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Can Green, Warriors hold it together without Curry?
One more easy one before Golden State hits a tough season-ending stretch
No longer in possession of the league’s second-best record, or it’s stingiest defense, the Golden State Warriors are playing out the end of the string on a season that has been fraught with injuries. Though the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were reunited, it lasted all of one game before Curry went down with a foot injury that has him in a walking boot instead of on the basketball court.
After dropping a close one to the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors are going to get one more softball before ending the season on a heater run with eight of their last eleven games on the road (and four back-to-backs). But tonight they get the Orlando Magic and their second-worst record.
On the injury front, Andrew Wiggins listed as “probable” after knocking knees in the team’s previous game. But the real big news is that Gary Payton II doesn’t appear on the injury report, meaning he’s cleared to play!
WHO: Golden State Warriors (47-24) at Orlando Magic (19-53)
WHEN: Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022 // 4pm PDT
Can Green and the Warriors hold it together?
At time of writing, the Warriors are now a game-and-a-half back from the Memphis Grizzlies, just two games up on the 4th seeded Utah Jazz; add another half-game back behind that and you’ll see the Dallas Mavericks. On the one hand, seeding doesn’t matter nearly as much as the team’s health; but on the other hand, you don’t want want to slide your way into the playoffs after dropping three spots in a month.
Somewhere in the middle is where Golden State is hoping to land over these last 11 games of the regular season. Ideally tuning up for the playoff push, the team is instead still working toward health and balancing the demand for tightened playoff rotations against not running guys into the ground.
Step One in the plan to do better without Curry this season is to keep everyone on the court. Presumably, players like Thompson and Otto Porter will continue their established pattern of only playing one game in those remaining four back-to-backs, but that’s just an inherent part of this roster that the Warriors have put together this season.
Draymond Green’s ejection reminded me of the last year, when he was booted from a game against Charlotte that the Warriors were playing without Curry. I’ve long held the belief that we just have to live with Green’s occasional loss of control. Like a racecar driver that operates on the outside edge what’s possible, fans (and owners of the car they drive) have to accept a crash every now and then.
But does it seem like Green gets tossed more frequently when he’s forced to play without Curry? At first, I tried asking someone, but she called me a nerd and told me to go outside, so I did the legwork myself (with an assist from local legend Sabrina) and was able to find this page that lists all of Greens fines — including each and every one of his ejections.
Some simple sorting, and we get this table, showing that yes, Green’s last five ejections have all occurred when he was playing without Curry:
If those last five ejections look like a lot, it’s because they are. To date, Green has racked up nearly a million dollars in fines.
But I’m not sold that this is completely correlated with Curry not playing as much as it is Green’s general malaise in the wake of Kevin Durant’s departure. Combined with retirements and well-documented injuries, it’s pretty evident that the mounting stress has fueled an increase in Green’s overboiling pot of frustration.
All that said… you can’t keep crashing the race car. At some point, Green’s penchant for getting kicked out of games is a problem. I’m not personally there yet, but as the veteran leader of the team, it’s a bad look when he can’t stop chirping at the refs.
The Warriors need Green right now. Sure, there’s some wiggle room in the standings, but dragging into the playoffs after losing a bunch of games isn’t a good way to enter a post season that matters a bit more than usual. With the aging core and a youth movement underway, the pressure is on for the team with a league-leading $180 million dollar payroll to deliver.
After a strong early start, this season has been a mixed bag.
The time for “putting it together by the end of the season” sailed past when Marcus Smart rolled over on Curry’s foot. That’s gone like a fart on a motorcycle.
Instead, the Warriors are forced to cobble together whatever value they can find with the players that are available, and hope that whenever the next big cog (Curry this time) returns, they’ll be able to seamlessly integrate. It’s definitely not wasted time or anything, but I’m sure almost everyone on the team would happily fast forward to start the playoffs healthy and with their current playoff seeding intact.
Good news / bad news: they’ve been prepping for this by swimming through a hot mess for the past couple of seasons.
There is cause for optimism (if you’re so inclined). Jordan Poole has been phenomenal lately and seems to be back on track as the guy who was generating some legitimate chatter as a Sixth Man of the Year or Most Improved award candidate earlier in the season.
He scored 28 in the last game, and Poole is averaging around 25 points over the last nine games, a testament to his willingness to play a variety of roles and rotation patterns. Without Curry, the Warriors need Poole to step forward again, both as a scorer and as a playmaker.
Klay Thompson played a whopping 38 minutes in the last game, which is a great indication of his health, but also tells us that the Warriors will continue to put a high priority on getting Klay hammered back into a semblance of his old sweet-shooting self.
But even the sweetest taste can turn sour, and so too has Thompson’s killer efficiency turned just plain old killer. According to Cleaning the Glass, he’s averaging a career high usage of 26.9%, hoisting nearly 30 shots per 100 possessions (also a career high)… but sadly, all of this is taking place amidst a career worst efficiency. Even so, there are a few hot spots.
Thompson and the Warriors both understand how important it is to get him right. At this point it’s still a messy work in progress, but one worth the effort. Just like the team can’t go far without Curry, the high ceiling of this roster is reliant on Thompson rediscovering his lethal shooting.
That’s a lot to all put together in these last 11 games of the regular season.
This is the front end of a back-to-back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kerr loads up tonight and then rests Thompson and Porter against the Miami Heat tomorrow. The Magic are one of the very worst teams in the league, but given all that’s going on with Golden State, I’d probably lean towards maximum firepower.
One way or another, it sounds like Gary Payton II is back, and I’m predicting a win.