Klay Thompson joined his teammates at Chase Center on Tuesday, and they would like him to be a regular presence at their games. They miss him, no one more than longtime backcourt partner Steph Curry
The book on facing the 2020-21 Warriors has been as expected, teams devoting entire rosters and three or four coaches to defending Curry. The statements made by these schemes are as smart as they are transparent: Make somebody else beat us.
“People are going to throw everything at Steph,” coach Steve Kerr acknowledged in a video conference after Tuesday's 104-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers. “That will be a big theme this season. And we have to do a better job getting comfortable attacking what people are throwing at us and we will. We’ll get better with it.”
If that sounds like a vow, it is. It has to be, if the Warriors are to get anywhere this season.
When the Toronto Raptors came at Curry with some box-and-1 Sunday, he scored 11 points on 2-of-16 shooting, including 1-of-10 from distance. His teammates, however, stayed in the game with defense while exploiting scoring opportunities created by the attention on Curry.
In a sense, he played decoy.
When the Pacers did it on Tuesday, Curry scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-8 beyond the arc. His teammates handled it well early but fell apart late, committing 11 second-half turnovers, giving Indiana 15 points. That, and a 16-5 run over the final four minutes, is how the Warriors wound up with a loss.
Curry was more of a live threat against Indy, but that didn’t send the Pacers scampering from straying from their game plan. Which was to have three sets of eyes and at least two defenders close enough to breathe on Curry. There was a lot of Aaron Holiday, Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Holiday and Edmund Sumner, the last with wingspans wider than 7 feet.
“We really had to lock in on him because obviously he’s a great player, great shooter,” Holiday said. “So, we didn’t want to give him any looks, just showing our length as coaches say, ‘Show your length.’ We did that a lot so you could see two bodies, three bodies at a time so he didn’t get a wide-open look pretty much.”
These defenses aren’t new, not to Curry. He has seen them before and torched them before.
“We call it the 'janky defense,' ” Curry said. “And you eventually feel like you will be able to pick it apart, whether it’s me hitting shots or somebody on the weak side. But we need to take a little bit of time to understand that it will probably happen more than in years past and find some key sets and looks to create shots.”
The challenge, then, is Curry trying to beat these defenses without Thompson -- the practically perfect sidekick -- while trying to learn the habits and tendencies of three new starters.
And, moreover, those three starters -- Kelly Oubre Jr., Andrew Wiggins and rookie James Wiseman -- are trying to recognize and interpret Curry’s unique rhythms. Several times a game, it seems, Oubre is standing on the spot Curry is trying to get to.
Consider all these factors, and it’s easy to see why the Warriors are vulnerable.
“Obviously, we have different personnel now, which is contributing to what teams are doing,” Kerr said. “They are sort of playing the odds and just going to make other people try and beat you.
“The good news is, if you are playing box-and-1, it’s 3-on-2 all day. If you get organized and get sharp, then there are going to be great shots. That’s what we have to do. As a staff, we have to help our players get organized and execute better against this kind of stuff.”
So, yes, it’s up to the Warriors to devise ways to counter these schemes. There’s no reason to expect the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns, Golden State’s next two opponents, both on the road, to do anything different.
It’s up the Warriors to get back in the lab and cook up counter-schemes.
“Just try and help [Curry] out in different ways, whether I’m driving to the basket trying to play the open man, kick out, trying to set a little screen for him,” Wiggins said. “I’m just trying to help him out. Try to be aggressive and attack the rim. Whatever I can do to help out, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
We are about to see how creative Kerr and his assistants can be.
We are about to see how quickly and effectively Curry’s teammates can react to these defenses.
After all, as long as Thompson is not available, they’re bound to keep coming. Until they get burned. Repeatedly.