Against the NBA’s best offense through the early part of the season — a team that’s absolutely lethal in transition — the Warriors turned in a truly sterling defensive performance Wednesday night in a 114-92 win.
Those 92 points Charlotte posted were no fluke: the Hornets shot 37 percent from the floor and 28 percent from beyond the arc in the contest thanks to lockdown performance from the Dubs.
They needed it, too. Offensively, the Warriors were exceptionally sloppy, particularly in the first half.
When they cleaned that mess up and stopped passing the ball to Charlotte, they pulled away from the young Hornets.
The catalyst for the defensive success was the final man on the Warriors’ roster, Gary Payton II.
Inserted with a little less than four minutes remaining in the first quarter, Payton immediately started impacting the game. A rebound led to an assist. A steal led to one of the most thunderous dunks you’ll ever see — a textbook posterization of Kelly Oubre that will be immortalized in Warriors lore for a decade, at least.
— NBA (@NBA) November 4, 2021
With Payton on the floor, the Warriors had some punch, some scrap.
Pair that with Draymond Green and an outstanding offensive game from Jordan Poole (31 points) and you have a win.
There’s a reason Warriors coach Steve Kerr was uppercutting the air in celebration on the Golden State bench during this game — it was as happily animated as we’ve seen the Warriors coach in years: The defense the Warriors played with Payton on the court was nothing less than championship-worthy.
I think Steve Kerr likes it pic.twitter.com/z87713O3Nr
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) November 4, 2021
The Dubs are trying to replicate the magic they found last season, when they played without a true center outside of Kevon Looney and were able to win 15 of their last 20 games. A big part of that success was the team’s defense. Without serious rim protection, the Dubs locked in on the perimeter. Opposing teams didn’t know what to do without easy 3-point attempts.
I’d say the Warriors are doing a good job of doing just that this season. This team has an identity now, and it starts on the defensive end.
But sometimes, you need a spark plug to get a defense — and a team — going.
Payton was that on Wednesday.
GPII is a menace on defense pic.twitter.com/vTKTKAHaRK
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) November 4, 2021
But make no mistake, the Warriors’ great defense was a team effort, even though LaMelo Ball shot 35 percent and Terry Rozier shot 16 percent from the floor.
Looney, Andre Iguodala, Damion Lee, and, of course, Green all played a big role. In the third quarter, the Hornets went more than nine minutes without a field goal. Nine whole minutes!
Still, Payton deserves more accolades. What a game he had. The Son of the Glove was better than “the mitten” Wednesday night. No, he was the Clamps, the Gauntlet.
He ended the game with a defensive rating of 71 (opponents’ points per 100 possessions) and an offensive rating of 115.
You can do the math. The Warriors were a net positive of 43 points per 100 possessions in Payton’s 17 minutes Wednesday.
What a pass by Nemanja Bjelica and what a cut by Gary Payton II. pic.twitter.com/MBIKwA9kMq
— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 4, 2021
Kerr said that he needs to play more after Wednesday’s game.
Yeah, I would think so after a performance like that.
And to think there were some Warriors who wanted to keep Avery Bradley instead of him this season.
Curry? Who needs him?
This is the first time I have mentioned Steph Curry in this column.
Well, simply, he didn’t contribute much to the team’s win.
Curry was bad by his standards on Wednesday. He scored 15 points on 15 shots in 35 minutes, turning the ball over four times in the process.
Last season, the Warriors only won 11 of 25 games where Curry failed to score 30 points. They were totally reliant on his offense.
This year, they already have five wins.
If that doesn’t tell you how far this team has come since last season, nothing will.
It’s not as if there was anything that Charlotte was doing to mess with Curry. It was just an off-night for the Baby Faced Assassin. Kerr said after the game that Curry has been sick for the last few days. The joys of having young children in the house.
But he still had his gravity. He still found a way to dish out nine assists. But he wasn’t the focal point of the Warriors’ offense.
That was Poole on Wednesday.
Man, did Jordan Poole need that kind of game.
Poole had been drifting since his 22-point performance against the Kings in the Dubs’ third game of the season. He couldn’t even get right in two games against Oklahoma City.
But he started hot on Wednesday and only tapered slightly as the game progressed. Poole had 22 in the first half to lead all scorers and finished with 31 points.
The most telling stat of the night for Poole, though, was his one turnover. After a few games where he was downright reckless with the ball, he looked smart out there — well, as smart as you can look when you are straight chucking all night (as he was right to do).
The Warriors can win without Poole, but only if Curry plays well. That’s obvious, right?
But Wednesday told us that the Warriors can win without Curry, so long as Poole plays well.
And while that’s not something the Warriors are looking to test often this season, the possible change is a big one for the Dubs.
This is a good basketball team, folks. Smart, deep, stout, and ready to win a ton of regular-season games.
It’s been a bit since that was the case. Enjoy the ride for the next few months.