When a team is missing its superstars, you settle for peeks if not full periods. The Warriors cannot hang with many NBA teams, and the Grizzlies, who’ve won five straight, are in that class.
But for two quarters, Golden State found quite a bit to take pride in.
The third quarter went south quickly, a one-point game becoming a 20-point game in a 122-102 Warriors loss Sunday in Memphis, dropping their eighth straight and keeping pace with the Hawks (8-32), who own a half-game “advantage” for the worst record in the NBA.
The Warriors (9-32) were down 60-59 after an impressive half, in which they shot 10-of-16 from 3. They were outrebounded, but shooting by D’Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman and Jordan Poole — really — helped compensate for the talent and size difference.
When the second half hit, Jonas Valanciunas made it known he was the best player on a court that featured Russell, Draymond Green and Ja Morant. The big man finished with 31 points and 19 rebounds — nine offensive — and became the piece the Warriors had no answer for.
That’s an issue for a team who went with its possibly new starting center for a second straight game.
Center of attention
Spellman has earned more minutes and is getting them, making his second straight start. While the 22-year-old shot well, he was not an answer for Valanciunas, who had a double-double at the half and only poured it on from there. Spellman was giving up about 4 inches in the matchup, and the Grizzlies could do as they wanted.
That only got worse for the Warriors when Alen Smailagic entered briefly into the game in the second, when Memphis attacked each possession. After six quick Valanciunas points in three short Smailagic minutes, Steve Kerr subbed him back out.
Spellman, meanwhile, excelled on offense, sticking by the 3-point arc and combining several times on picks-and-rolls with Russell, in which Valanciunas did not range out. Spellman went 3-for-6 — including 3-of-3 from 3 — for 12 points.
Willie Cauley-Stein was bumped for Spellman and did a better job on Valanciunas, but his offensive game was lacking. He finished 0-for-5, including a few gimmes, with just one point.
D'Angelo Russell over JJJ AGAIN pic.twitter.com/CuG7JxZxYP
— Chris Montano (@gswchris) January 13, 2020
In his first tilt back since missing six straight, Russell needed one quarter to shake off the rust. But that was all.
After a quiet first quarter in which the point guard was 0-for-2 with one point, he exploded in the second and kept the momentum going in the second half. Russell finished with 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting, frequently abusing Valanciunas on those picks-and-rolls.
He was deadly from 3 but also frequently found his way into the paint, reminding just how different these Warriors look with him at their helm. The Warriors lost every game he sat out during this stretch without a go-to guy willing and able to hit the big shot. Those big shots weren’t going to come in Memphis — especially after a 35-17 third quarter — but when they do, the Warriors have their star.
Poole makes a splash
💦 + 1️⃣
Jordan Poole game?! 🧐 pic.twitter.com/E5oRqe7BAk
— Warriors Brasil (@warriors_bra) January 12, 2020
Quietly, Poole may have played his best NBA game in his fifth appearance back after his G League stint.
The oft-struggling rookie has not looked overwhelmed as much as “off” for so much of this season, playing within the flow of the offense, not a liability on defense, but shots refusing to fall. He entered shooting just 26 percent from the field, which will improve after Sunday’s effort.
Poole, in 27 minutes, shot 4-of-11 but 4-of-9 from beyond the arc, finishing with 13 points and a single turnover. He knocked down his only free throw and grabbed three rebounds while chipping in two assists.
He contributed to the Warriors, which has not happened often this year. He knocked down an early first-quarter trey from the corner, then ventured to the top of the arc, came off a Cauley-Stein pick and got hit while he shot — swishing the 3 and converting the four-point play.
Stints in Santa Cruz are never easy, but this is why they exist.