Preview: Road trip gets no easier as Warriors visit defensive-minded Celtics

The Golden State Warriors are the worst team in the NBA. With just 10 wins to their 38 losses, it is getting increasingly hard to find silver linings as the losses continue to pile up. So we can point (yet again) to the improved odds of a top draft pick, and yearn wistfully for the return of Stephen Curry - but the core truth remains the same: night in and night out, Golden State is getting smashed by superior teams.

Tonight should be no different as they head to Boston to take on the Celtics, a team with one of the top-ranked defenses, and serious playoff aspirations.


WHO: Golden State Warriors (10-38) at Boston Celtics (31-15)

WHEN: Thursday January 30, 2020; 5:00 pm PST

WHERE: TD Garden, Boston, MA

WATCH: TNT; NBC Sports Bay Area (?)

The Celtics - Balanced and dangerous

The Boston Celtics and coach Brad Stevens share the egalitarian ethos that has been at the center of much of the recent success the Warriors have enjoyed. Led by newcomer Kemba Walker, and homegrown talent Jason Tatum, Boston currently has the 4th best net rating in the NBA.

Though they don’t move the ball as much as Golden State does, they’ve got a well balanced team that ranks in the top 10 both offensively and defensively. It’s a team that works well together, rather than riding their stars at the expense of everything else. It's a big reason why disgruntled star Kyrie Irving is no longer with the team, and I think that’s why a lot of Warriors fans find a warm place in their hearts for these Celtics.

For Golden State, the Celtics Big 3 of Tatum, Hayward, and Kemba Walker is going to be nearly insurmountable. Tatum is currently listed as “Questionable”, but even if he can’t go, the remaining Celtics should have ample ammunition to put away a Golden State squad that is softer than a peeled grape.

Hayward in particular has been going nuts recently, which I personally, love to see.

While it’s probably disingenuous to call the Warriors’ 23rd ranked defense a strength, their ability to slow down the Celtics offense is the best shot they have at coming out of Boston with a win tonight. Boston thrives off ball movement (their 11.4 screen assists per game is the third best such metric in the NBA), so any chance of victory will hinge on the Warriors being able to gum up their motion.

Based on the season’s results to date, odds are not in Golden State’s favor in this regard, but that’s why they play the games and hope for miracles, right?

Golden State still coming up short on answers - to pretty much everything

Though they made a good show of it, the Warriors dropped another game in Philadelphia on Tuesday while playing an all too familiar pattern. After maintaining contact with the Sixers for much of the game, it felt like something already decided as their opponents inexorably pulled away in the second half to put the game comfortably out of reach by the closing minutes.

While D’Angelo Russell is having a career year with his highest scoring (24 points per game) output at the most efficient rate of his career, the overall team success has not managed to find a correlated level of acumen. As a team, they rank 30th in eFG%, and as we saw against the Sixers, even when the shots fall, it doesn’t translate to a win. The team hit 15 threes, but still lost to the Sixers, dropping a team that made a name for themselves with their outside shooting to an abysmal 0-8 this season when they hit 15 or more shots from deep.

As we pointed out yesterday, with the team struggling with the very worst offense in the NBA, it may be time for Golden State to explore some more aggressively different approaches - assuming they are honestly chasing wins.

Is Kerr working on setting the team up for next season at the expense of success this year?

There was an interesting clip from shootaround yesterday, where Kerr monologued about the “two man game” that D’Angelo Russell and Draymond Green have been developing.

Here’s the clip:

The audio isn’t great, but Kerr opens by talking about the shared ball handling responsibility that Green and Russell have been developing. To me, the most interesting snippet is in regards to a strategic push to get the ball into Green’s hands and moving Russell offball.

According to the NBA’s lineup data, the two man pairing of Green and Russell has a negative 9.9 points per 100 possessions impact - which is bad enough that it lands on the second page of results when you sort.

Now, lineup data like that is notoriously finicky, and separating out two random players from the entire field is expected to return some statistical noise. That said, for a team with a dearth of high quality players, it is a little troubling that our two highest priced players that are currently playing don’t seem to complement each other very well.

So by forcing the development along the lines that Kerr is talking about above is more of a strategic decision than a move you would make if your primary goal was chasing as many wins as possible right now.

Green has thrived in the “point forward” role here, where his ability to defend the post, secure a rebound, and then immediately push out on the break causes all sorts of matchup nightmares for the opponents.

For Russell, this is less of a natural fit with his play style, which tends to be a more slow grind of dribbling around the perimeter looking to get a positional advantage by shouldering past his defenders. As Sam Esfandiari pointed out on Twitter, Russell is now taking around 4 three pointers per game, and converting them at an admirable 41.8% clip (he is hitting at 38% from outside, overall).

Is all of this mostly done with an eye towards the eventual return of Stephen Curry, and eventually Klay Thompson? Probably, but this team is clearly playing the long game this season, so is more than willing to sacrifice short term gains for long term design improvements.

How close is Kevon Looney to a return? Days, not weeks.

In the offseason, many who follow the team closely were pointing towards the re-signing of Kevon Looney as one of the unheralded successes of the offseason. A do-it-all forward who can cover multiple positions while fitting well in the offensive scheme, it felt like Looney was poised for a breakout year.

Sadly, the breakout has yet to materialize. Looney, hampered by a vaguely worrying nerve issue in his hips has been held out for weeks with what the team has described as an abdominal strain.

Anthony Slater, Warriors beat reporter for The Athletic said on Twitter that the Warriors hope Looney can return at some point on this road trip.

Looney has only played 105 total minutes this season but has shot incredibly poorly, struggled to rebound, and just generally looked out of sorts while on the court. For all that ails this team, any help would be welcome, and this goes doubly for a player as universally liked as Looney.