By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — Before leaving the huddle as the fourth quarter began, the Golden State Warriors looked up at the scoreboard finding themselves down 87-83 to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
It had been a rough third quarter for Golden State. They had been outscored by seven points and had given up six turnovers to Minnesota’s zero. For a team that has traditionally owned the third quarter over the last four season, it was an odd position for the back-to-back defending champions.
Then Klay Thompson — who exploded out of his slump with a 52-point game on Monday in Chicago — took over. Thompson scored 10 of his 22 points in the final period as the Warriors outscored Minnesota by 21 points, turning a close game into a walk, 116-99.
“I thought Klay’s play to the beginning of the fourth was one of the keys to the game,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “In the third quarter, we were kind of all over the map and the fourth quarter, I though we did a much better job and Klay helped set the tone.”
The Warriors opened their 10th game of the season playing their patented, unselfish brand of basketball. Passing up good shots for great ones, Golden State had 11 assists on 15 made baskets.
That ability to share the ball quickly faded, though, as Minnesota’s defense was able to bog down the highest-paced offense in the NBA, forcing the Warriors to commit seven turnovers by halftime while only giving up one of their own.
“Our turnovers didn’t feel that bad tonight,” Kerr said. “But they were exacerbated by the fact that Minnesota was not turning it over.”
The third quarter was even worse, as Golden State regressed to playing isolation basketball. Kevin Durant — who had a game-high 33 points — was forced into taking tough, contested mid-range shots and the ball movement was non-existent.
As Minnesota cinched down its defense even tighter, the Warriors scored only 22 points in the third quarter — their second-lowest scoring period of the season, behind only a 21-point third quarter performance against the Denver Nuggets on October 21. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves had scored 29 points of their own, taking an 87-83 lead into the fourth quarter.
Down by four at home, the Warriors were reeling, in search of spark to re-ignite the most prolific offense in the NBA. That spark would be Thompson, who opened the final period of the game by hitting three of his first four shots, turning a four-point deficit into a one-point lead in the first 51 seconds of the quarter.
“Klay is a guy that we rely on his catch-and-shoot ability,” said Durant. “That’s his time in the fourth. We rely on Klay to produce offense for us and it’s just another night for him.”
Along with Thompson, the Warriors utilized contributions from newcomer, Alfonzo McKinnie, who Kerr and the rest of the Golden State coaching staff trusted to play in the final 16 minutes and 22 seconds of the game.
McKinnie would score five of his eight points in the last five minutes of the game, helping Golden State increase its lead to double-digits, effectively closing out Minnesota in that stretch.
In total, McKinnie, who has taken advantage of Patrick McCaw’s hold out to become an integral piece in Golden State’s rotation, would play a season-high 27 minutes and 22 seconds, snagging eight rebounds, including three offensive boards.
“It feels good to me [to have that vote of confidence],” McKinnie said. “I’ve just been trying to work and show the whole organization that I could be an asset for them. For me to get 27 minutes, it kind of lets me know that I’m doing something right.”
The Warriors coaching staff aren’t the only ones noticing how well McKinnie’s abilities fit Kerr’s system.
“He’s been really good for us,” said forward Draymond Green. “Bringing energy to the floor, getting us extra possessions, the shot-making ability, it’s been really great to have that out there. The confidence that he plays with has been exciting to see.”
With the help of McKinnie and Thompson, the Warriors were able to overpower the Timberwolves in the fourth quarter. In his last three games, Thompson is 34-of-63 from the floor, going 9-of-17 on Friday. With a 4-for-9 night from beyond the arc Friday, he has now gone 19-of-37 from long distance over that span.
“It was ugly for a while,’ Thompson said. “But when you have great spurt-ability on this team, it only takes a minute or two to build up a lead.”