3 key reactions from Klay Thompson, Warriors’ hard-fought win over Pelicans

The Golden State Warriors finished a five-game home stand undefeated by holding off the New Orleans Pelicans for a 108-99 victory. Here are three key reactions—with related film and analysis, of course—from another pivotal Dubs win as the stretch run of the regular season continues.

Klay Thompson
, Golden State’s alpha dog

Thompson definitely isn’t an all-time wing playmaker like Luka Doncic or LeBron James. He lacks the off-dribble wiggle and inevitable physicality of Kawhi Leonard. Even Brandon Ingram is better suited to getting his own shot or creating one for his teammates in pick-and-roll at the top of the floor.

But Steve Kerr recently challenged Thompson to expand the breadth of his game as he gets older. On Friday night, that meant embracing his inner ball-handling alpha dog when the Warriors needed him most.

Struggling to find any flow offensively throughout a hotly contested fourth quarter, Thompson re-entered with 4:16 left and his team trailing 93-92. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of Jordan Poole or Draymond Green and having one of basketball’s best ever movement shooters sprint off screens, though, Kerr simply put the ball in Thompson’s hands at the top of the floor.

His ridiculous pull-up three right in C.J. McCollum’s face gave Golden State the lead, and Thompson’s fading elbow jumper over the Pelicans guard put the Warriors up six with just over a minute and-a-half left—cinching a victory barring a major collapse.

Awesome. Those aren’t shots Thompson was making earlier in the season. That type of self-creation almost seems routine for the 33-year-old given what he’s done the last few weeks.

But what’s really made the difference for Thompson on the Dubs’ season-changing five-game win streak is his near-constant devotion to making the right play—whether it’s for himself or his teammates.

Once again taking an on-ball screen from Poole to target McCollum, on the trip after his go-ahead three, this time Thompson drives right, getting some separation off a sly hesitation dribble. Herb Jones is there to contest a quick pull-up or tough runner, so Thompson kicks the ball out to Poole on the left wing.

With the defense scrambling after Thompson drew multiple defenders, Poole makes the extra pass toward Donte DiVincenzo for a crucial, wide-open three, his first bucket of the game.

Thompson finished with four assists against the Pelicans, not getting statistical credit on the play above. He also hoisted just three shots in the second half of Golden State’s win over the Clippers, taking a backseat to Poole while trusting the pass. Thompson doled out four assists versus LA, Portland and the Minnesota Timberwolves, too.

Klay will always be at his true best as an off-ball mover and floor-spacer. But he’s helped rescue the Warriors’ season by shouldering additional ball handling duties with Curry sidelined, never forcing the issue and consistently seeking the pass when defenses converge on him.

Here’s hoping Golden State continues tapping into this part of Thompson’s still-evolving game once the team is back at full-strength, affording the offense yet another dangerous layer of dynamism.

The Warriors’ box-and-one is here to stay

The Warriors home stand turned on their full-fledged commitment to playing box-and-one on Damian Lillard in the second half of Tuesday’s comeback win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Kerr pulled that lever again on a handful of occasions against the Clippers, siccing Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The box-and-one didn’t have quite the dramatic effect it did versus the short-handed Blazers, but still played a part in the Clippers’ inability to manage any semblance of offensive rhythm in the halfcourt.

Why not try it again with the Pelicans at Chase Center, especially given the absences of Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas? Golden State busted out the box-and-one on Friday more frequently than it did 24 hours earlier, mixing it in with man-to-man and 1-2-2 zone depending on personnel and whether the defense was being set off a make or a miss.

Junk defenses won’t always yield a stop. The first two possessions of the Warriors box-and-one against New Orleans resulted in five quick points for Naji Marshall. Rest assured, though, that Kerr and the coaching staff will live with a 31% three-point shooter launching a semi-contested wing triple, and pretty much anyone deciding to put up a Euro-step runner from 15 feet.

There’s a reason Kerr didn’t scrap the box-and-one after Marshall’s mini run. Both those possessions represent positive process for the Dubs, and not just because an offensively limited role player like Marshall was the one forced to shoot. More importantly, the Pelicans didn’t exactly seem to have a real plan with Brandon Ingram being hounded by Kuminga.

What can’t happen in the box-and-one are breakdowns that leave the most threatening other offensive players alone in spots they’re most comfortable.

On this possession from midway through the second quarter, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole try to get back to their initial positions in the box-and-one as Moses Moody hugs C.J. McCollum. Poole loses his head while navigating toward the perimeter, though, needlessly closing out to Herb Jones, basically a non-shooter, on the left wing.

You can tell the Warriors know exactly what’s coming next from Trey Murphy, a true marksman. At least Poole immediately recognized his mistake, right?

Expect Golden State to continue playing box-and-one throughout the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Green and Kevon Looney are uniquely equipped to defend additional space on the backline due to their awesome blends of length, anticipation and short-area quickness. Gary Payton II could absolutely thrive in the box if he’s not chasing stars; the same goes for Andre Iguodala. Going box-and-one or zone will help protect Curry from being targeted, too.

Can the Warriors rely on junk defenses for sustained success against top-level competition? Probably not. But even the best teams play bench units featuring players that can be exploited by the box-and-one, and it’s always a useful way to throw off superstar playmakers for a few random possessions.

Jonathan Kuminga, impact cutter

His stellar isolation defense, increasing comfort as a standstill three-point shooter and tantalizing shot-creation chops point to the All-Star ceiling Golden State sees in Kuminga. Those attributes will loom large on the Warriors’ quest for back-to-back titles, as well.

Kuminga just finished a back-to-back in which his primary defensive assignments were Kawhi Leonard and Brandon Ingram. Think he could come in handy in a potential Finals rematch against Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and the Boston Celtics, for instance? The new-look Dallas Mavericks have a couple elite-level ball handlers, too.

But impact one-on-one defense, threatening off-ball shooting and natural two-point shot-creation have been baked into the analysis of Kuminga’s burgeoning all-around game for a while now. Less attention-grabbing is his growing influence as a cutter, on full display throughout Friday’s game.

These cuts come right as Kuminga’s defender turns his head, giving one of the most explosive athletes in the league an unencumbered head of steam to the rim. Don’t forget that he’s also a quality off-hand finisher.

But Kuminga’s real highlight off a cut won’t be logged in the box score or advanced tracking data as a cut at all.

Sensing Poole is in trouble having picked up his dribble while attacking Hayes, a very good switch defender, Kuminga once again races to the rim when Ingram starts to ball-watch. Instead of finding him on a perfectly timed cut, though, Poole decides to force up a reverse pivot, lefty push shot over length.

He made the wrong decision, but the aggressiveness with which Kuminga cut ensured it didn’t matter.

Kuminga’s steady growth since late November is the Warriors’ unmitigated success story of 2022-23. Even if his usage scales back a bit upon the return of Curry and Andrew Wiggins, the 20-year-old is fully equipped to make his presence felt offensively regardless as a halfcourt cutter and transition finisher.

With Curry back in the fold, in fact, drawing full attention of five defenders, it should be even easier for Kuminga to wreak havoc diving to the rim away from the ball. Keep your eye on that come the reigning Finals MVP’s return on Sunday at the Los Angeles Lakers.

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