The Golden State Warriors are responsible for a great number of amazing stats and achievements this season, but one of the most impressive is that they still hold a chance to become the first team in NBA history not to lose two games in a row. Perhaps that's a suitable expectation when a team goes 62-7 to open a season, but it's also a big reason why the Warriors have often been able to persevere through tiredness, poor shooting nights, and all the other troubles that send perfectly good teams on losing streaks. They have the focus to avoid falling into sustained periods of difficulty.
Given those credentials, Monday's road game at the Minnesota Timberwolves seemed like a near-certain victory for Golden State. Saturday's offensively challenged loss to the San Antonio Spurs would have presumably inspired the team to play better, particularly given a tightened race at the top of the conference. Despite playing their third game in four nights (and 10th in 16), the Warriors had clear talent, experience, and urgency advantages over the Wolves. It wouldn't have been terribly surprising to see a blowout that allowed Stephen Curry to sit for the full fourth quarter.
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The result was anything but easy. Curry followed a rough game in San Antonio by shooting 2-of-9 from deep and 6-of-17 from the field, and Klay Thompson balanced making all five of his three-point attempts by going 0-of-12 on two-pointers. Minnesota stayed tight throughout and tied the score at 101-101 entering the final two minutes.
Yet that's when the Warriors confidence and experience took over. Draymond Green finished off a terrific night (24 points on 10-of-13 FG, nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks, three steals) with a game-tilting dunk and lay-up to allow Curry and Thompson to ice the win with four free throws in the closing 13 seconds. The 109-104 victory raises the Warriors' record to 63-7 and keeps hope alive that they can reach 73 wins before the end of the regular season.
That's not to say that the victory inspired much confidence. Golden State turned it over 13 times in the second half, shot 3-of-19 on three-pointers apart from Thompson, and committed several baffling fouls in crunch time, including a terrible one from Curry on a late Andrew Wiggins three-point attempt in a four-point game. Playing without both Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala for the second straight game (plus the long-term absence of Festus Ezeli) saw the team look tired and prone to mistakes. If not for the play of Green and the bench (which outscored the Wolves reserved 36-8), the Warriors likely would have lost against a surefire lottery participant on a night they could have taken advantage of the Spurs' own bad loss.
Then again, San Antonio's poor result against the Charlotte Hornets indicates that such games can happen to the best teams in the league no matter how solid they look before tip-off. It's equally easy to criticize the Warriors' performance as it is to celebrate their ability to win under iffy circumstances, and any consideration of this game needs to include both takes. There's no reason for serious concern, because the return of key rotation players and a kinder schedule should help them get back to peak performance. Playing nine of their final 12 games at Oracle Arena should help.
Meanwhile, the Wolves can leave this loss proud of their effort but aware that they have a long way to go to prove themselves against the best the league has to offer. They deserve credit for copying San Antonio's defensive strategy of regular defensive switches to bottle up Curry, just as Karl-Anthony Towns should be celebrated for exploiting his size advantage to put up 24 points (11-of-19 FG) and 11 rebounds.
At the same time, the bench's struggles prove that this team needs more players. Some poor shot selection in crunch time should also serve as a concern. For all the positive signs, the Wolves have made a habit of losing close games late against better teams. That's fine for such a young team, but previous incarnations of the roster have proven that those types of results do not necessarily turn into wins in future seasons. The next steps are clear, albeit challenging.
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