OAKLAND, Calif. -- As Klay Thompson rested, the Golden State Warriors held off the Miami Heat 107-95. They trudged languidly through the first half before getting serious. It was a familiar approach to lottery-bound foes.
Tuesday was a slightly different spin on a well worn tale, due to the necessary lineup changes. Usually Kevin Durant's minutes are staggered against Stephen Curry's. This game, their minutes were roughly matched, as were their games, as the two found some success in the pick-and-roll. The defense was (eventually) shored up by Draymond Green, who replaced Durant's spot in the extra long bench rotation. So, the details changed, but the rhythm remained.
Though the Warriors' lead whittled down to five with half a quarter remaining, the game never really threatened to get away from the home team. It was close, but it was fake close. The Warriors probably lead the league in fake close games this season. They keep the opponent at bay through a few quarters, until boredom gives way to urgency. Golden State jogs at its opponent's pace until it's time to sprint.
Before the sprint, Hassan Whiteside was running roughshod in the paint (Whiteside finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds, generating a few highlight plays). Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic were purposely attacking the rim, to little resistance.
Meanwhile, Golden State's offense could not get on track. "I rushed five shots," Durant said of the rough beginning. "My first five shots were terrible looks, I [was] just throwing the ball up there. It was just bad to watch I'm sure. I just settled in and told myself, 'I don't have to make up for Klay being out.' "
Perhaps it was attributable to Thompson's absence, but the Warriors starters began flat. Thompson was replaced in the lineup by rookie Patrick McCaw, who, this season, has played, well, like a rookie. McCaw showed great promise in summer league and preseason but has struggled to hold a spot in Golden State's rotation. He needs opportunities to find his game, but it has been difficult for McCaw to get more trial minutes amid Ian Clark's breakout season.
Tuesday was a microcosm of the Warriors' seasons so far. McCaw shot only three times, perhaps playing unselfishly to a fault among his his All-Star teammates. The sharp-shooting Clark found his attempts (10 points on nine of them), and the Warriors were plus-15 in his 22 minutes of run.
Of Clark's growth, teammate and quasi-coach Andre Iguodala said, "You know, it's Year 2 for him here and you always say Year 2 is the year you kind of take off, especially in our system. You know the movements. You know how the chain of reaction should be for yourself, and for others, so everything's flowing. So you see him do a lot of back cuts this year. And when he's not doing the back cuts, he's taking his man out of the play, which opens it up for someone else. That's the next level."
Speaking of shooting, Curry let it fly, with mixed results (24 points on 21 shots). Though a few attempts rattled in and out, it's encouraging for Golden State to see Curry draining a 31-footer, and generally approaching the game with more aggression. He finished with nine assists, eight rebounds and a not coincidental team high plus-18.
He had some help, as this game was largely decided by third-quarter defense, a period in which the Heat shot 5-of-20. Golden State seized the game right there, then slackened, then firmed up. True to the pattern.
Durant had another coolly efficient game (28 points, 21 shots, eight rebounds). Again, Green played wonderful defense, Zaza Pachulia continues to play well, getting comfortable enough to loft a couple of jumpers (he made one). Iguodala, David West and Shaun Livingston continue to play patient, intelligent basketball.
In other words, even without Thompson, it was another Warriors game. As Thompson rested, so did the Warriors -- but only for a couple of quarters.