MINNEAPOLIS — One day after the players got time off on New Year’s Day, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr warned Thursday felt like a “sleepy day.”
The Warriors lacked energy through most of their 99-84 loss to the Timberwolves at Target Center, briefly showing signs of life before turning in the third-fewest point total of the season.
After flying into snowy and overcast Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon, Golden State (9-27) was down two key starters, slow to close out on shooters and struggled to make routine passes in its third straight loss. The result was a feeble offensive output, as the Warriors made just three 3-pointers to the Timberwolves’ 10.
In the last three minutes of the first quarter, Timberwolves rookie center Naz Reid hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give Minnesota (13-21) a 12-point lead, triggering Warriors forward Draymond Green to slam the ball in frustration and Steve Kerr to call a timeout.
Without Willie Cauley-Stein (flu-like symptoms) and D’Angelo Russell (right shoulder bruise) to push the offense forward, the Warriors’ ball movement was stagnant.
“Last game we passed the ball a little bit more with energy and flow, and we didn’t really get to that in the first half,” forward Glenn Robinson III said after the Warriors committed nine turnovers and 11 personal fouls in the first half. “I thought our flow was just a little bit off.”
Forward Kelan Martin’s free throws extended Minnesota’s lead to 22 points — their largest of the game — with 3:09 left in the second quarter.
“Every game we have to come out with a sense of urgency and a sense of fight,” guard Damion Lee said. “We had some miscommunications, we had some defensive breakdowns.”
The Warriors staged a lukewarm comeback when they outscored the Timberwolves 26-23 in the third quarter and, by the start of the fourth quarter, the Warriors were within 10 points.
That led to the loudest moment of the game, when forward Omari Spellman (10 points on 3-for-4 shooting and five rebounds) dunked over Timberwolves forward Jordan Bell. Spellman’s right-handed slam, punctuated by a wide-mouthed yell toward the bench, cut the deficit to nine with 8:23 remaining.
It would be as close as Golden State got, as Minnesota outscored Golden State 16-10 in the final minutes to clinch their win.
Robinson led the Warriors with 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting (1-for-3 from 3-point range) and rookie Eric Paschall chipped in 13 points on 6-for-13 shooting and seven rebounds.
With their morale-boosting four-game win streak gone with 2019, the Warriors will return from their two-game trip to San Francisco and face the Pistons on Saturday.
A few more thoughts…
1. Alen Smailagic, getting better: In was the best game of the 19-year-old rookie’s short career, Smailagic came off the bench for the fourth straight game and posted nine points, four rebounds, one assist a team-best plus-nine in 16 impactful minutes.
Teammates and coaches have raved about his ability to ask questions and pick up concepts, but this is someone still learning the playbook after missing nearly two months with a sprained ankle and, only two years ago, was playing in a semiprofessional league in Serbia.
“That’s thing about Smiley,” Paschall said. “He’s still getting his feel for the NBA game. Speed is a lot different.”
Even if he’s still getting used to the NBA game, he flashes the feel and ball skills that make him Golden State’s most intriguing long-term project.
Playmaker Smiley pic.twitter.com/IJ9IuDHGm5
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 3, 2020
It may be a while before Smailagic is playing meaningful minutes consistently — the Warriors have thrown him into the rotation while dealing with injuries to Spellman, Paschall, Kevon Looney (abdominal soreness) and Cauley-Stein — but he’s made the most of his time. As Green said the other day, he’s making Kerr give him more minutes.
“He’s getting thrown into it,” Lee said. “He still has to pick up on new things that we’ve been implementing, things that he hasn’t done yet, so he’s been doing that. It’s good to see him out here and see him reaping the benefits of that.”
2. Draymond Green load management: One win in a game that was clearly lost early was that it provided an opportunity for Draymond Green to get some rest.
Coming into the game, Green had logged 30-plus minutes in five of the last six games. With the Warriors winning four of those games, he had good reason to do so. But, as Golden State comes back to earth, they can dust off Green’s load management file. His 29.6 minute per game average would be the lowest since his second season.
3. January’s key dates: With the first game of the new year in the books, the Warriors face some important milestones this month.
Jan. 5: 10-day contracts can be signed
Jan. 10: Marquese Chriss guaranteed for the season
Jan. 15: Last day to sign Two-Way contracts
In three days, the Warriors will be able to begin signing players to 10-day contracts. Why does that matter for a team that is hard-capped? Because, as The Athletic’s John Hollinger points out, if Lee or Ky Bowman use up the remaining days allowed under their two-way contracts, the Warriors could release them from their two-way contracts and sign them to two 10-day deals. Of course, either of them could decide to sign elsewhere, so that would be a last-resort for Golden State.
The NBA’s trade deadline is on Feb. 6, but Golden State’s is earlier. If the Warriors manage to free up cap space to promote Lee or Bowman to the 15-man roster and want to backfill the open two-way spots, they’ll need to do so before Jan. 15 — the last day they can sign players to two-way contracts.