Before a lot of college kids woke up this morning in Northern California, the best team currently playing ball in the region — pick your sport — reeled off their 15th straight victory. So much for slow starts; the Mavericks looked like the team struggling with the early tipoff as the Warriors scored 19 points in the first 4:40 of the game. Golden State finished their best first quarter of the season with 39 points and a 21-point lead, and they held on from there in a 105-98 victory over Dirk Nowitzki and his merry band of ex-Warriors.
“I think (my players) were motivated,” Steve Kerr told reporters.
“Dallas is the leading scoring team in the league, and we’ve got this winning streak going. This is like a pretty logical place for it to end. Just speaking from an impartial standpoint as an observer, I’d say, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a tough one.’ I think our guys embrace that kind of challenge and obviously started out as prepared as we could possibly be. That first quarter, we can’t play any better. And then it was sort of pulling teeth from there, but we got it done.”
The Warriors featured several skilled dentists in this game, but Draymond Green was the Warrior who caused Dallas the most pain. Kerr described him as “the heartbeat” of this team, and Golden State’s big lead was on life support in the third quarter. Monta Ellis was attacking their defense from every angle, and the shots that went in so easily for the Warriors earlier in the afternoon stopped falling.
With under eight minutes remaining in the quarter, Green made his team’s first basket in over four minutes with a three to put the Warriors back in front by 19. Then Golden State suffered through another drought, going more than three minutes without scoring a point as their lead shrunk to 13. Green posted up Jae Crowder, drew a foul with a move to his right, and made both free throws. Green then rebounded an Ellis miss, baited him into a bad foul while attempting a three, and made all three free throws. The lead was back up to 18. Green’s best (and craftiest) offensive play came near the end of the quarter, when he hooked arms with J.J. Barea, caught an entry pass with his right hand, spun and made it off glass … and-one. That three-point play gave Green 20 points for the game and pushed Golden State’s lead to 19 heading into the fourth quarter.
The scoring ended there for Green, who took just eight shots to get those 20 points. He made his mark defensively in the final quarter with a phenomenal sequence, getting back-to-back blocks on Nowitzki. On the first, he stopped Ellis’ progress to the basket, then recovered on the pass to Nowitzki well enough to swat the seven-footer’s shot out of bounds. Then he stuffed Nowitzki’s next shot attempt just 12 seconds later.
The future Hall-of-Famer was so shaken up by that string of events, he vanished for the rest of the game. On the ensuing possession, Nowitzki was on the break after a Harrison Barnes turnover. Dallas had numbers, but instead of taking it to the basket, Nowitzki flung an ill-advised alley oop pass to Brandan Wright, who had jumped too far and couldn’t corral the pass. Scoring would’ve put Dallas within 10 with two and a half minutes to go in the game, but instead the Warriors were able to hold off the Mavericks despite some sloppy play at the end.
Considering the length of their streak and who/where/when they were playing, it was probably the most remarkable win of the season for the Warriors, who held the Mavericks to 40.4% shooting without Andrew Bogut (knee irritation, plus flu-like symptoms this morning).
“We definitely miss him out there, but we had guys step up. Like Festus, he does a great job clogging up the paint, contesting every layup, getting those big rebounds,” said Klay Thompson, who made five threes and scored 25 points.
“Our gameplan was to move the ball, make a simple play. When we do that, we’re probably the toughest team to stop in the league.”
— First quarter MVP: Steph Curry, who scored 13 points, went 3-of-6 on threes, dished out three assists, and made yet another gorgeous reverse layup in transition. Remember when he missed so many shots within three feet of the basket? Now he’s one of the best in the league at using the rim to protect him from oncoming shot-blockers. He led all scorers with 29 points, despite going cold in the second half (2-for-9, 0-for-3 on threes).
— First half MVP: Thompson, who scored 17 points, created shots for others (like Harrison Barnes and Mo Speights) and kept Ellis (3-of-10 in the first half) off balance.
— That being said, Ellis was the best player on the floor in the second half, other than Green. This game went from a potential Warriors rout to frighteningly entertaining when Ellis dominated the ball and accounted for what seemed like every point with drives, jumpers and assists.
— Under the radar great player in the first half: Barnes, who tantalizes you with stretches like we saw in the first 24 minutes. His pump-fake in the paint to score over Nowitzki was a great start. He’s also getting better at threading the needle with bounce passes and splitting defenders with the dribble. Now if he could only put together a string of solid 48-minute performances …
— Kerr waved off the idea that the early start time was a disadvantage. “If you can’t function as a basketball player because the game starts at one instead of seven, there’s something wrong. That shouldn’t affect anybody.” Speights may beg to differ. He was a little off.
— So was Speights’ shoe, which led to a humorous sequence. His Nike bounced away, and Curry tossed it to midcourt while the Warriors were on offense. Speights played with just one shoe for about a minute, then Curry grabbed it again and tossed it to Speights (Curry’s hand-eye coordination is so ridiculous) as the Warriors’ next offensive possession began, and Tyson Chandler ran over and swatted it away.
— That was the Mavs’ only block all afternoon. The Warriors had seven, led by two for Green (mentioned earlier) and two by Ezeli, who got into foul trouble but made a strong impact early.
— The Warriors didn’t miss Bogut’s interior passing nearly as much as his defensive rebounding. Dallas out-rebounded Golden State 53-45, and that included 17 offensive boards. Ezeli tapped some loose balls to teammates, but he still has to come up with more than two rebounds in 17 minutes.
— Flashback to last season: all those isolation plays the Warriors ran against Barea.
— Pretty play: Curry’s touch pass out ahead to Thompson, who finished with a one-handed dunk that gave the Warriors a 62-34 lead and forced Rick Carlisle to call timeout. (Curry’s teardrop scoop shot over everyone to end the scoring in the first half wasn’t bad, either.)
— “We shoot a high percentage on the offensive end and we hold the other team to a low percentage,” Thompson said. “That’s a special thing. There’s not a lot of great two-way teams in this league, and I think we can be one of them.”
— The Warriors are 20-2. Twenty and two! (Aaaaaannnnnd, they’re only 4.5 games ahead of Dallas, the No. 7 seed. And the 12th seed, Oklahoma City, has won five in a row since getting healthy. The Western Conference is unbelievable.)