In the second meeting before an anticipated Finals matchup, the Golden State Warriors claimed their stake as the best team in the NBA last night in a 19-point thrashing of the Atlanta Hawks, defeating them 114-95. In their last matchup the Warriors lost to Atlanta, 116-124. Despite being without shooting guard Klay Thompson, who is out for about a week with a sprained ankle, the Warriors lit up Oracle Arena, landing 14 of their 30 launched three-pointers.
Stephen Curry had a semi-off night from the arc, but still managed to tally a highlight-reel-worthy 16 points, 12 assists and hit two of his six shots from deep. Forward Draymond Green went 5-7 from behind the arc, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal to continue his stat-stuffing season. Andre Igoudala came off of the bench for a career night, finishing with 21 points, six assists, three steals, two rebounds and two highlight dunks off Atlanta turnovers.
The Warriors were feeling themselves and it was obvious, putting on a classic showing of high-speed, high-flying offensive feats that fed off of a pesky defense that was causing problems for Atlanta the entire night. In the remaining 16 games of the season, Golden State faces a tough end of the season. Starting with a contest against the likes of potential first-round opponent, the New Orleans Pelicans, which is followed by the Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies within the next seven days.
For the tail end of the regular season, the priority for Golden State should be a healthy balance between resting their starters and building up the confidence of its bench. Former All-Star and starter for Golden State, David Lee, hasn’t been the usual offensive threat he’s been in previous seasons and head coach Steve Kerr needs to start working him back into the regular rotation as a bench scorer.
The Hawks on the other hand held a poor performance from their usual textbook, San Antonio Spurs-influenced offense. The Hawks were severely missing sharpshooter guard Kyle Korver, who is currently not playing due to surgery to fix a broken nose. Korver’s influence on the defense goes a little beyond knocking down spot-up 3’s, in that the mere threat of his shooting requires defenses to lean in his direction, often opening up holes in the paint for the other four players to take advantage of.
Without Korver, their shot clock management was horrific. Oftentimes there were bouts of too much dribbling from guard Dennis Schroder and former Warrior Kent Bazemore. There were sequences ending in missed lay-ups, a dish to a poorly positioned Al Horford or Paul Millsap or a straight-up turnover from forcing a pass or shot that wasn’t there. The Golden State defense was more than comfortable in letting an open DeMarre Carroll toss up a 3-pointer, where he marked five out of 12, but the concerns began and ended there.
Fortunately for the Hawks, Korver won’t be out much longer, but if this matchup proved anything it’s that when at home, the Warriors are near impossible to beat. They stand with a current regular season home record at 31-2, and the Hawks not too far behind at 30-4. If this is indeed the Finals matchup, these squads are going to stretch it to a seven-game series. I’d offer the upper hand to Golden State however, not due to bias, but simply because it’s a personnel matter.
Atlanta does not have a bonafide superstar that can take over a game if necessary. Golden State, arguably, has two of them in Curry and Thompson, perhaps two and half if you want to be generous and offer up Green’s stellar efforts throughout the entire season. Of the Hawks starters, only Millsap has scored a 30+ point game the entire season, with Jeff Teague and Korver coming close with logging a fair handful of games each above 20 points.
And perhaps that’s an ode to how effective their offense sets are, but playoff basketball possesses an air for theatrics. Based off of last night’s performance, perhaps Korver is their guy, but his scoring abilities are limited to feeding off of wide open kick-outs and drop-offs, hoping that there isn’t a defender nearby. And if Korver is going to go toe-to-toe with Curry or Thompson in a scoring show, you already know who my money is on.
Even San Antonio had their fair share of hero ball throughout the playoffs from Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Kawhi Leonard in last year’s playoff campaign. Every competitive team in the West has that superstar, that go-to guy that is capable of not just hitting the big shot, but also facilitating it. These guys turn on that god-mode and, partially, that’s what makes the playoffs so exciting.
When it’s down to the wire, it’s about who’s going to turn it on next. For Atlanta? They’re still trying to figure that bit out and it might be a little too late.