The Golden State Warriors wasted some palpable late-season momentum and a perfect opportunity to earn playoff tie-breaker on Sunday, falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves 99-96 at Chase Center. Here are three reactions—with related film and analysis—on the Dubs' extremely disappointing loss, just their eighth at home this season.
Turnovers doom Warriors
First things first: Golden State should've won this game.
Steve Kerr's team held a 96-95 lead after Rudy Gobert made his second free throw with 27.7 seconds left, seemingly en route to a hard-fought victory as Minnesota—with just a three-second differential between shot and game clock—would be forced to foul if it didn't create a turnover. The Wolves did well pressuring the Warriors in the backcourt and past halfcourt, forcing a series of quick passes while racing across the floor for a would-be game-changing steal.
The Warriors seemed to have avoided that fate when Draymond Green caught the ball with 16 seconds left just inside the halfcourt logo. Instead of goading a taken foul or dribbling toward a superior free throw shooter before giving the ball up, though, Green tried a risky pass to Steph Curry that was easily picked off by the long arms of Kyle Anderson.
Disaster turned catastrophe moments later, as Karl-Anthony Towns—in just his second game back from a calf injury that cost him the season's majority—cashed a go-ahead triple in transition.
At least Golden State would have the chance to atone for Green's error, right? But instead of tying the game just before the final buzzer or winning it with a triple in walk-off fashion, the Warriors' mind-numbing penchant for turnovers reared its ugly head again.
No one who's watched this team throughout 2022-23, unfortunately, could've been all that surprised by Golden State's damning crunch-time miscues. The Warriors gave up a double-digit fourth quarter lead to the Timberwolves the last time these teams met amid a rash of careless turnovers. They've been among the league's worst clutch teams all season mostly due to a damning lack of half-court execution.
Making Green and Poole's turnovers—on the latter of which Curry deserves at least some blame, as he suggested by tapping his chest—even less shocking? They were the mere continuation of the same game-long problem.
This steal by Anderson late in the third quarter resulted in a potential six-point swing.
Slo Mo got yet another deflection steal high up the floor in the fourth quarter, thwarting a Warriors break off a nasty block by Gary Payton II and netting Naz Reid a three in transition.
This hair-pulling turnover from Green—a consequence of getting re-acclimated to playing with Payton, it bears mentioning—was the home team's third in as many possessions, following Poole's gaffe above and another from Curry.
The Wolves scored 24 points off 16 Golden State turnovers on Sunday, including 10 on five giveaways in the fourth quarter alone.
Who accounted for the Warriors' turnover woes, by the way? Green had five to himself, while Poole, Curry and Klay Thompson each committed three turnovers. None of their less-heralded teammates had more than one, an indication of the highs and lows Golden State's stars reached in a game that could've gone a long way toward ensuring their team gets a top-six seed in the postseason.
The Gary Payton II effect is real
Young Glove made his second Warriors debut in as many seasons against the Wolves, playing for the first time since he was re-acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline. Payton's numbers—nine points, two rebounds, one assist and a block—don't scream major impact, and he racked up a team-worst -9 plus-minus in 15 minutes off the bench.
Don't let raw box score stats and the fickle nature of single-game plus-minus fool you. Payton's fingerprints were all over Golden State's early fourth quarter comeback, a preview of the two-way dynamism he'll once again regularly provide this team upon getting back up to full speed.
Check out this sequence, beginning just above the nine-minute mark of the final stanza.
Payton turns to body up the bigger Jaden McDaniels as the shot goes up, allowing Curry to corral the long board. Then he runs the floor in transition, eyes on Curry the whole time as he readies in his favorite spot for a splashed corner three. Payton's ball pressure on Anderson draws on offensive foul on Towns shortly thereafter, bringing Chase Center to its feet.
Payton's presence was felt pretty much whenever he was on the floor, and not just because he shut down a passive Anthony Edwards—returning from an ugly ankle sprain—one-on-one.
Think plays like this could've helped Golden State during this wild, consistently inconsistent regular season?
Payton took all of Moses Moody's minutes on Sunday, and was on the floor alongside Curry, Thompson, Green and Looney for a brief fourth quarter stint before Poole got him with 4:22 remaining. He didn't get off the bench again.
It's already abundantly clear how much Kerr trusts Payton, but also obvious he's still getting comfortable back in his old shoes. Expect him to get more playing time than he did versus Minnesota over the last seven games of the regular season, steeling both Payton—and his teammates—for a bigger role to come when the level competition rises in the postseason.
Attacking the Timberwolves' twin towers
No team is better equipped to exploit drop coverage than the Warriors. With Towns back in the fold, Minnesota might be the only team in basketball whose preference is to keep both its starting bigs from defending the perimeter.
Golden State came out ready to attack the Wolves' twin towers, spamming variations of the same double ball screen for Curry. Whether Towns and Gobert were each involved in the primary action, the Warriors made sure both would be stretched beyond their limits defensively.
Curry re-located for a corner three on the Dubs' third possession of the game, after Towns received a back screen from Thompson following his initial help and Gobert was left scrambling by Looney's roll and Draymond's simultaneous hand-off.
Look how confused Towns is dealing with another pair of screens late in the first half.
He and Gobert ultimately opt against switching Looney's pick for Green, Towns quickly falling behind the play as Curry follows his pass into a hand-off. Gobert has no chance for an effective contest on Curry's floater after Looney's second screen wipes out Mike Conley.
The Warriors go back that same general look two trips later, but with Towns defending the second screener.
Towns is forced to meet Curry on the other side of Green's pick as Conley recovers, then immediately retreats back to the paint as the reigning MVP shuffles the ball to Looney in the corner. Big mistake. Curry knows Gobert won't leave the paint to rush him, seamlessly floating behind Looney for another re-locate corner triple he didn't need to see slash through the net.
Double screen variants were hardly the only way Golden State attacked the Wolves' extreme reluctance to hedge on the ball or outright switch with their bigs on Sunday.
Curry got loose out of a few simple 1-5 high actions, found Green on the roll via an empty side ball screen—that yielded a flagrant foul on Gobert—and drained another corner three after inbounding fast to Green and collecting his tap of a hand-off. Poole hit a crucial pull two in the fourth quarter after taking a re-screen from Green as Gobert waited in the paint, too, then later found Looney on the roll with a bounce pass as Gobert finally committed toward the ball, producing a crucial crunch-time free throw.
But Minnesota never looked less comfortable defensively than when Golden State dared both Towns and Gobert to venture to the perimeter. If only Chris Finch didn't have the good sense to keep their shared minutes to a relative minimum, the Warriors' offense might've found the sustained continuity it was lacking from the opening tip.