Maybe the Golden State Warriors’ 43-point victory on Monday night over the Philadelphia 76ers will lend a false sense of confidence. Or maybe it will give the Dubs the push they need to move back among the Western Conference’s elite again.
Either way, we’ll certainly see some indication as to which direction Golden State will take when the Miami Heat come to Oakland on Wednesday. But before looking ahead to that all-important matchup, let’s examine some takeaways from the Monday night action.
It seemed that actually playing the game was a mere formality given the 76ers’ recent struggles, which included a six-game losing streak that culminated with a 123-78 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. The Warriors fell a hair shy of matching that beatdown in their 123-80 win, but to simply win the game, let alone by a 43-point margin, had to be a relief for Warriors fans given the team’s recent mediocre play.
Indeed, heading into Monday’s game, Golden State was 6-8 following its 10-game winning streak earlier in the season, but that didn’t come into play. In fact, there was hardly ever any doubt regarding the outcome of the game.
The story was Marreese Speights, who came off the bench to score a career-high 32 points, though it was Speights’ impact when the game still had yet to be decided that proved to be his most valuable contribution.
When the 76ers closed the gap to six points with nine minutes remaining in the first half, Speights accounted for each of the Warriors’ next six field goals, including a pair of and-ones, a stretch that saw the Warriors go up by 16. Indeed, the Warriors power forward had 15 first-half minutes that he’ll never forget.
“There will be more to come,” Speights told sideline reporter Ric Bucher before heading into the locker room. With the Warriors’ nightly bench struggles seemingly guaranteed by now, an overachieving Speights would be just what the Dubs need in the second half.
After the Warriors went on that run, it was all downhill for Philadelphia from there. Golden State outscored the Sixers 37-12 in the second quarter, and at halftime, the Warriors held a 33-point edge thanks to a 9-of-14 performance from three-point range. (Conversely, the Sixers were a paltry 0-of-8.)
The statistics are pretty much off the charts across the board, but what really mattered in the overly decisive victory was Golden State’s impressive team play. Indeed, the Warriors epitomized the “team victory” on Monday night in a number of facets. Midway through the third quarter, Curry was the only starter to have a double-digit points total, and by the end of the game, 24 of the 43 team field goals came off assists. Additionally, six players scored in double figures and the highest scoring player (Speights) came off the bench.
Efficiency was also the name of the game on Monday night. Speights connected on 12 of his first 13 shots, finishing at 80 percent from the floor, and also was 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Continuing with the efficiency theme, Stephen Curry was also red-hot. The Warriors point guard was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first half, going for a torrid 15 points on six shots, and he finished with 23 points and eight assists in just 27 minutes.
The bright spots were few and far between for the Sixers, but as Warriors color commentator Jim Barnett noted, rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has the chance to become the first Rookie of the Year drafted outside of the top 10 since now-Dubs coach Mark Jackson in 1987-88, and he showed why in his team’s loss. Carter-Williams had a team-high 24 points with respectable efficiency (8-of-18).
It was a convincing and even somewhat depressingly dominant victory for the Warriors, who never trailed in the game. But the real test comes Wednesday night when the Heat roll into ORACLE Arena. In case you forgot, the Warriors beat the Heat in Miami earlier this season, so you can bet LeBron James and Co. won’t exactly take this game lightly.
Perhaps one of the most promising signs from Monday’s game was the defensive dominance of Andre Iguodala, which we haven’t seen as much of lately. But Iggy recorded two first-half steals and blocks while helping to hold Evan Turner to two first-half field goals and limiting the Sixers as a team to 31.8 percent shooting in the half. (They finished at 36.7 percent.)
Iguodala’s defensive improvement comes at an opportune time because he’ll be tasked with the unenviable assignment of stopping James. That means his strong defense on Monday, albeit against a team with the polar opposite ability level as the Heat, was nevertheless a promising tune-up for Wednesday.
The result of the game won’t be decided before tip-off, as was essentially the case on Monday night, but you can be sure that there will be plenty of excitement. We’ll see whether the confidence gained from Monday’s win was too much, or just the right amount.