Steve Kerr’s decision to change the starting lineup paid off as the Warriors got out to an early lead and led wire-to-wire in their 130-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night at Chase Center.
With the previous starting lineup featuring rookie James Wiseman at center struggling, Kerr swapped Wiseman for Kevon Looney in the rotation. That lineup — consisting of Looney, Stephen Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green — blitzed a Minnesota team without D’Angelo Russell (quad) and Karl-Anthony Towns (health and safety protocol) and opened up a 16-point lead midway through the opening period.
“We got off to a really good start,” Kerr said. “That’s what I was hoping for.”
The change came after the Warriors’ starting lineup had been outscored by a combined 74 points over the last 12 games, and dropped their last two games by a combined 34 points. After Saturday’s loss to the Jazz, Kerr said, “We’ve got to assess everything.”
This led to inserting Looney into the starting lineup for Wiseman who, as a raw 19-year-old, had trouble defending consistently and screening effectively for Curry. In his five-plus seasons in Golden State, Looney has developed a timing with Curry, especially as a screener. This was made evident early, when Curry curled around a Looney screen and made his first 3-pointer of the game with 9:37 left in the first quarter.
Overall, the Warriors (9-8) outscored the Timberwolves (4-12) by 21 when Looney (two points on 1-for-4 shooting, five rebounds and four assists in 19 minutes) was on the floor.
“He’s been around, understands our defensive principles really well,” Curry said of Looney, “and played extremely well.”
The starting lineup change impacted the rest of the rotation. Coming off the bench, Wiseman played mostly against the Timberwolves’ bench and finished with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting and four rebounds.
In another rotation tweak, Kerr had 3-point specialist Mychal Mulder enter the game with Wiseman midway through the first quarter. This created a lineup many fans have been clamoring to see as a potential starting group: Wiseman and the core trio with a floor spacer. That group, however, was out-scored by seven points to end the first quarter.
Kent Bazemore, who usually played in Mulder’s minutes, slid to the second-unit platoon that included Brad Wanamaker, Damion Lee, Oubre and Eric Paschall and helped the Warriors extend their lead by two in the second period.
But Minnesota cut Golden State’s 19-point lead to eight midway through the fourth quarter when Looney and Curry checked back in. Looney immediately found Curry for a 3-pointer and set a screen on the next possession to set up Curry’s free throws that extended the Warriors’ lead to double-figures. Curry’s 3-pointer with 3:27 to go extended the lead to 18 and iced the game.
Curry finished with 36 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter.
Granted it came against a weak opponent without its top two players, but this was an encouraging launch for the Warriors’ new starting lineup. One of the reasons Kerr went with Looney in place of Wiseman was the belief that it would help Golden State get closer to its goal of becoming a top-10 defense. On Monday, the Warriors posted a defensive rating of 105.4 — which would rank second in the NBA.
Seeing as how the Warriors play the Timberwolves again on Wednesday, it’s safe to assume they’ll stick with this starting group — their fourth of the season — for a while.
“We’re trying to win games too, and so I have to figure out what that means,” Kerr said. “And all it meant tonight was let’s start Loon, let’s try to get off to a better start, flip their roles, and I think it worked out well. It doesn’t mean I’m going to do it the whole year, it just feels like what I should do right now.”
Below, more takeaways from the game.
WISEMAN VS. ANTHONY EDWARDS: Before the game, Kerr met with Wiseman to explain that he would no longer be starting and would be playing fewer minutes. Not considering garbage time, Wiseman played 12 minutes — about nine shy of his season average.
“Development doesn’t equal playing time, or vice versa,” Kerr said. “Development is something that’s tougher to define. Sometimes you can learn by observing.”
As always, Wiseman managed to have his teaching moments and moments that impress. Early in the game, Wiseman was late to rotate and got dunked on by rookie Anthony Edwards, who the Timberwolves selected instead of Wiseman with the No. 1 pick.
OH MY ANTHONY EDWARDS. pic.twitter.com/Rir2xUrwi7
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 26, 2021
Wiseman learned from that and, by his next stint in the third quarter, was ready to corral Edwards coming off a screen. As Edwards curled around Ed Davis, Wiseman got low in his stance, sealed off the lane and forced Edwards into a pass across his body that was picked off by Wiggins.
Wiggins gets the steal and slam pic.twitter.com/N4f8x2q9Tr
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 26, 2021
“Every night I think he’s developing,” Green said of Wiseman. “He’s a much better player than he was five, six weeks ago. He’s getting better each and every time he steps on the floor.
“He’s one of the most important players on this team,” Green continued, “regardless of when he comes in the game.”
WIGGINS VS. HIS FORMER TEAM: Playing against his former team for the first time since he was traded to Golden State last February, Wiggins finished with 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting, six rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Wiggins’ scoring production helped the Warriors pull out the win on a night when the ball movement was lagging (21 assists on 44 field goals) and the turnovers were stacking up (15 turnovers that led to 25 points for Minnesota). But it’s what he has done on the defensive end this season that has impressed the most.
Over the summer, Kerr talked with Wiggins about embracing a role predicated on using his length and athleticism to be a disruptive, energetic defender. Basically: A different player than he was in Minnesota, when he consistently measured near the bottom in the league in defense. Now, Wiggins is the Warriors’ most impactful defender and ranks sixth in the league in blocks.
“I think he’s done a really good job of embracing the role we’ve asked of him,” Kerr said. “We talked over the summer about him being an all-defensive team member. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I think he should absolutely be in consideration.”
LOONEY’S SCREEN ASSISTS: Despite scoring just two points, Looney notched five screen assists (screens that lead to made field goals) tonight that accounted for 11 points. Prior to the game, Looney averaged 2.9 screen assists per game this season. The increased role and playing time with Curry no doubt helped that total, and helped the Warriors leverage perhaps their most impactful two-man game.
“There’s an art and a science to it in terms of being at the right place at the right time, seeing the play before it happens” Curry said. “You have to go through it a couple times to understand, especially at the speed of the game at this level.
PRESENTED WITHOUT COMMENT:
Does Steve Kerr think, even briefly, about the fact that the Warriors own the Timberwolves’ top-three protected first-round pick after tonight’s win?
“I’ll be honest, yes.”
— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) January 26, 2021
Contributed by local news sources