Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons. Josh Richardson. Stephen Curry. Draymond Green. Saturday’s was a matchup deserving a primetime slot on ABC. Instead, the world was treated to a Shake Milton-Mychal Mulder showdown.
But what they also got was a nail-biting, entertaining, basketball game. One in which the baby Warriors pulled out a 118-114 victory over the Sixers.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors locker room at Chase Center.
Al Horford started off the game like he was the only recognizable name in the starting lineup — and for the most part he was — and had the game’s first seven points, imposing his will both inside and outside.
It didn’t stop in the first, though. He was a dominant force that no one in a Warriors uniform could come close to stopping. He had 22 points, 10 rebounds and shot an impressive 9-of-16 from the field, although the Warriors took him out of his rhythm late.
Steve Kerr said his guys fought through some early game struggles where it looked like the Sixers were going to dominate them inside:
“It took until the fourth quarter to really get much traction defensively. I thought Philadelphia did a good job beating us inside for the first three quarters. (Tobias) Harris and Horford were really hurting us, but our guys hung in there and kept the game close, and then the fourth quarter really turned up the defense and we got a lot of great individual performances, too.”
Along with Harris, who paced the 76ers with 24 points, Horford got help from the former Warriors Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, a duo that combined for 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Golden State definitely misses its versatile wings, but hopes it will have the chance to reunite with at least one of them during the offseason.
Robinson seems the likelier of the two to sign back in the Bay Area, but the question will be if he would accept a lesser role and take a discount.
The Warriors have their taxpayer midlevel exception, but would like to use that to sign multiple players if possible and the way Robinson has rejuvenated his career this season, he could eat up a good portion of that to sign.
While the two past Warriors put on a show, the guy they added at the deadline, Andrew Wiggins, was invisible on the offensive end.
He scored just 10 on 10 shot attempts and was left little impact on an unremarkable 37 minutes.
It is understandable though, when you consider he went from playing with Curry’s gravity to playing with Juan Toscano-Anderson.
But it is still concerning since this Wiggins is dangerously similar to the Wiggins in Minnesota that owned what many were calling the worst contract in the NBA.
The saving grace for him Saturday was his defense. You could see, when he was on the Timberwolves, that he had no interest in using his physical gifts on that end of the court. But in his handful of games in the Bay he has been much more willing to exert that effort.
It is showing up on the statsheet, too. In the 42 games on Minnesota this year he averaged a combined 1.6 steals and blocks, which is exactly the same number he averaged the other five years there.
In the 11 games he’s played in a Warriors uniform, he’s doubled that output to 3.1. Out of the 11 games, only two games has he failed to record a defensive stat, something that was the norm for him in his career.
The Warriors rallied around him defensively and it all culminated in a crazy last possession in which they survived two offensive rebounds and smothered any and all lanes to get that final stop. Marquese Chriss punctuated the sequence with an impressive recovery block to seal the win.
Chriss also showed off his passing ability with a team-leading eight assists.
He credited his statline to the system and the opportunities he gets in the high post:
“I think we’re just making the right plan for each other we’re planning on selfish we’re cutting without the ball and I don’t think our offense it runs through me a lot at the top of the paint and running DHOs and things like that and they’re just knocking down shots.”
He wasn’t the only one to pick up the offensive slack for Wiggins. Damion Lee led the team in scoring for the second game in a row with 24.
It’s the first time he’s scored 20 in back-to-back games in his young career, and he exorcised the demons of the Raptors game when a couple mistakes late spoiled Curry’s return.
Kerr acknowledged the mental fortitude it took for Lee to put that last game in the rearview:
“Damion has so much toughness and perseverance. You think about how he’s gotten this far, something like that the other night, you know a tough finish. If you play in the NBA long enough stuff happens like that, and so he bounced back quickly. He had a great game the other night too, he played really well the whole night, just had a couple tough plays at the end.”
Eric Paschall was right behind him with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Over his last six games, the rookie is averaging 21 points per game and is shooting a blistering 58 percent from the field.
After hitting a rookie wall and dealing with some nagging injuries, Paschall has returned to his early season form lately. He’s also showed off improved vision and has piled up at least four assists during this impressive run.
Kerr said that while he’s scoring a similar amount of points as early in the season, Paschall is a totally different player now:
“Yeah, much better player. Much more aware and much more poised. Six assists tonight, eight the other night. His pump fake to draw two free throws with under a minute to play, that’s a veteran play right there. To show that kind of poise and confidence, I just think he’s made the game easier for himself by just moving the ball when he’s when he’s covered. He’s understanding when to attack and when to when to move the ball on and that’s a big step.”
It’s been the development of the young group that has stood out this season. One of the only advantages of having such roster turnover and injury problems.
Chriss said that the success of the young players is really just a byproduct of a well run organization:
“I think they know what they want and they know what it takes. So, I think we’ve all just really came here with open-minded I think and just willing to learn. I think that’s the biggest thing for me is just listening to everybody and picking people’s brains as much as I can. And Steve is a player’s coach, he just lets you play, lets you hoop and play through your mistakes.”
The Warriors will be back on the court Tuesday to host the Clippers, and they are hopeful Curry will be joining them. The Clippers currently sit second in the West and continue to jockey for position ahead of the Denver Nuggets.
Mychal Mulder is on the last day of his 10-day contract, and all signs point to him getting a second one with the way he’s played. He’s made the most impact of any 10-day contract the Warriors have signed, averaging 11.2 points per game.
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.