Next man up!
That’s what we’ve been hearing all season from the Golden State Warriors coaches and players as they have dealt with injuries. On Monday night, the defending champions were forced to put their words into practice as they dealt with one of the biggest injuries of the season after the reigning MVP and leagues’ leading scorer, Stephen Curry, suffered a tweaked his ankle in Game 1 of their playoff campaign against the Houston Rockets.
After taking part in the pre-game warmups, the coaching staff made the tough decision to sit Curry for Game 2 with Shaun Livingston to take his place in the starting lineup —but that didn’t matter for the Dubs. The first quarter saw eight players contributing on the scoreboard including Andre Iguodala, who added three baskets from long range. The team was taking one big step-up together to make up for Curry’s absence.
Houston went into this game with a different mindset to that of Game 1, opening the game with an extra tall on the court in Donatas Montiejunas. This worked for the Rockets early on offense as Montiejunas added some early buckets, however, when it came to playing defense, they were still disjointed. The Warriors’ transition game, led by Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, made light work of the Houston defense.
Early foul trouble saw Thompson relegated to the bench halfway through the first term, but a few fouls couldn’t keep him down. Making up for his absent counterpart, the sharp-shooting Thompson went to work both inside and outside to pile on the points. The problem Houston had with Thompson was that they couldn’t match up on him. Beverley wanted to guard him, but he’s too small and overpowered on every play. The switch to Harden taking over the job opened up a whole series of problems. As has been known to happen all season, Harden failed to stay with the cutting Thompson through the paint leaving him wide open to nail down his shot.
“I don’t think Klay’s ever seen a shot he didn’t like” said Green post-game. “He’s going to take the shots that he likes, and in a game like this everyone thought Klay was going to come out and take 30 shots, but he took 20 shots only a couple more than he normally takes. Our focus wasn’t just to get Klay the ball, because number one it would just tire him out, and it’s easy for the defense to guard that. When he’s moving around like he was moving around, that’s when it’s tough to guard him. He did that for us tonight and he got to the hole a lot and stayed aggressive for us.” Thompson ended with a game high 34 and was a key to his teams offense.
One of the most under rated players in the league is Andre Iguodalda. Even though he was the Finals MVP for the Warriors last season, he embraces his role coming off the bench and being able to contribute for the team. At the half he told a sideline reporter that the game felt like a scrimmage, and with the way Golden State were playing, you couldn’t really argue with him. Iguodala’s playoffs experience proved to be valuable on the night as he finished the game with 18 points shooting 70% from the field, as well as finding his teammates on 3 assists.
When asked about his comments at halftime, Iguodala clarified what he meant by the game feeling like a scrimmage. “When we practice, on my team I’m the guy that shooting most of the shots. When we have scrimmages in practice we really get after it. We really try to make it game like so we can run our sets and get our timing right. So that mindset isn’t hard for me to switch because you practice like you should play right? There’s a perfect example.”
Green spoke about the next man up culture that the team has developed.
“We’ve relied on our depth all year. Not only when Steph’s out, when Steph’s playing we rely on our depth,” he said. “The number one reason for Andre coming off the bench last year was to provide more depth. Shaun, [Leandro] Barbosa, Festus [Ezeli], Mo [Speights], Rush. I think we’re the deepest team in the NBA and when Steph goes down that’s not easy to replace, so not one guys going to come out and do what Steph does for this team.
“We knew coming into this game that we had to rely on each other. Move the basketball, cut have a low turnover game and everyone bought into that and we did that tonight. It was kinda the same blueprint we use to beat them in Houston on New Year’s eve without Steph.”
Shaun Livingston had giant shoes to fill but the pressure didn’t phase him as he showed plenty of poise playing the point and running the Curry playbook like it was his own. He dropped points on the night, and thrived as he took his place as the target of Patrick Beverley’s defensive antics.
When asked what it’s like playing without Curry on the court Thompson joked, “It’s so much easier without him out there. He sags in the paint, he doesn’t move the ball, you know, just a very selfish teammate.
“I’m just kidding, he’s the exact opposite of that. It’s hard to fill that void obviously, no one is going to do it by themselves, we have to do it as a team and I’m mesmorized by Shaun Livingston, a started quality point guard. You can’t ask for a better backup in this league.”
Resting Curry early in this series proved to be the right decision for Golden State this time around. Putting their centerpiece at risk in a home game against a weak opponent could have backfired and cost him the rest of his season. Their star now has ample time to rest before Game 3 in Houston later in the week, and should be ready to rejoin his teammates on the floor.
Featured Image – WallpapersDC
Story Image – Warriors World