With little more than two minutes left in the second quarter, Kevon Looney planted his foot, rolled his ankle and grimaced. Soon after, the Warriors’ only center limped off to the locker room.
The Warriors entered Tuesday night with only one healthy center and, by halftime, they had none and will likely be without a traditional center for at least a couple games. Despite a hot start and 38 points from Stephen Curry, injuries to the front court were too much to overcome in Golden State’s 111-107 loss to the Celtics at Chase Center.
Against the Celtics, the Warriors had planned to play small when Looney, the starting center, was on the bench. That’s because two games into the season, Marquese Chriss suffered a fractured fibula and high ankle sprain in his right leg, which will sideline him at least three months. Then, in Saturday’s win over the Pistons, rookie center James Wiseman suffered a sprained left wrist that will sideline him at least a week.
At halftime, the Warriors (11-10) announced that Looney would not return with a sprained left ankle, thrusting Draymond Green, who is certainly experienced at playing center but had yet to play the position this season, into the starting role.
“When Looney went out, we knew Draymond was going to play quite a bit at the five. I loved Draymond’s energy tonight,” said head coach Steve Kerr of Green, who finished with two points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. “He looked like he was moving great and he just does so many things for you on the floor night in and night out.”
Although the Warriors opened up an early 11-point lead courtesy of Curry’s 17 first-quarter points, their offense went cold in the second quarter and scored just five points with Curry on the bench. That allowed the Celtics (11-8) to erase the deficit and claim a 43-40 lead with 4:57 before halftime. Curry checked in, immediately made a jumper, then found Andrew Wiggins in transition to retake the lead. By halftime, the game was tied at 52.
But without a true center for the entire second half, the Warriors cycled through Green, Eric Paschall and Juan Toscano-Anderson in the front court. That small-sized trio had a difficult time competing with a Celtics team that starts two centers, giving up 22 second-half points in the paint, 12 offensive rebounds and too many driving lanes to Jaylen Brown (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Jayson Tatum (27 points, nine rebounds). Brown’s dunk with four minutes remaining crowned a 15-2 run that claimed a 10-point lead for Boston.
“Eliminating second-chance points gives us a lot of momentum,” Curry said after the Warriors were out-rebounded 51-36. “So it’s going to be even more important without (Wiseman) and (Looney) going forward.”
It’s unclear how long Looney will be out, but Kerr expects him to miss at least a couple of games. “It was a significant enough sprain where it looks like he will be out a little bit,” he said.
Wiseman, who will be re-evaluated in seven-to-10 days, will travel with the team to Dallas for Golden State’s two games against the Mavericks, before heading to San Antonio for another pair of games against the Spurs. The Warriors might be able to get away with playing small against the Mavericks, who start games small with Kristaps Porzingis at center.
“Just offhand, Eric Paschall becomes a bigger part of what we are doing and so does Juan (Toscano-Anderson),” Kerr said of the rotation going forward. “We will be shorthanded and Draymond will play a lot of five and Eric will get more minutes, and we’ll see what happens from there.”
But with a roster already thinned, every injury matters that much more.
“It’s the NBA. You’re going to have your ups and downs in many different ways, you’ll get a lot of things thrown at you and you’ve just got to pivot,” said Kent Bazemore, who finished with 10 points in 17 minutes. “We still have a talented team, and we’ve got to go out there and get it done.”
OPTIONS AT CENTER GOING FORWARD: The free-agent market isn’t exactly loaded with centers of Looney’s or Wiseman’s caliber, but experienced players like Dewayne Dedmon and Ian Mahinmi are available. Potential G League call-ups include Justin Patton, Freddie Gillespie and Amir Johnson. All could be signed at a league minimum contract or by using a portion of the $9.2 million disabled player exception the NBA granted the Warriors after Klay Thompson was ruled out for the season with an Achilles tear.
But even if Golden State decided to sign a center in the coming days, league protocol dictates that player would need to register six straight days of negative coronavirus tests before being cleared. The other option would be to trade for a center on an expiring contract, such as Cleveland’s JaVale McGee, though that would come with a similar protocol process.
It looks like the Warriors could go at least two more games without a true center.
GOING SMALL: During the planned minutes of playing Green at center, the Warriors outscored the Celtics by five. That, of course, was before those lineups were overwhelmed in the second half. Still, Golden State managed to hang around by pushing the pace and moving the ball — they assisted on 30 of their 38 made field goals. That will be the key for the Warriors during this upcoming small-ball experiment: Play fast, move the ball and — as Curry said — “create chaos.”
“We have to make it work to our advantage and make ourselves hard to guard,” Curry said.
JUAN TOSCANO-ANDERSON GETS AN OPPORTUNITY: Two-way contract player Toscano-Anderson, who was activated before the game because of Wiseman’s injury, finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting (3-of-3 from 3-point range) two rebounds and an assist in 27 minutes off the bench — the most of any Warriors reserve.
This versatility is why Golden State, anticipating absences this season, opted to keep Toscano-Anderson after training camp. With 40 games left under the rules of his two-way deal, Toscano-Anderson figures to be an important part of the rotation until Golden State can get some bodies back.
“He’s heading for a lot of minutes,” Kerr said. “This is one of the reasons we purposefully deactivated him the last four or five games. There’d be a time where he’d play a big role. That time is now.”
Toscano-Anderson, who signed with the Warriors at the end of last season, has endeared himself to the coaching staff by staying ready and continuing to work on his game. In practices, he picks the brain of player-mentor coach Leandro Barbosa, and has worked with Ron Adams to remake his jump shot.
“I don’t want to be a guy that just comes and goes,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I want to be someone that the coaching staff and the front office knows they can count on.”
Wow, wow, wow at this effort from JTA to save two points pic.twitter.com/la69omNO9O
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) February 3, 2021
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