Don’t look now, but the shorthanded Golden State Warriors have won six out of their last eight games, punctuated with a thrilling 107-96 victory over the similarly shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers.
The last time these two teams played, Philly won with All-Stars Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris available but were without their monstrous center Joel Embiid. Meanwhile that game the Warriors didn’t have either Splash Bro, with Klay Thompson out for the season and Stephen Curry fresh off that bad tailbone injury he suffered in Houston. Embiid and Curry were on the court for last night’s battle, but Simmons (illness) and Harris (aching knee) missed out.
Despite three All-Stars missing the game, there was still plenty of starpower on display last night, thanks to box-score stuffing performances from Curry and Embiid.
Steph Curry is box office
The 76ers started off with a dominating 12-0 run, punctuated by Curry coughing up one of his dreaded lefty behind-the-back turnovers to his little brother Seth, who gleefully skipped the other way for a layup. After the tough loss to Boston the game before and the injury woes that plague this team, it felt like another rough night in the making.
But that’s when Steph Curry decided enough was enough. He erupted again, going for 49 points and 5 assists on 14-of-28 shooting (10-of-17 from 3PT range).
Two highlights from that clip I can’t get out of my head:
The buzzer beating bomb Curry unleashed on his little brother Seth to end the first quarter. That sequence was pure magic and probably reminded the Curry family of so many brotherly battles from times past. Seth was all over Steph, but that didn’t stop big bro from ethering him from 25 feet.
Curry cooking Embiid to go up 49-46 at the 3:05 mark. The two-time MVP had Embiid dead on his feet after a nasty head fake. That subsequent pretty layup punctuated a sequence so stupefying that it had announcers Mike Breen snickering and Doris Burke laughing on the national TV broadcast. And Embiid is a defensive player of the year candidate!
Think about all the anxiety Dub Nation has suffered after Curry’s severe tailbone injury on St. Patrick’s Day. The Dubs stumbled to an 8-9 record since, with two losing streaks of three games or more. But with Curry on the court they’re 7-4 over that same span. His presence vaults this team from bottom feeder to We Believe 2.0 territory.
Sixers’ behemoth Joel Embiid has been destroying the league and is in the thick of the MVP race himself. With no James Wiseman or Marquese Chriss available to be a some sort of a shotblocking deterrent, I was quite nervous about Golden State’s ability to keep Embiid from going Hulk Smash on their defense.
But the Warriors proved they had the personnel and the discipline to keep Embiid from bullying his way to a W. The 7-foot, 280 pound giant tallied a fantastic statline of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, but did most of his damage from the free throw line (11-of-14 from the charity stripe). He was shackled to 8-of-21 shooting from the field, thanks to Kevon Looney and Draymond Green forcing him to catch it far away enough from the rim that help could swarm in like the Agent Smith’s in the Matrix.
Look how far away from the basket Embiid catches the rock here:
Two dribbles later he’s pushed Looney into the paint, but Looney has enough body positioning to keep Embiid from just ripping through him for a quick dunk. Meanwhile Looney’s bought just enough time for Wiggins to sprint down and provide help.
RUH ROH. Here Embiid tries to power up through the length of these two stellar defenders and even adds a loud scream to bait the ref into calling a foul. No sir, a clean block results from the play and the Warriors were off to the races.
Wash, rinse, and repeat. Embiid never could get into the rhythm we’ve seen him use to stomp the rest of the NBA. It’s a credit to Green and Looney’s grit and intelligence that despite being undersized they can keep elite bigs from ripping the Warriors apart. Green was a +15 plus/minus in his 31 minutes, tallying 8 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
Looney had a career high 15 rebounds in this test, showcasing the veteran savvy and unselfish effort that makes him so valuable to this organization. The next time somebody asks who the Warriors developed after they drafted the Big 3, make sure you mention Looney’s name. He’s a real keeper.
Oubre needs to hit ‘em with his best shot
Judging from the comments here at LGW and on social media, Andrew Wiggins appears to have finally won over Dub Nation with his consistent productivity and tenacious defense. His 16-point, 10-rebound double-double last night was just the most recent piece of evidence that he’s found the perfect role in Golden State. Wiggins Island is BOOMING, baby!
But his teammate and fellow wing Kelly Oubre Jr. is having an up-and-down season that has everyone guessing on the best role for him now as the playoffs loom. His return from injury last night off the bench gave us our first look at what 6th man Oubre looks like, which is important since if he’s retained there’s a good chance he’ll be backing up Wiggins and Thompson next season.
Defensively, I like the cut of his jib. When he’s on the court the Dubs can really play around with gambling and recovering their rotations. He’s long and athletic, with the quick burst to close out and harass shooters. Last night the 76ers shot 1-for-6 from the field with 2 turnovers when defended by Oubre.
I wonder if his scoring will be enough to keep defenses honest. Last night he was 2-of-6 and missed all three of his shots outside the paint. Now, we know it was his first appearance after a five game absence so I shan’t nitpick. But taking a look at his shot attempts by zone over the season, it’s clear he’s most consistent right at the rim and in the corners. Per NBA.com:
Curry and Wiggins convert a lot of those shots in between the mid-range and the rim; Oubre isn’t as consistent. Just for kicks I checked some non-RA paint shots for three players from the 2019 “supervillians” team, aka the last time Klay Thompson was healthy.
Shaun Livingston 35-of-69 50.7%
Kevin Durant 123-of-250 49.2%
Klay Thompson 60-of-150 42.9%
Nobody’s expecting “Tsunami Papi” to replace a Splash Bro, but he has to find ways to help out an offense that can bog down in non-Curry minutes. Oubre’s development with this team will be a fascinating subplot to watch for down the stretch. If he’s able to find his niche as the games get more pressurized, the Warriors could absolutely knock off team in the first round.