Game Thread: Paschall is back! Warriors start tough road trip against Nuggets, ready to be tested
Rotations in place, strengths and weaknesses identified, Golden State is about to find out how good they are right now
Stability is an underrated commodity in the NBA.
With Stephen Curry serving as the Golden State Warriors’ Blarney Stone, there a deep-seated bedrock of culture that has served this franchise well over the past decade or so. The surrounding elements come and go, but the nature of this Warriors team is defined by the stability embodied by Curry.
So it’s fantastic news that some of those pieces that have been orbiting around, are now coming closer. We got to see Klay Thompson and Marquesse Chriss earlier this week, and though they aren’t travelling with the team, it was a healing salve for the soul of Dub Nation to see Klay again.
Eric Paschall appears to be well on his way back. Reportedly, the whole rigmarole was caused by a false positive test. It’s all very tenuous right now, but we will keep the updates coming as soon as the details become more clear. For now, just know that Paschall practiced yesterday, and is expected to be fully available for tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets
WHO: Golden State Warriors (6-5) at Denver Nuggets (5-6)
WHEN: Thursday, January 14, 2021 // 7:00pm PST
WATCH: NBSCA; TNT
A buffet of playoff opponents ahead for Golden State
Coming into this game, it’s a little shocking to see the rebuilt Golden State Warriors ahead of the impressive Denver Nuggets. Just a little though. This early in the season, there’s plenty of schedule weirdness and other factors in play so that there’s no real merit to looking at the standings too closely just yet.
You don’t need a definitive answer to learn something from an experience, and with Golden State embarking on three road games in next six days, all against potential playoff opponents (at Nuggets tonight, a̶t̶ ̶S̶u̶n̶s̶ ̶t̶o̶m̶o̶r̶r̶o̶w̶ , and then at the Lakers on Monday). So we are about to learn something.
[update: Suns game postponed, the first Warriors game postponed by Coronavirus. The weekend just got a whole lot easier!]
The issues for this team are clear. With Curry as the driver of everything the offense does, teams are loading up on him defensively. It’s the sort of extreme pressure that is only reserved for the best players, and seldom deployed because of how many defensive holes it leaves in the background - assuming you can get there.
As Anthony Slater wrote after the last game, Curry’s production has been uneven.
It was an eventful homestand for Curry. He scored a career-high 62 points on the Blazers but made only 2-of-16 shots against the Raptors, the worst shooting night of his career. He solved the swarming, active, long Clippers for 38 points on nine back-breaking 3-pointers but then missed 14 of his final 18 3s to close the homestand, struggling to solve the Pacers’ box-and-one.
And it’s a double-edged sword - for every big game, the rest of the league gets a gut punch reminder that he’s an enormous threat, resulting in a cycle of reinforced attention for the defenses that Curry and the Warriors are facing. He’s faced this type of pressure before, but never seen the “Box +1” for such an extended period of time. And all the while Curry is walking the superstar line between making the “right" play, or just blasting into their double coverage and beating it.
By eliminating Curry from much of the offensive equation, it’s generally a win for the Warriors’ opponent - unless the rest of the squad can make them pay. So far, it’s been working.
Even altering the numbers to match up with the return of Draymond Green, the Warriors would have the 16th ranked offensive in the league. Yes, the defense has been strong over this same time period, but it’s clear that the offense is going to drag.
Some of the solutions for this will come right out of the Mark Jackson book of coaching: “Be better. Get more aggressive.” If Curry can be less passive when faced with the extra attention, it will go a long way towards solving the problems created. But that’s a whole lot of running through slaps and getting bumped around - an activity that is within Curry’s bailiwick, but will tax him if constantly needed.
And the other part of the solution gets back into some of the issues with the Warriors lack of shooting in their starting lineup. That starting lineup has played 95 minutes together, and is a net negative with a -13.6 overall impact. So while the solution is relatively straightforward from a basketball discussion standpoint (either beat the pressure off the dribble or quick pass before the double fully engages), watch all the moving pieces needed in the clip below.
It’s not an impossible puzzle to solve, by any means, but the Warriors’ outcome this season is appearing more and more likely to be strongly correlated with the entire team’s ability to figure out how to play through these situations where teams are over emphasizing taking Curry out of the equation.
How good are the Denver Nuggets?
As it is with the Warriors, we aren’t getting a definitive answer to this question based solely on tonight’s game, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. Against the Warriors, the Nuggets driving force, Nikola Jokic, will have to contend with the blistering pace, and the post defense of Draymond Green.
Jokic is leading his team in points (24.3), rebounds (10.9), and assists (10.5) per game, and was two assists and three steals shy of a quadruple-double in their last game - it wasn’t enough to hold of a big comeback from the Nets though.
Even so, the Nuggets are a handful. With Jamal Murray continuing his excellent play from the bubble, Denver is still one of the best teams in the NBA.
Thriving on the strength of their offense (the 2nd best in the league), Denver pays at a sluggishly slow pace (nearly the slowest), and has a bottom-five defense. In other words, this is far from a flawless opponent.
The NBA is wide open, especially in the middle tier, and the Warriors and Nuggets are both trying to figure out exactly where they fit into that ecosystem. While we won’t be getting any final answers tonight, consider it a practice exam.
As much as the Warriors are going to love having Eric Paschall come off the bench to punish opposing backup centers, the Nuggets are going to miss Michael Porter jr., who is out indefinitely due to the NBA's health and safety protocols after coming down with Coronavirus.
Watch for Wiseman. He’s been eager for a larger role, and while Jokic will eat him alive in the post, Wiseman should quickly run Jokic out of wind. As deep as the Nuggets are, this may be a team susceptible to the two piece punch combo of Wiseman-Paschall.
Warriors fight through a tough opponent, and squeak out a tight win in Denver on the back of another crazy night from Curry, and elite defense from the Warriors wings and Draymond Green.
Dubs win 121 - 119.