Warriors' defensive versatility shown by Steve Kerr's halftime adjustment

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Kerr's halftime fix leads to win, bodes well for Dubs' future originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors spent the first half on Thursday night under the thumb of Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who whistled his way to 23 points in 17 minutes, putting Kevon Looney in foul trouble and reheating one of the hottest debates this season.

Do the Warriors, without additions, have enough depth up front to compete with the big boys?
Physically, they do not. Their active “big men” – Kevon Looney, Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. – average a shade under 6-foot-9. High-velocity big man Draymond Green, rehabbing his back, is 6-foot-6 and emergency big man Jonathan Kuminga is 6-foot-7.

Until 7-foot-1 James Wiseman returns, assuming he will, there will be nights, like this one, when coach Steve Kerr and his staff will have to get creative, particularly on defense, as they did with Towns in the third quarter.

They doubled KAT. It was a crucial adjustment that led to Golden State’s best quarter on offense and defense, fostering a 124-115 victory over the Timberwolves.

“The fact that he torched us in the first half was what went into that,” Kerr said. “We had no choice, really, with four fouls at the half. In order to keep him on the floor we needed to send a double we did a good job with it. They missed some open 3s, so maybe we got a little lucky with it too.

“But the third quarter defense was excellent. That was the key point of the game.”

It was the containment of Towns, forcing the ball out of his hands, that allowed the Warriors to outscore Minnesota 38-20 in the third quarter, taking the lead and never losing it.

Yes, there was the wonderfully balanced scoring: Stephen Curry with a team-high 29 points, Klay Thompson with a season-high 23, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole with 19 each. And, yes, the Warriors produced some absurd – and wholly unsustainable – 58.3-percent 3-point shooting.

But the third-quarter defense the Warriors would like to bottle. The Timberwolves shot 33.3 percent and, more to the point, Towns was 2-of-4 after shooting 9-of-15 shooting in the first half. He scored five points in the quarter and eight, on 3-of-7 shooting, after halftime.

“They were one-on-oneing me, so I felt very confident,” he said of his first half. “I don’t usually get that much one-on-one, so I was just trying to take advantage of it and make the most of it, try to dominate the game as much as possible.

“Second half . . . we knew they were going to adjust, the double-team was coming, maybe a triple-team . . .. They made it tough, made it tough for us to hit some shots.”

The move kept Looney in the game, but it also helped the Warriors generate more offense. They shot 61.1 percent the third quarter, a very good 51.6 in the other three quarters.

“It activated our defense, to know we could fly around,” Curry said. “You want to take KAT out of it, but it helped us get more engaged on everybody because you know you have to be on alert if you’re going to trap. Everybody has to be in the right rotations, and you can only do that if you have good energy. Sometimes you have to switch it up to get yourself going.

“So, it was shutting him down, but also getting us activated.”

Towns has more scoring skills than any big man in the Western Conference, and the only center with more is Joel Embiid in Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.

“There aren’t a lot of those guys in the league,” Kerr said. “You have to be prepared for it.”

Kerr is right. Towns is one of the few big men who can force a double-team from the Warriors, perhaps the only one in the West. It would be silly to double Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert or Memphis Grizzlies center Steven Adams. Doubling Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is risky. Doubling Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic is riskier insofar as he’s among the best passers in the NBA.

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An effective double-team is, however, an option the Warriors need. They’re that thin up front. They’re doing a delicate dance, relying so heavily on Looney, asking so much of Green when he is healthy and knowing that Wiseman is in the very early stage of his career.

With the NBA trade deadline less than two weeks away, there is no indication the Warriors are eager to bring in another big man. Kerr has been consistent is his belief that adding Wiseman will be enough. If it’s not, they’ll adjust. It worked on Thursday.