Mike Budenholzer is a smart coach, with a very good team that follows instructions. After seeing that Klay Thompson would miss Wednesday night’s game against the Hawks with a sprained ankle, the correct response probably seemed obvious: trap Stephen Curry whenever possible, in effect telling the rest of the Warriors “do your worst.”
Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala responded with their best games of the season, combining for 46 points, several dunks, and just five missed shots on 25 attempts in a 114-95 win. The team as a whole defended as well as ever, holding the fourth-best shooting team in the league to 35.6% from the field. They may have been even better at sharing the ball.
This was my first reaction after taking a glance at the box score after the final buzzer:
The Warriors had 39 assists on 44 made shots. That’s obscene.
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) March 19, 2015
These guys leave you shaking your head so often, with Curry’s four-point plays, behind-the-back passes and ball-handling displays, along with Klay Thompson’s hot shooting streaks and the smothering defense played by everyone in the rotation. But 39 assists on 44 shots is such dominant unselfishness against the team with the second-best record in the league, it almost felt like taunting.
“Sometimes Klay makes so many tough shots, we rely on him to make those tough shots. But when he’s not there it forces us to get into the offense, it forces us to penetrate and kick and it forces us to make the extra pass. So it kind of works in our favor against a team like Atlanta,” said Iguodala, who seven assists and a game-high +26.
That last number told the story, as the Warriors started out this game rather sloppily with five turnovers in the first six minutes. Then Iguodala came in, and as he’s done so often this year, calmed everything down while turning up on the defensive end.
Iguodala — whom Steve Kerr compared to Scottie Pippen after the game, with some prodding from Tim Kawakami — has been on fire for a while from everywhere but the foul line, and with his 9-for-12 night (2-for-5 on threes) he’s shooting over 56% from the field since the All-Star break and 62% in March. But I’m not sure anyone expected this from Barnes, who didn’t exactly light it up in Denver (1-for-7, four points) when Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Andrew Bogut rested.
I asked Curry, who had 16 points and 12 assists in 30 minutes, if this was the best all-around game he’d ever seen Barnes play.
“Probably top five. He’s done this before. Even going back to his rookie year, the playoffs against Denver. He really took advantage of the matchups he had out there. He was confident, making plays, taking shots that he’s been working on. He was a huge part of our performance tonight and getting a win. It was good to watch to see him just flowing all night from start to finish,” said Curry.
Then I asked Barnes the same question, and he paused for about 10 seconds.
“Uh … Nah, I mean coaches were on me about rebounding,” said Barnes, who averages almost six a game but only had four against Atlanta. “I remember Klay came up to me. He’s like, ‘Hey, you have my stat line up there. 15 points, one rebound. Mix in some rebounds.’
Barnes laughed. “But offensively I definitely felt well, I definitely felt in a groove.”
It’s never good news when your All-Star shooting guard’s ankle swells up and causes him to limp noticeably for at least a week. However, if Barnes can turn this breakthrough performance into a consistent five or six games where he produces similar numbers (maybe not 11-for-13 from the field, since that’s an impossible pace) and most importantly gains some confidence, that provides yet another concern for playoff teams. Iguodala and Shaun Livingston have already shown themselves to be invaluable weapons on both ends of the court; if Barnes can follow suit and build off a much-improved third season, the Warriors will be unstoppable.
— Andrew Bogut had no points, but he also had 14 rebounds and three blocks on a night when the other starting center (a pretty good one in Al Horford) went 4-for-18. Horford missed some shots he normally makes, but Bogut’s defensive impact was felt throughout.
— Festus Ezeli played 10 minutes in the second half and blocked two shots … emphatically. No wonder the Warriors shied away from JaVale McGee. Whatever McGee’s contract desires were, there’s no way his defense would be any better than what Ezeli showed on Wednesday night — or all month, for that matter. In the 91 minutes he’s played in March, Ezeli has blocked 15 shots. That’s 5.9 blocks per 36 minutes, which is also obscene.
— Also contributing: Leandro Barbosa (13 points in 28 minutes), Livingston (3-for-3 from the field and seven assists) and Mo Speights (eight points in 14 minutes). Justin Holiday started this game and James Michael McAdoo played five minutes. The one glaring omission: David Lee, who did not play.
“Atlanta’s a three-point shooting team and their bigs step out on the floor and shoot. We only can play so many guys. So we’ve established with this team we’re pretty versatile at the 4. We have a lot of options,” said Kerr. “But the speed and the quickness of Draymond and Harrison, it’s important for us, because you have to cover three-point shooting these days. You’ve got to be able to cover a lot of the floor.”
Here’s what stuck out to me about that quote: “you have to cover three-point shooting these days.” It’s not a situation where the Warriors are going to face a team without shooters in games that matter from here on out, so Lee is going to spend a lot of time on the bench during the playoffs.
— Draymond Green made five threes and finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, but Kerr was in no mood to spend another postgame press conference extolling the virtues of his game.
“We’re not talking about Draymond tonight,” Kerr said with a smile. “He gets enough love.”