coaches on the edge of their seats wondering how he would approach Game 3.

Durant approached it with a vengeance, by showing the Clippers they can’t stop him and reminding everyone else why the Warriors brought him to the Bay Area. And, yes, why several teams would love to bring truckloads of cash his way when he becomes a free agent in July.

Warriors find the focus that's eluded them in clobbering of Clippers

Warriors find the focus that's eluded them in clobbering of Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- For much of the regular season, the Warriors had an internal battle with complacency as they strove for their third straight NBA title. 

Routine winning streaks would be followed by curious losses on their home floor, causing worry among many observers if the Golden Dynasty was showing signs of rust. 

Complacency reared its ugly head Monday night when the champs squandered the biggest postseason lead in NBA history. On Thursday, they tore apart the Clippers, winning Game 3 132-105, once again with a goal of finding the consistent championship energy that's eluded them. 

"High energy, high focus," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "Tried to set the tone early in the first six minutes."

The Warriors -- like they've done each game this series -- got out to a big early lead, going up 41-24 by the end of the first quarter. Kevin Durant, who had more turnovers than shot attempts in Game 2, scored 38 points, adding seven assists and four rebounds. As Durant flexed his powers, the Warriors locked down defensively, holding the Clippers to just 37.2 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from 3-point range. 

More importantly, after giving the ball away a combined 33 times through the first two games of the series, Golden State had just 12 turnovers Thursday evening. 

"Just smart basketball," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Simple plays. No halfcourt lobs. No wild passes. It was just taking what the defense gave us, hitting singles, just continuing to play."

This season, the Warriors haven't had a problem flexing their champion-level ability; however, sustaining the necessary energy proved to be a problem. Following a 10-1 start, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7 as internal strife threatened to end the season before it could really get going. Following the All-Star break, embarrassing home losses to the Boston Celtics and lottery-bound Phoenix Suns left many curious. 

"The reality of it is, human nature, sometimes just happens, regardless of how much you fight against it," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "It's never because you don't want to be there. Sometimes during the regular season, I think every team goes where you just don't want to be there." 

Golden State's latest sleepwalking act came in the second half of Game 2, when the Warriors squandered a 31-point lead, letting the Clippers pull off the biggest comeback in NBA history on their home floor. The loss shocked most around the NBA world and gave the latest example of how complacency has been the team's most challenging opponent all year long.  

"I think everybody in the arena kind of relaxed just a split second. I just think everybody felt like we had that game in hand because we had a 30-point lead," Durant said. "I mean that hasn't happened in 30 years so its kind of natural for anybody to relax, even at home. But the players can't do that and I think that was a small lesson that we can learn from but our focus has been on point since late March, with the exception of like six minutes last game." 

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On Thursday, the Warriors again found themselves up 31 points midway through the third quarter, roughly the same time of the game they held advantage two days before. The coincidence prompted assistant coach Jarron Collins to tell Kerr, "it's 31" during the timeout. Luckily for the Warriors, deja vu was not in store for the champs. 

"We just keep challenging the guys, reminding of what's at stake. Sunday is the next one," Kerr said. "We can take control of the series if we can get that one. If we don't, we're in a tough spot." 

"We just got to lock in and play the next one. But I liked our approach tonight," Kerr added. "I like our chances."