OAKLAND, Calif. — With Draymond Green out with a left ankle contusion, the Golden State Warriors still managed to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 115-102 on Saturday night. Even when lacking an All-Star, this super team can roll. Such is the luxury of this much talent, but victories also require role players to step up in different situations.
Not a even a week ago, it seemed as if young Kevon Looney was fading from the rotation. Suddenly, with Green out, the 20-year-old big man was thrust into the starting lineup. After revealing as much in pregame, Warriors coach Steve Kerr prompted a minor shock when he confirmed that Looney would indeed start off guarding the incredible Karl-Anthony Towns. “Yes,” Kerr said flatly of the assignment. “What else would you like to know?”
While Kerr would prefer not to play undermanned, he also relishes the opportunity to use guys who rarely play. “I’m actually really excited for tonight’s game,” he said before facing the Wolves. “I think it’s a great challenge for us.”
Maybe it’s because Kerr lived on the periphery of so many rosters, and maybe it’s just best practices, but Kerr does intend to use everybody, even if it drives some fans crazy. It’s good for overall morale, and it’s insurance for when things go wrong and an understudy must step up.
And so Looney found himself guarding an inchoate superstar and did a solid job from the outset. The Warriors supplemented the effort by sending double-teams at Towns, bothering him until Looney sat. “Yeah, Looney was great,” Kerr said after the game. “He gave us the minutes we wanted, excellent defense. He’s just a guy who has a good feel for the game.” Kerr added, “He understands NBA defense. Stays high with his hands, and he doesn’t bite on pump fakes.”
On not falling for the array of Towns pump fakes, Looney said, “They gave me a good scouting report before the game. Karl’s really skilled, real crafty, and he’s strong. So, just tried to play solid and stay on the ground.”
Towns got going during a second-quarter stretch, one in which it looked like the Warriors missed Green’s force. So, on back-to-back second quarter possessions, Kevin Durant provided some force of his own, going right into contact. On the first, he wrestled himself into a putback and-1. On the next, he drove right into the teeth of the defense for a hanging layup. Durant, who also had to pitch in with defense on Towns for stretches, said of Green’s absence, “We missed Draymond. We were a little stagnant early because we’re so used to having him up top facilitating offense.”
That appeared to get Golden State out of a rut and into a place where they could have some fun: Specifically, the Warriors rode another wild JaVale McGee run to a bigger lead. McGee is unpredictable, especially on defense, but it’s been difficult to question the effort and increasingly, the impact. In this game, as in others, he sprinted to his spots, stretching the opposing defense and opening opportunities for more than just himself. When McGee did have opportunities, teammates were eager to feed him (4-of-5 for eight points), delighting in guiding his skyward movements like kids who have commandeered a remote-control drone.
On the JaVale McGee experience, Durant said, “It is different. It’s a different look. Zaza [Pachulia] is more cerebral on the ground, makes the correct pass, and JaVale is more, put pressure on the rim and toss it up and make the defense guard the rim. That opens everything up for us.”
McGee did suffer a bit for his time on the court when Andrew Wiggins dropped an anvil over his outstretched arm, but it was a positive performance.
Stephen Curry delivered a smooth, 34-point night after a rougher outing Friday in Los Angeles. Again, Durant was casually excellent, this time to the tune of 28 points on 17 shots. Klay Thompson pitched in with 23 points on 17 shots. The trio did as they needed in Green’s absence, demonstrating how this super team might differ from others: The Warriors can be down an All-Star and still look like the Warriors.
It requires everyone else to do their jobs, as happened on Saturday night, but it’s perhaps a unique advantage. The Warriors are better off having everyone, but they have so much and use so many, they can weather the moments when they don’t.