The Stephen Curry bobblehead was the only sign of the Warriors‘ star point guard at Oracle Arena Monday night as the two-time MVP sat out suffering from a right thigh contusion.
Curry’s absence was more apparent in numbers and flow of the game than Kevin Durant’s against the Timberwolves last Wednesday.
Without its leader, though, Golden State was able to rally maintaining its winning streak and closing out a perfect four-game home stretch, dazzling the Orlando Magic (8-6) 110-100. But guard Shaun Livingston, who stepped into Curry’s starting spot, admitted the game wasn’t as pretty without the team’s captain:
“Obviously, it’s a different type of game. Our team identity changes, so it’s really trying to move the ball, play inside-out a little bit more, get stops. It’s obviously going to be more of a grind it out type of game”
While the Warriors (11-3) continued to win with seemingly effortless play in Durant’s absence last week, they started Monday night’s game off-balance, struggling to find their rhythm, proving that Curry is truly the key to getting the Dubs locked in early, a fact not lost upon fellow All-Star, Draymond Green:
“We gave up a lot of open shots because we were indecisive in the first two quarters. Once we shortened it up and used our switching and really locked in on that side of the ball, start taking the easy stuff away, it showed in the score. But early on I just don’t think we were locked in on that side of the floor.”
Green showed first-half signs of the errant passing that plagued him earlier in the season, leading to three of the teams nine turnovers in the first half. The Warriors walked away with 16 total turnovers at the final buzzer, a flaw Green says the team has to fix to be at peak performance:
“I’m pretty sure this is probably the 7th straight game with 15 or more turnovers. So once we cut down on that it will help us out a lot.”
Durant and Klay Thompson were tasked with heavy minutes in the first half, both heading to half on the wrong end of the point differential for their efforts, posting minus-5 and minus-4 respectively.
Durant went 5-of-11 in the first half, with only two 3-pointers attempted and none executed. But he admitted tonight was not a 3-point game for the Warriors, who saw a majority of their shots in the paint against the perimeter-dominant Magic:
“Tonight, we just had to do it in a different way, we didn’t have the 3-point shooting and the spreading of the floor that we usually have. Shaun did a good job of just switching it up and taking the guys to the post, shooting mid-range, and just playing a different style. That shows that we can adapt to just about anything.”
With the Curry out, the team spent most of the first half figuring out the right rotation and how to play that different. Though their communication seemed to build after the half, Livingston said the team used the first half to go through the process of finding the right fit:
“It’s just the feeling out process. It’s our first time playing without Steph this season, so sometimes the lineups out there may be funky. It’s just trying to get a feel for what we are trying to get accomplished. I think playing through KD in the post is good, playing through Draymond”
Without Curry, or the normal production of Durant and Thompson, Golden State failed to obtain an advantage over the hot-shooting Orlando heading into the intermission tied at 56.
But in true Warriors fashion, the home team got fired up on the other side of the half, pulling away for the first in the third quarter, bragging a lead that grew to as large as 15 points. From then on they couldn’t be stopped and the newly renovated Magic couldn’t catch up. Durant attributed the teams 3rd quarter rally to slowing down turnovers and picking up the rebound:
“We had a couple miscommunication switches in the first half that we corrected. When we get rebounds and run, that makes us dangerous and we score so quick that a 2 point lead can end up 10 points in a matter of possessions.”
Durant lead the game in points, putting 21 on the board with Green’s 20 close behind. The two sent sparks flying in the final stretch of the fourth quarter, with Green scoring 5 points in a matter of 17 seconds, dropping a David West-assisted 3-pointer and following with a layup on a fast-break feed from Durant.
Green countered his sloppy start ending the game with a game-high plus-25 point differential, taking on the leadership role in Curry’s absence. But head coach Steve Kerr was especially proud of Livingston’s contribution to the team, something Kerr said is not new to him or the team:
“Shaun is an unbelievable luxury to have. Shaun was great tonight, but not at all surprising to me because that’s what he’s been doing for three years here.”
Draymond said he thought Livingston played just as well as he always does for the minutes he normally clocks, but tonight he stepped it up to push the Warriors through sans Curry:
“I think Shaun scored more. He was more aggressive to score, which helped us out a lot.”
With major minutes clocked by his starters and bench, Kerr utilized former G-leaguer Quinn Cook in the final minute of the game, standing by his technique of putting all puzzle pieces in motion.
Monday’s seventh straight victory proved that Kerr will have to continue to play musical chairs with different rotations taking into consideration how they may or may not work without certain key players. Despite their tepid start, the Warriors made it clear that they can still heat it up, with or without Curry, a revelation Livingston said can only help them going forward:
“This is good for us honestly. It probably sucks for the fans because they want to see Steph, I get it. But for a team, from a basketball perspective, this is actually good for us. This is a good thing for us as we get along in the season and it can pay dividends in the playoffs”