Warriors' bench confronts tough challenge: Road effectiveness

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Warriors will need more bench production to succeed on road originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

When the Warriors face perhaps the toughest opponent they will see this season Tuesday in Brooklyn, they’re going to need their revivified slogan to ring true.

Strength in numbers.

Yes, that means a more productive bench than that which failed them on Sunday at Charlotte.

The Warriors missed 30 3-pointers, maybe half of them open, while losing to the Hornets on Sunday in Charlotte. That’s fate. The Hornets defended Stephen Curry about as well as any team ever has, and they deserve credit for that, just as Andrew Wiggins must be credited for contributing 32 minutes of sheer excellence, only to have it eclipsed by the result.

One could even blame turnovers, which prevented the Warriors from establishing rhythm in the first half that might have carried momentum into the second half.

But the factor that played perhaps the biggest role in the loss that ended Golden State’s seven-game win streak was the absence of potency from the bench. “Strength in Numbers,” so apt through the first 12 games, took the night off.

It happens. It was predictable in this instance, as the Warriors had completed a successful eight-game homestand and were on the road for the first time in two weeks. One of the many NBA’s truisms is that bench players typically are more effective at home.

Aside from Gary Payton II (five points, seven rebounds, two steals in 15 minutes) and rookie Jonathan Kuminga (nine points, five rebounds, two steals in 10 minutes), the bench looked out of sorts, out of sync and out of whatever they were using to light up the scoreboard at Chase Center.

Reserve forward/center Nemanja Bjelica, so good during the homestand, had two points, with more turnovers (two) than made field goals (0-of-4). He was minus-5 in 10 minutes. Reserve guard Damion Lee, who missed the last two games with hip soreness, had a bunch of open looks but couldn’t convert. He was 2-of-10 from the field in 15 minutes.  

“He looked rusty,” coach Steve Kerr conceded. “He had some good looks in the first half that didn’t go.”

Even Andre Iguodala, usually able to stabilize the second unit and prod it toward production, had a forgettable night. He was minus-11 over 25 minutes.

Eleven days after crushing the Hornets by 22 and winning the bench battle 42-11, the Warriors lost the game by four in Charlotte and lost the bench battle by eight (28-20). They shot 33.3 percent (8-fo-24).

“The first game of a road trip is often like that,” Kerr said. “You fly across country, you’re in a different gym, a different environment. Shots don’t go in. It’s just the way it is.”

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This was the second time this season that the opposing bench outscored that of Golden State. The Kings posted a 34-32 bench victory on Oct. 24 in Sacramento. The Warriors over the next nine games outscored opponents 365-268 from the bench, a 40.6-29.8 advantage.

The Warriors were bound to cool off. The marvelous early-season scoring efficiency, particularly by Otto Porter Jr., Lee and Bjelica was not sustainable. What might be sustainable, and needs to be for the team to stay at or near the top of the Western Conference, is remaining among the top five for field-goal percentage, rebounding and scoring.

Their ranks in those categories entering Charlotte were third in field-goal percentage, first in rebounding and fifth in points. There is no doubt that having played nine of 12 games at home was a factor.

Now it’s time to see if they can take some of that production and efficiency on the road. The next test is at Brooklyn, followed by a surprising good Cleveland team on Thursday and Detroit on Friday.

Bench production will be one of the keys to the season. To have any chance of beating the NBA’s elite, at least some of that goodness must be able to travel.

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