It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But flattery wasn’t the emotion coming across as the Warriors were busy getting their doors blown off by a small-ball attack they helped weaponize.
The Houston Rockets have not only embraced the Golden State “death lineup,” they have pushed that concept to the extreme, with no starter over 6-foot-7, and used it to roll the Warriors, 135-105.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors locker room at Chase Center.
The Rockets new ultra-small lineup wreaked havoc all over the court. The Warriors don’t really have the personnel to punish the under-6-foot-7 lineup on offense, since all of their bigs are mostly low usage.
Bullying smaller bigs and getting buckets consistently is not something Marquese Chriss, Kevon Looney or Draymond Green are able to do.
While on the other side of the ball, they were spread out and attacked without conscience. That led to as many catch-and-shoot 3’s as the Rockets wanted — and they wanted all of them.
Houston shot an absurd 51 percent from downtown, as they rained down open looks on the Warriors heads.
P.J. Tucker went a perfect 5-of-5 from deep. Robert Covington went 5-of-10 and Danuel House Jr. was 3-of-4. The only Rocket who wasn’t incendiary from 3 was James Harden, who shot just 3-of-12.
Meanwhile, the Warriors made just seven 3’s as a team. Golden State got outscored by 54 exclusively from the 3-point line.
But that wasn’t the worst part, they also couldn’t stop turning the ball over. They ended the game with 21 turnovers, which actually seems better than it looked.
It felt like every open court possession ended with a strip or a bad pass out of bounds. After the first quarter, in which the Rockets easily outscored Golden State 38-17, the Warriors actually had more turnovers (nine), than field goals (eight).
The bench finished with 17 field goals thanks to some garbage time buckets, but also finished with 14 turnovers.
It was the ultimate recipe for a blow-out loss: give up a ton of 3’s and turn the ball over at a very high clip.
There were a few positives sprinkled into this beat down though. Andrew Wiggins continues to be efficient on offense, he had 22 on 10-of-17 shooting, while also running the floor hard and pitching in some defensive stats.
Steve Kerr said that it’s been almost a blessing to have played so many top wings right after acquiring Wiggins, just to see how he matches up with them:
“I think he’s very good. Defensively, he defends his position well, he uses his length. The good thing for us this weekend, we can sort of plug him in and just put him on any of the perimeter players that we want. And then that’s a really valuable dynamic for us to have in a player. Especially because we’ve got the same dynamic with Klay and so to have that kind of duplicity with those two guys going into next year will be good for us, because we can mix and match and neither guy will ever be overpowered physically.”
In his three games with the Warriors Wiggins is averaging 23 points per game, while also turning up defensively averaging 1.7 blocks and 2.3 steals, easily the highest of his career if he keeps it up.
Kerr said that now that he’s seen Wiggins in person, he has a new appreciation for his game:
“Now that I’ve seen him play, I feel like people have focused now the last couple years on everything Andrew can’t do that they forgotten all the things that he can do. So, he’s one of those guys who people have said he’s overrated now for a couple years and he’s become underrated. Because you look at what he does, you look at his size, you look at the way he defends, guy’s a damn good NBA player and it seems like people have forgotten that.”
Jordan Poole started at point guard again, scoring 19 points while showing off some nice vision and pick-and-roll skills.
But the positives were few and far between in this absolute drubbing. Something Warriors fans have gotten used to this season.
Zion Williamson comes to town over the weekend when the Warriors face off with the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday. It will be the team’s first look at the explosive rookie who comes in averaging over 22 points per game.
Before the game, the Warriors officially ruled out Klay Thompson for the rest of the season. Thompson was scheduled for a reevaluation on his torn ACL over the All-Star break. There wasn’t any setbacks, but the Warriors are choosing to be cautious and have Thompson come in fully healed to training camp. … The team also will sign Dragan Bender Sunday to a 10-day contract. Bender, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft and Phoenix teammate of Marquese Chriss, will look to rehab his career just like the Warriors starting center.
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.