Warriors

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 104-99 Game 5 win over Rockets

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 104-99 Game 5 win over Rockets

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OAKLAND — It appeared the Warriors were in deep trouble when Kevin Durant limped off the court and into the locker room with 2:05 left in the third quarter, never to return.

But no. They came together. They weren’t going to let this one get away. Not at home.

The Warriors held on Wednesday night for a 104-99 Game 5 victory over the Rockets, taking a 3-2 series lead and moving within one win of advancing to the Western Conference finals for the fifth consecutive season.

Here are three takeaways from the victory at Oracle Arena.

They overcame the loss of Durant

Durant had scored a team-best 22 points in 32 minutes when he left the game. He also had five rebounds, four assists and one steal. The Warriors had a 68-65 lead.

Coach Steve Kerr suddenly had to shuffle his rotation in ways he surely never imagined. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jonas Jerebko, who didn’t play at all in Games 1 and 4, were summoned. More was asked of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.

Plunged into unfamiliar territory — a playoff game without Durant — the Warriors responded splendidly.

The collective focus sharpened, the effort went to another level, and the Warriors made enough shots to hold off the Rockets.

Thompson arrives

The Warriors and their fans have been waiting for Thompson’s offense, mostly MIA in the first four games of the series, to show up. It did in Game 5.

Finding his rhythm early, puncturing Houston with 12 points in 10 first-quarter minutes, Thompson finished with a team-high 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc — including a huge triple that gave the Warriors an eight-point lead with 2:34 remaining.

The Warriors won Games 1 and 2 without much from him, and that script remained as they lost Games 3 and 4. But when Thompson shoots efficiently, it’s extremely difficult to beat the Warriors. The Rockets rediscovered that in Game 5.

Maybe Thompson took another dip in the ocean. Or perhaps he locked himself in the gym until the nets started to shred.

The defense rarely rested

When the Warriors held the explosive Rockets to 17 points in the first quarter — and one field goal over the final 6:48 —that was a sign. The defense would be a presence.

There was no indication of the lethargy and poor fundamentals that resulted in a whopping 27-rebound deficit over Games 3 and 4 in Houston. The Warriors held the Rockets to 41.8 percent shooting, including 29.3 percent from deep.

The Warriors own three of the last four NBA titles because, above all, they brought championship-level defense whenever it was needed. That was the case in Game 5.

The shooters shot well enough, but defense was the primary source behind the Warriors pulling out this one.

Why Gary Payton believes Warriors' Steph Curry isn't true point guard

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Why Gary Payton believes Warriors' Steph Curry isn't true point guard

You might think of Steph Curry as a point guard.

After all, he's short, brings the ball up the court sometimes and appears on the far left of those nifty starting lineup graphics prior to tip-off with PG next to his name.

But in this age of run-and-gun positionless basketball, is Curry really a point guard? Not if you ask Gary Payton.

In fact, the nine-time NBA All-Star believes there only are two true point guards left in The Association.

"That's a question that is kind of difficult for old people," Payton told NBC Sports Bay Area's Logan Murdock and Kerith Burke on the "Runnin' Plays Podcast" when asked about the best point guards in today's game. "You look at Stephen Curry. You put him as a point guard. He's not a point guard. He's a two-guard. You look at [Russell] Westbrook. He's not a point guard. He's a two-guard. You look at James Harden. He's not a point guard, he's a two-guard. To me, there are only two guards in this league that are true point guards. That's [Rajon] Rondo and Chris Paul. 

"Now, Chris Paul has turned into a shooting guard more, but Rondo is a true point guard," Payton continued. "He looks first to get people off. He does his defense and he makes people better around him. Not, let me score 30. Not, let me shoot a jump shot first. He's not doing that ... If we name a lot of point guards that's right now in this NBA, they are not point guards."

At least Harden can finally be in the same category as Steph, right?

[RELATED: Loss to Knicks shows Warriors have earned NBA's worst record]

While Steph might not be the prototypical point guard in the old-fashioned sense, there's no doubt he'll one day be enshrined in Springfield, Mass., as one of the greatest scoring guards in NBA history.

In any era, that's pretty, pretty good.

What Warriors' long-term forecast is for Alec Burks, young centers

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What Warriors' long-term forecast is for Alec Burks, young centers

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors' ugly season hit its lowest point yet with the loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.

The team owns the worst record in the NBA, and despite getting healthier and returning some key veterans, they seem to be regressing and stalling in their development. This has been nothing short of a nightmare season for the franchise, but with a very bright light at the end of the tunnel with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson rehabbing for next season, the panic and fears of the fanbase have been rather subdued.

Trades and draft picks have been the focus for most discussions surrounding the team, distracting many from the immensely unsuccessful season. At the moment, all eyes look toward the future for the Warriors, so here are notes checking in on some players and their long term forecast.

In his career, Alec Burks owns a 42.3 percent overall mark from the field. This season, inconsistency has plagued Burks as he has had games in which he has played very well, followed by a highly inefficient night.

Some examples of these nights include a three for 17 performance against the Thunder, three for 11 at Dallas and two for 13 at New Orleans. It has been widely speculated that the Warriors will attempt to trade Burks at some point this season, in order to potentially receive a modest return from a contending team in need of a prolific bench scorer.

But to actually receive something back of note, Burks would have to step up and become more consistent, which he has done.

Over the last four games, Burks is 22 for 40 from the field, raising his season shooting percentage from 39.8 percent to 42 percent. His shot selection has improved as he has started to limit the amount of reckless, overly aggressive drives to the hoop. If he can continue this trend of efficient scoring nights, his value to the Warriors and potentially to other teams, will skyrocket.

Willie Cauley-Stein recorded his third game this season, of 23 games played, in which he blocked three shots. Last season, Cauley-Stein accumulated only five such games of 81 games played. It has been a rough season so far for the big man, as he missed all of training camp and the beginning of the season due to injury, and has had to learn a new system and how to play with a new team while trying to shake off the rust and regain his conditioning. Recently there have been signs of him shaping into form, which has been an encouraging sight for the coaching staff.

However, every game there are moments where Cauley-Stein seems to float around defensively and seem a bit lost. On the bright side though, his rim protection has been better than advertised so far. In his four seasons with the Kings, Cauley-Stein owned a rate of 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes played. This season, he has almost doubled that number, averaging 2.1 per 36.

The Warriors are hoping to see the seven-footer continue to find his groove, as Cauley-Stein has a player option for next season and may possibly stick around (barring a trade). 

Speaking of centers, Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman have continued to impress. Chriss was one of the lone bright spots from the loss to the New York Knicks, collecting six offensive rebounds and blocking three shots in just 24 minutes of action. His overall play from the center spot has improved tremendously as the season has gone along, and it is almost a foregone conclusion at this point that his contract is guaranteed for the rest of the season when the time comes.

This is Chriss's fourth season in the NBA, and yet he only turned 22 years of age in July. Spellman meanwhile also turned 22 in July and has become a valuable rotation piece as his conditioning has improved.

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The big man is shooting just under 37 percent from deep, and collecting about 11 rebounds per 36 minutes of action. He already had his option picked up for next season, so the Warriors see the value in his development.

Looking ahead, the team may have a plethora of very young centers with immense potential moving forward when you add 23-year-old Kevon Looney and 19-year-old Alen Smailagic to the mix to go along with Chriss and Spellman.