After beating their way through the softest teams, can Warriors get past the Celtics?
Kelly Oubre may return, but can he help the Warriors win when it matters?
And then Kevin Costner (playing as Robin Hood) looking at Maid Marian blankly as she continues. “Can you make the shot when it matters?”
Spoiler alert (on the off chance you haven’t seen the 1991 masterpiece): he does not make the shot. Marian blows in his ear, and our hero blows the shot, missing the target entirely, as his arrow ricochets off the edge and sails out of view.
The Golden State Warriors have won four straight, one of which was a shocking win over the Denver Nuggets. Sure, the Warriors schedule is soft enough so that they could make the play-in tournament without beating teams like the Celtics. But at some point, the question changes from “did we win” to “who did we beat.”
The Boston Celtics are coming in hot. Winner of five straight, they just concluded a West Coast road trip by smashing the Los Angeles Lakers (admittedly short-handed, but still) in a game that they led by as many as 27 points in the 4th quarter.
The Warriors are neck deep in a playoff chase that seems like it’s going down to the wire, so every win counts. With the Celtics today, and then the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday the newly resurgent Warriors will be put to the test against some of the East’s toughest competition.
But the Warriors aren’t without some threatening power players of their own.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (28-28) at Boston Celtics (30-26)
WHEN: Saturday, April 17th, 2021 // 5:30pm PST
Flash in the pan, or true flashes of hope?
If it’s true that this Warriors team will go as far as Stephen Curry takes them, then the sky truly is the limit. Curry has made a career out of being phenomenal, and yet is still somehow dredging out another level to his greatness and smashing expectations. Playing what is very arguably the best basketball of his career , Curry has been on one (which is really saying something, considering the peaks we are measuring against).
We’ve talked about it on this site before, but with the Wiseman injury has freed this team from the shackles of internal development. Free now to run with their best lineups, the Warriors have turned a corner and reeled of their first four-game win streak of the season.
Things have simplified here, now.
The Warriors are still running the same offense as always, but they turned the knob up on pick-and-rolls, and seem to be a lot more comfortable letting Curry initiate plays with a drive and kick, rather then offball movement. But to be clear, it’s all still in there.
And some of this is on Curry, who has been attacking assertively. He’s almost too nice. Too willing to buy into the team concepts. Generally, you want your star player to not be self-centered, but Curry is almost always the embodiment of the team’s best shot on any given possession. Look at his stats since returning from his tailbone injury. This is a historic run:
But Curry isn’t alone.
While the heavier burden looks good on his shoulders, it would be extremely unfair to the supporting cast to presume that the entire weight of the team is resting solely on him.
Mainstays like Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins have stepped up as well. Wiggins has stepped into the secondary scorer roll while also regularly getting assigned to cover the opponent’s best offensive players.
Green had a season-high 18 points in the team’s big win over the Denver Nuggets, and it will be interesting to see how the potential return of Kelly Oubre affects his offensive leanings.
Green, much like ex-Warrior Andre Iguodala has earned his “we don’t need him to score” card. And it’s fair. Just like no one is asking why Curry doesn’t block more shots, or Wiggins doesn’t have more ferocious angry, stare-down slam dunks - not every player has to do everything.
But Green followed the 18-point explosion with 12 points (and a team-high +33) in the next game. He averages just 6.6 points per game on the season. One way the Warriors could respond to increased pressure from better teams is to lean on Green’s offense a little bit.
Expect the well-coached Celtics to do a better job of taking Curry away, or at least making life hard for him.
Maybe it’s the experience, maybe it’s the simplified depth chart and revamped play style, but it feels like with the personnel available, the Warriors are finally doing a fantastic job of attacking the exposed underbelly of defenses after they blitz the ball out of Curry’s hands.
Whether it be rotating to Wiggins on the wing, or putting the ball into Green’s hands, or even a fake handoff dive cut from someone like Juan Toscano-Anderson, the Warriors seem to be attacking the pressure for the first time all season, rather than just reacting to it.
An eye on the future
As the season winds down to a close, the offseason is coming more clearly into focus. Wiggins looks much more like a viable tertiary option than I had expected. Combined with his stout defense, I may have (shockingly) been wrong about the viability of max contract Wiggins as the third or fourth wheel here.
Sure, it would be preferable to use that max contract slot for a player more up towards Curry’s tier, but barring a miracle, Wiggins being that guy here doesn’t appear to be the disaster I thought it was going to be. Already barred for life from Wiggins Island due to my initial skepticism, I’m happy to visit the shores now and admire the beauty of it all.
Juan Toscano-Anderson is also shining. He’s shooting nearly 43% from beyond the arc, routinely makes heady plays, and has become one of coach Steve Kerr’s safety blankets off the bench.
Tonight’s game may also feature the return of a player with a much murkier future in Golden State: Kelly Oubre.
As someone who has been on record as wondering if Oubre could be a viable long-term fit here, it’s hard not to notice that the team’s first four-game win streak of the season correlates nicely with the absence of Oubre.
Oubre takes the third most shots on the team, but has the worst true shooting percentage out of anyone in the rotation other than Draymond Green. Those shots aren’t just inefficient, they represent an opportunity cost.
Was Green’s scoring outburst going to happen if Oubre was out there? It’s not that it couldn’t occur, but Green has a different priority to his game alongside willing shooters like Oubre. And along the same vein, those extra Looney and Toscano-Anderson minutes have been helping. The team will need to juggle Oubre’s return against the fecundity that the team’s offense has found without him on the court.
The Celtics and Warriors defenses are almost identical (ranked twelfth and ninth, respectively) so this game could be a grinder.
Curry is going to continue his hot streak, because there’s really no longer any good answers when it comes to stopping him.
JTA will make his play for rotation minutes, after Kerr pulls Oubre for him and the score flips around.
5:30 game today, so I’ve either got to sell the family on watching this game as an event, or I’ll catch up around 10pm tonight.
Dubs win with small ball, 112-111.