You can’t win an NBA game in the first quarter, but the Warriors came awfully close Sunday night in Houston.
The Warriors were putting a whooping on the Rockets. The kind of whooping once synonymous with the Warriors.
Klay Thompson couldn’t miss, scoring 20 points in the first quarter, and the Warriors put 40 on a lowly and young Rockets team, taking a 12-point lead into the second quarter. It looked like the game was going to be easy work.
That 12-point lead lasted less than three minutes into the second quarter.
The Warriors’ second unit had failed again.
Sunday’s second quarter was the Warriors’ biggest issue in a nutshell.
And what Warriors coach Steve Kerr did the next time the second unit was called upon to play — the start of the fourth quarter — showed how Golden State can solve this massive issue.
Steph Curry was on the bench for the first 5:33 of the second quarter. The Warriors were outscored by 13 points during that stretch, making 1-of-13 shots, committing four fouls, and turning the ball over three times. It was abysmal basketball — disorderly and unbefitting of a title-defending team.
So the next time Curry had to go to the bench, Kerr changed up the rotation. In came Draymond Green.
The second-unit minutes at the beginning of the fourth quarter were a revelation — in comparison, of course. The Warriors finally did what’s truly being asked of them when Curry is on the bench: they were able to tread water. The margin between the two teams held until Curry re-entered the game and the Warriors went on to win their first road game of the season.
What a concept!
Putting Green in the game with the second unit worked because it provided organization and a pivot point for the Warriors on both offense and defense.
Above all else, those are the two things that have been missing for the Warriors’ second unit this season.
The Warriors have good players on their second unit. But they aren’t playing Warriors’ basketball. Not unless Green is out there calling the shots.
Jordan Poole is a brilliant scorer, but he isn’t a point guard. He might want the ball in his hands, but he doesn’t run the Warriors’ offensive system when that’s the case — he runs a high pick-and-roll. That’s a play of last resort for the Warriors. Add in his mercurial play and he’s simply not a stable option to control the ball when Curry’s off the court. He’s better off of the ball.
The problem is that new Warrior Donte DiVincenzo is better off the ball, too. He doesn’t know the Warriors’ system yet. How could he? DiVincenzo is a combo guard — a slasher and perimeter pest. That’s a highly valuable player inside the Warriors’ system, which of course they are not running with the second unit.
What the Warriors really need is a hub for the backups: A player who can pass out of the post — high or low — would do wonders for this team, allowing them to run their split-action offense. Someone who can manage a defense — allowing the Dubs to avoid playing that dreadful 2-3 zone — would be a bonus.
Green was able to do both in the early fourth quarter Sunday.
But before him, Sean Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, and Zaza Pachulia could fill that role in their own ways.
They executed the system.
Poole, DiVincenzo, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, JaMychal Green, and Anthony Lamb are all good players, but they can’t do that. They’re not those kinds of players.
Or, in other words: The Warriors have the right skill players on the field, they just lack the quarterback.
Which makes them the Niners — up and down, never allowing us to truly trust them.
What’s the solution?
What the Warriors can’t do is run Green out there with the second unit every game. It might be effective, but Green is still needed with the starters, and he can’t pull double-duty and play 40 minutes a night.
So Kerr can abandon the Warriors’ offense with the second unit — again — and pray that this time it sticks. That’s hardly advisable right now. Poole still doesn’t look ready for that responsibility. That’s not DiVincenzo’s game.
The Warriors can pray that Andre Iguodala returns and can play effective minutes with that unit for roughly eight minutes per game. That’s a big ask.
Or the Warriors need to make a trade a trade.
The third option seems the most likely and effective option, though it’s the one that won’t happen anytime soon — NBA trades can’t really happen until Dec. 15, when players signed before this season can first be traded.
So keep that heating pad on your back, Draymond — you’re going to be needed to pull double duty for a few weeks yet.