Despite a tough shooting night from Stephen Curry, the two-time MVP finished with a game-high 26 points alongside standout performances from teammates Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins to upset the Los Angeles Lakers 115-113.
The Golden State Warriors made history Monday night in Los Angeles at the Staples Center as the first NBA team to beat the Lebron-era Lakers after falling behind 19 points in a contest.
The Dubs slipped to an early first-quarter deficit behind 14 points from underrated Dennis Schröder, and a slow start from Steph Curry, who finished the first half shooting just 3-9 from the field and 1-6 from long range.
The second team, which has buoyed the Warriors all season long, was led by Eric Paschall’s voracious offense and a strong, united effort on the defensive end. After trailing by 12 points at the end of the first quarter, the Warriors bench was able to claw their way back within five, before the first team reentered and the deficit ballooned again to 16 prior to the end of the half.
“It’s kinda getting to the point now where you expect [the second unit] to be good, you’re depending on them to be good,” Draymond Green told reporters in his postgame Zoom conference. “They’ve been fantastic all year and it’s becoming a staple of this team. We need them to continue to play like that, it’s been great for us.”
Head Coach Steve Kerr altered the rotation prior to the start of the game in an attempt to give Kelly Oubre Jr. more time with the second unit, and it paid huge dividends. Oubre Jr. finished the game with 23 points on 9-18 shooting, his first 20-point game of the season and 48th of his career. However, it’s the intangibles he brings that do not show up in the stat column that are most important to the success of this team.
“He’s been good for us,” head coach Steve Kerr said of Oubre Jr. in his postgame presser. “He’s dogging the ball up and down the floor, he really plays with energy defensively, especially on the ball, and that’s been one of the main things we’ve been looking for him with Klay [Thompson] out.”
Andrew Wiggins carried the load for the Warriors in the third quarter, knocking down three threes of his own to help bring the Warriors within two, before a Kyle Kuzma onslaught materialized from thin air, as Kuz knocked down back-to-back threes to again push the Laker lead to double digits to close out the third.
Both second units continued to battle on into the fourth quarter, with Paschall and Kuzma going at it. Paschall finished with an efficient 19 points in 19 minutes on 8-11 shooting.
“This has been what he’s done now all season long,” Kerr said. “He’s having a fantastic early part of the season for us, he’s really solidified his role, and he’s given that second group a lot of punch.”
45 minutes and 20 seconds elapsed before the Warriors secured their first lead of the game on a Draymond Green layup, and they would not surrender it. With just over a minute left, Steph stepped back behind 30 feet and splashed in a deep three over 6’10” Anthony Davis, bringing Curry just 12 threes shy of tying Reggie Miller for second place on the NBA’s all-time three-point field goals list.
Steph knocking down a BIG shot late 👌 pic.twitter.com/aAwURpA18x— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 19, 2021
Lebron James had a chance to win it at the last second, but clanked his attempt hard off the back iron.
While much of the media fuss this year has revolved around the Warriors’ shooting woes, especially with Oubre Jr. imploding out of the gate with an historically poor firing percentage from deep, the team has quietly been playing some stymieing defense, if not at least when it matters most.
The Warriors this year are holding opponents to just 45% shooting from the field, which is good for 8th best in the NBA, often the mark of a strong defensive team. However, the Dubs still rank 20th in overall defensive rating, 23rd in opponent three-point percentage, and 25th in the league in points allowed, alluding to the large body of work the Warriors must complete before they reach the heights they aspire to.
“The thing that we are trying to establish as a team is that we’re going to be good defensively,” Kerr told reporters. “We’re trying to be a good defensive team first, and Andrew [Wiggins] and Kelly [Oubre Jr.], with their length and athleticism, should be two of our best defenders, and that’s why we’re continuing to go the way we’re going”
Warriors fans have to be excited about their team this season if not outright impressed with the front office, who went out and got guys like Wiggins and Oubre Jr. who add urgency and tenacity on the defensive end and have really bought into that identity. The silver lining in last year’s devastating injuries is that players like Paschall and Damian Lee got extended minutes that are proving to pay dividends this campaign.
“The lesson is we have to scrap,” Kerr told the media. “If we compete and defend at a high level, we’ve got a chance to beat anybody.”
The Warriors will have another chance to continue building their identity against the San Antonio Spurs at home this Wednesday at 7 p.m. PST.
Top Image: Harry How/Getty Images