SAN FRANCISCO — Despite another jagged offensive performance against another tall, disruptive group of defenders, the Golden State Warriors had possession on the move with a sliver of momentum to open the fourth quarter. They trimmed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ lead from 16 to 11. They had an opportunity to cut it in half in under two minutes.
Klay Thompson went hunting for it. He grabbed an outlet pass from Dario Šarić with 10:09 on the fourth-quarter clock and stepped into a deep transition 3 only three seconds later, rising against a sagging Kyle Anderson with Minnesota’s defensive rebounders back. It was an all-or-nothing choice.
Thompson came up empty. The Timberwolves pushed the miss into the frontcourt and Rudy Gobert made a layup at the 9:53 mark. What could’ve only been an eight-point Warriors deficit was back to 13.
The next time down, the Warriors operated with more patience. They ran a set that materialized into a collapsed Minnesota defense around Curry, leading to a spray pass to a wide-open Thompson on the wing, bouncing into a catch-and-shoot look he’s buried countless times in the past decade.
Thompson back rims it. Mike Conley scoops the rebound and hits it ahead. Anderson strides into a transition layup four seconds later. It was another five-point swing. Minnesota’s lead spiked back to 15. This was one of the swing sequences that allowed the Timberwolves to hold on for a 116-110 win.
Among the most shocking Warriors stats a few weeks into the season: Nobody on the team besides Steph Curry has scored more than 20 points in a game. Šarić reached exactly 20 in Oklahoma City. Thompson’s season high is 19. Andrew Wiggins’ is 17. Chris Paul’s is 17.
“We need some scoring and playmaking from elsewhere (besides Curry),” coach Steve Kerr said.
“Well, that’s not very good,” Thompson said of the drought.
Wiggins is a career 19 points-per-game scorer who once averaged 23.6 per game for a full season. He opened last regular season healthy and went 20, 23, 24 right out of the gate. He made at least one 3 in the first 22 games and made eight 3s in the 22nd game, scoring 36 points before injuring his groin against the Houston Rockets. He was a potent secondary scoring option next to Curry.
That has been far from the case to open this season. Here are his point totals: 10, 11, 13, 9, 14, 17, 8, 4, 11, 13, 6. He hasn’t made a 3 in seven games and is yet to hit two 3s in any of the 11 games. He’s 4 of 26 from deep and 50 percent at the free-throw line, failing to punish defenses for overplaying against Curry. Traditionally fierce against his former teams, Wiggins finished with a quiet six Sunday.
Thompson has been the more aggressive potential second option. He’s at least taking 14 shots and more than seven 3s per game. But the big night has eluded him and the bad night found him on both Saturday and Sunday. He went 5-of-16 shooting on consecutive days, capping an ineffective loss to the Timberwolves with this wide-open missed layup in transition at a key moment of the fourth quarter.
This was rough pic.twitter.com/4drNqM3uGN
— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) November 13, 2023
Thompson started slowly last season and has a history of limping out of the block before detonating, doing so with 11 3s in Houston last November. He averaged 21.9 points overall last season and, in January and February, had two of the better-scoring months of his career.
So this slump can’t be attributed to his post-injury form, considering what he has recently put on film. He led the NBA in made 3s last season. For this Warriors offense to avoid drowning, he must have big shooting nights. It’s how this team is built. If he hits some of those open 3s on Sunday it’s a different game.
“I feel great,” Thompson said. “Well, I don’t feel great right now because we lost three in a row. But I feel great physically.”
The confidence remains high.
“Oh, yeah,” Thompson said. “If history shows us anything, it’s most definitely coming. What’s the point of panicking and pressing? I’ve been through this more than a decade. It’s hard. Basketball is hard. I’m not going to lose faith or confidence. One thing I’ve proved is the resiliency within me. I’ll come back and have a great month. First 10 games I didn’t shoot it as I’m capable, so the next 10 games I’ll be lights out.”
The problems are deeper than Wiggins and Thompson. Jonathan Kuminga was the NBA’s best scorer in the preseason but has found the sledding tougher to open his third season. He went 2-of-11 shooting against the Timberwolves and is making only 38.8 percent of his shots through 10 games. Paul only scored two points against Minnesota and can’t seem to find his jumper consistently.
Then there’s the spacing problem with both Draymond Green and Kevon Looney out there. It was clear to open the first quarter against the bigger Timberwolves. It allowed Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns to sag in the paint without punishment, leading to three early Green attempts from 3 and possessions like the one below.
The clip begins with Green up top, trying to free Curry on a dribble handoff. Minnesota chases Curry over the top and has Gobert waiting with a double, not fearing the pitch back to Green and attack. That’s exactly where the possession goes. Green wanders into Gobert and is forced to kick it back out. The ball finds Looney, who drives into a backpedaling Towns and gets his shot erased by Gobert.
“We drove into traffic too much without a plan,” Green said. “We’re forcing shots or jumping and turning the ball over. So I think we have to do a better job of spacing the floor. And if the floor is spaced, then you can exploit their weaknesses.”
The Warriors will get another chance against the same team Tuesday. The rematch will be attached to some added In-Season Tournament stakes. The spotlight will remain on Wiggins and Thompson to see if they can bust out of a slump and if the offense can collectively solve some of its deeper-rooted issues against bigger, longer defenses like Minnesota’s, which entered as the league’s best unit.
Draymond Green: “When you playing well, players get the credit…when you playing bad, players gotta take the blame as well.” pic.twitter.com/EbaRWu6qNx
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 13, 2023
(Photo of Andrew Wiggins: Kelley L Cox / USA Today)