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Spurs smother simplified, Curry-less Warriors

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The large crowds that usually populate the Chase Center entrance hours before tip were nowhere to be found Friday. With no Stephen Curry pregame antics, there wasn’t much of a reason to come early.

In-game, the Warriors (1-4) kept the contest with the Spurs (4-1) close for their sparsely populated arena before eventually falling 127-110.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors locker room at Chase Center.

That’s really the best-case scenario for these next few months for this young Warriors team: keep games close early before the talent deficit takes over in the end. That is what the old Warriors fans used to root for, interesting games that don’t damage their future draft choice.

D’Angelo Russell had the best statistical night in his Warriors career with 30 points and eight assists, seeing his usage rate climb sky high. Without Curry, Russell had the ball in his hands exponentially more, and that was predictably shown in the pace of play.

Steve Kerr said there really was no other choice but put the ball in Russell’s hands as much as possible:

“He’s tough to guard in that high screen, and then obviously without Steph he had the ball in his hands pretty much the whole time he was out there. He played well, put a lot of pressure on San Antonio and distributed the ball.”

When Curry ran the offense, he was always pushing the pace. But Russell likes to play a more deliberate style, similar to James Harden. With him as the point, the Warriors are more likely to walk the ball up and get into pick-and-roll sets.

Kerr talked about having to simplify the offense now that Curry is out, and unsurprisingly the young roster looked much more comfortable with that pared-down sets. The ball movement and equal opportunity offense that the dominant Warriors teams ran was perfect for that roster.

Gone are the high-IQ players like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Now, with a bunch of rookies and young players, the basketball-IQ is no longer at that top-notch level.

Draymond Green just kept saying how different it was, but also it’s not fair to the new guys to expect the same thing as years past:

“How can you expect something of someone who just don’t know. You have to teach them first. You can’t expect someone to just know what they don’t know, it’s our job to teach them.”

The Curry injury forced Golden State’s hand, demanding simplification, something that Kerr and coaching staff was reluctant to do when they still had Curry and Green, two of the linchpins in their old system.

Green said this simplified offense is something that had to be done:

“It’s not quite what we’ve become accustomed to but you have to adjust. You can’t just run the same offense with different personnel and think it’s going to work. You have to try to adjust and we’re doing that. It hasn’t been that long so, just keep working at it and we’ll figure it out.”

Now, it’s the Russell show, where pick-and-rolls aren’t a luxury to be used sparingly, but a necessity to be used almost exclusively. The reason Kerr was hesitant to play this type of style before was that it limits the decision makers on offense, but with so many borderline rotation players now, the Warriors needed to limit the decision makers.

A pick-and-roll with Russell at least garners attention, whereas an off-ball downscreen for Glenn Robinson III might as well be invisible.

The high pick-and-roll at least gets the defense moving and collapsing, and that allows the Warriors other perimeter players to be able to attack off the catch or get open 3’s. Jordan Poole was the main beneficiary Friday. recording a career-high 20 points with four 3’s.

He started alongside Russell, in what is probably the Warriors new starting backcourt for the next three months. And Poole will continue to get all he can eat in that role, as long as he irons out his defense.

While most of the talk has been about the Warriors’ offensive schemes, it’s the defense that has been truly awful. They’ve given up at least 120 points every game and are rank last in the league in defensive rating.

It got so bad that they even broke out some zone Friday, which is something Kerr said will likely continue:

“I’m sure we’ll play more zone as the year goes on. It’s something we’ve worked on a little bit in camp and in the early part of the season. It’s just a good way to mix up the defense sometimes take the opponent off balance a little bit. We didn’t have great success with it tonight, but something we’ll probably continue to use.”

While that starting duo showed potential offensively, the Warriors just don’t have enough firepower outside of them. Alec Burks and Damian Lee were the only other Warriors in double-figures with 14 and 16 respectively.

It will be a work in progress the rest of the season to find ways to score, but at least the team has taken the first step — putting a simplified system in place.

But even then, the reality is, this is going to be a long season, something Green is well aware of:

“We’ve went the bulk of five years pretty healthy. We’ve went the bulk of five years beating up on pretty much everyone. Right now it’s our turn to get beat up on…That doesn’t change our mindset, we’re going to go out and compete each and every night, but it’s some tough circumstances, you deal with it. You don’t get comfortable with losing, you become a loser.”

Up Next

The Warriors face their second back-to-back set of this young season when the Charlotte Hornets (2-3) come to town.

Notes

Draymond Green had a wrap on his left wrist and finger after the game and said that it was “a little ligament action.” His availability for Saturday is up in the air, but seems like a good bet he won’t suit up.


Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.

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