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3 takeaways as Warriors shift late-game strategy in win over Toronto



© D. Ross Cameron | 2023 Jan 27

In a tightly contested game in which the first double-digit lead came with 1:17 left, the Warriors pulled away late for an encouraging victory over the Raptors in the Chase Center. 

Jonathan Kuminga canned four 3-pointers with an energy shock third quarter, and Stephen Curry, fresh off his ninth career All-Star selection, dropped 35 points and 11 assists. 

Donte DiVincenzo added a career-high 11 assists, earning his 33 minutes off the bench.

With a new crunch time strategy and a focus on attacking — Golden State scored 62 points in the paint — the Warriors (25-24) bested Toronto 129-117.

Here are three takeaways from GSW’s second straight win. 

A new closing strategy

The Warriors’ late-game struggles have been well documented. They’ve blown late leads against Utah, Brooklyn and Boston, with head-scratching mistakes piling up. 

Steve Kerr is clearly intent on trying to avoid letting more games slip away. On Friday, he made a lineup tweak that suggests as much. 

Jordan Poole, whose late-game decision-making has bit Golden State several times, was glued to the bench for the final stretch against Toronto. Kerr went with a five of Curry, Klay Thompson, Donte DiVincenzo, Kevon Looney and Draymond Green. And when Looney fouled out, Kerr went with Jonathan Kuminga over Poole. 

Poole had the game winner Wednesday night against Memphis, but even then he made multiple mistakes that nearly cost GSW. His ill-advised 30-footer frustrated Curry to the brink of a $25,000 mouthguard toss. He nearly threw the ball out of bounds on a cross-court pass, and his dish to Thompson on the wing — that resulted in a clutch 3-pointer — slipped out of his fingers. 

Without Poole, the Warriors played more cleanly down the stretch. They kept Toronto at arm’s length and committed just one turnover in the last nine minutes. 

The Warriors are better defensively with Kuminga or DiVincenzo in Poole’s spot. They’re more sure-handed with the ball in Curry or Thompson’s hands. 

GSW won the fourth quarter by eight. Poole will surely get another chance at closing games, but his 24 minutes played — and lack of involvement late — signal a shift in trust. 

Steph Curry setting the tone 

Sometimes, it feels like Steph Curry eases into games — not in terms of effort, but more so in that he tries to get others involved early. That doesn’t always get the Warriors off on the right foot.

In the first quarter this year, Curry is averaging 7.8 points, tied for seventh in the NBA, on 5.3 field goal attempts. Overall, he’s averaging 29.3 points per game on 20 shots, meaning he statistically gets more involved as the game progresses. 

But Curry was in attack mode from the start against Toronto. He hit six of his first seven shots for 13 points — both well ahead of his season average pace. He routinely beat his defender off the dribble, feasting on a lackadaisical Toronto halfcourt effort. 

Twice Curry found himself wide open on back cuts because Raptors defenders were overplaying him off the ball. 

Getting Curry in rhythm early has major ripple effects. For the rest of the game, the defense gets distorted even more than usual. Other opportunities open up even more frequently for his teammates. 

And once he gets locked in, it feels more likely he does things like score 35 and control the game from start to finish. 

James Wiseman isn’t going to play any meaningful basketball this year 

James Wiseman is a sunk cost. The Warriors have no intention of playing the 2020 No. 2 overall pick in any basketball games that matter this season — his third since getting drafted. 

That fact was probably already clear before Friday. But if Golden State didn’t go to Wiseman against the Raptors, with a myriad of circumstances pointing to him, they essentially never will. At least not this season. 

Without Andrew Wiggins, who missed his second straight game with a non-COVID illness, the Warriors were already short one front court player. And that’s against the Raptors, one of the biggest and lankiest teams in the league, with players like Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young and Scottie Barnes. 

And then Kevon Looney, the Warriors’ stalwart center, picked up his fourth foul in the second quarter. Even then, Wiseman didn’t get a look. JaMychal Green and Jonathan Kuminga comprised GSW’s front court. 

At one point, Wiseman warmed up on a stationary bike. He isn’t on the injury report despite missing the past month with an ankle injury. He is, at least according to the team, healthy enough to play. 

He’s not good enough, though. In his 19 games, Wiseman’s minutes have been a catastrophe. The Warriors aren’t comfortable playing him, and there’s likely nothing that will change that. 

Wiseman is owed $12.5 million next year, a bill that basically triples given GSW’s luxury tax situation. Injuries and inexperience have plummeted his trade value, but there’s no reason to hold onto him while he’s burning a whole in ownership’s pockets. Pride shouldn’t prevent the franchise from trading him, even when his value is low, because his value to the current team is zero. Carrying zeroes when Stephen Curry’s prime may be dwindling is not the way to operate.