Just two days before Christmas, the Warriors let their fans open a present early: Their first back-to-back wins of the season.
Losing to Golden State right now is bad enough, but getting blitzed by them could be the lowest point in the current NBA. Luckily for Minnesota, they were able to claw back and make the score more respectable, allowing the Warriors a 113-104 win Monday night.
The NBA schedule makers actually may have given the biggest gift to the Warriors, pitting them against the awful T-Wolves, who have now lost 11 straight.
Draymond Green was pumped after the game, seeing those back-to-back wins:
“I never thought I’d be so excited for two regular season wins in my life, but it feels good.”
Golden State (7-24) led by as much as 24, and held Minnesota (10-19) to 40 percent from the field, and a better-than-it-looked 30 percent from 3.
The defense recently has been better, still not good, but way ahead of where it was earlier in the season, Steve Kerr said:
“Defense has been much better, I think since the early part of the season we have a much better idea of what we are trying to accomplish. We’ve simplified everything after the first few weeks of the season and tried to lock in on a few key things… And I think we’ve had good individual performances, Draymond as always is tremendous on defense. But I think Willie Cauley-Stein has put together some good games. And guys are just playing hard.”
It wasn’t just the second win in a row for the Warriors, but the second game in a row that they actually looked like a team playing basketball.
Like Lou Brown told his team in “Major League 2”:
“That’s two in a row, if we win again, that’s called a winning streak — it has happened before.”
Unlike a movie, this isn’t a team underachieving in need of a wake-up call. The Warriors are a young team — maybe — finally finding their footing. Though it definitely helps when you play two of the worst teams in the league back-to-back.
Alec Burks said that the Warriors looking better is really about just getting healthy:
“I just think it’s more bodies, the first month I feel like we were playing with eight guys. People just getting healthy, and that’s what happens when people get healthy, we get practice time, chemistry comes with that. Without practice time it’s tough to bond with new people, new system, new culture.”
The Timberwolves were without all-world talent Karl Anthony-Towns, who missed his fourth-straight game with a strained knee. Towns is in the midst of a career year, but even when he was healthy, Minnesota was scuffling. Without him, Andrew Wiggins has to shoulder all of the scoring load, and that’s worked out exactly how you would think.
Burks led the way for the Warriors with 25 points and took over in the fourth quarter. Anytime the Warriors needed a bucket Burks went and got them one. He also dished out eight assists, which is something that wasn’t there earlier this season.
Before, once he put it on the ground, there was a zero percent chance he was finding an open teammate. Now, opposing defenses key in on him since he’s one of the only consistent scorers for the Warriors, and he’s utilizing dump offs and kick outs to get his teammates open looks.
One of the main beneficiaries of those passes has been Willie Cauley-Stein, who finished Monday with 12 points, seven boards and three blocks.
After a rough start to the season, Cauley-Stein has steadily improved and is low key in the midst of his best stretch in the Bay. He’s broken double digits in three of his last four games and has been showing his defensive versatility switching out onto guards and being a presence in the paint.
Cauley-Stein looked like he was in danger of losing his starting spot with Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss making an impact whenever they were on the court. But he’s responded by upping his play and solidifying that position.
Green said it’s been noticeable how much of an impact Cauley-Stein is making now:
“It’s been amazing, he’s really been great protecting the rim, he made several plays tonight protecting the rim. And then also giving us that spark that he’s been giving us on the offensive end. The way he runs the floor, there’s no big in the league that can keep up with him.”
He’s also showed nice chemistry with D’Angelo Russell, who led the Warriors with 30 points. Since Russell has been back, he’s been the steady presence this team needs. Along with Green, they’ve willed this team to wins that would have escaped their grasp earlier in the season.
Kerr said it’s a big deal just to have a full team dressed for games:
“It definitely helps. It helps to have options during a game like this when there’s a lot of runs and we can make a substitution that might make a difference. Whereas before when we had eight guys, we were just trying to keep everybody healthy enough and fresh enough to give us the minutes we needed.”
While big picture that might not be the best thing in terms of draft picks, it is for the player development.
Kerr said last game that in order to keep this young team engaged, they can’t just have moral victories, they need to actually see those W’s on the boxscore.
And now they have two of them in a row.
The Warriors continue their Christmas day game tradition, although this year will be a less-anticipated matchup when they take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets Wednesday.
Rookie Alen Smailagic didn’t see the court, but was recalled from Santa Cruz before the game. The 19-year-old big man was averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in the G-League, while shooting 40 percent from 3. … Glenn Robinson III missed his first game of the season after rolling his ankle at practice. He was the only Warriors player to have played in all prior 30 games.