Big 4th quar­ter breaks it open

Thomp­son leads on­slaught with 10-point flour­ish

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - NBA - By Con­nor Le­tourneau Con­nor Le­tourneau is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: cle­tourneau@ sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @Con_Chron

No player of­fers a bet­ter gauge of the War­riors’ per­for­mance than Klay Thomp­son. When his team­mates are spread through­out the floor, pow­er­ing through screens and mak­ing the ex­tra pass, he tends to be at his catch-and-shoot best.

So per­haps it was lit­tle sur­prise that, when Golden State fi­nally set­tled into a groove in the fourth quar­ter of its 116-99 win Fri­day night over Min­nesota at Or­a­cle Arena, Thomp­son was lead­ing the on­slaught. Over those fi­nal 12 min­utes, he poured in 10 of his 22 points as the War­riors pulled away from the Tim­ber­wolves.

“When Klay’s go­ing, and we’ve got KD and Steph go­ing, we’re pretty hard to beat,” for­ward Kevon Looney said. “We space the floor so much, and you’ve got to pick your poi­son. You help off KD and Steph, then Klay’s go­ing to be wide open.”

Down 87-83 at the end of the third quar­ter, Golden State blitzed Min­nesota 33-12 in the fourth for its sev­enth straight vic­tory. The Tim­ber­wolves missed 18 of their 23 shots as they piled up four turnovers — not a hor­ren­dous num­ber, but ugly given that they had only one through the first three pe­ri­ods.

The War­riors over­came an off night from be­yond the arc by dish­ing out 31 as­sists and dom­i­nat­ing Min­nesota on the glass, 61-39. It wasn’t aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing at times, but Golden State made one thing cer­tain: It can out-tough op­po­nents, too.

And that is a scary no­tion for the rest of the NBA. Less than three weeks into the sea­son, the War­riors sit atop the Western Con­fer­ence at 9-1. Thomp­son, Stephen Curry (28 points, nine re­bounds, seven as­sists), Kevin Du­rant (33 points, 13 re­bounds) and Dray­mond Green (nine points, 11 as­sists) are work­ing off each other as well as they ever have this early.

It also doesn’t hurt that Golden State is get­ting timely con­tri­bu­tions from un­her­alded re­serves like Jonas Jere­bko (seven points) and Al­fonzo McKin­nie (eight points, eight re­bounds). With DeMar­cus Cousins near­ing his re­turn from a torn left Achilles ten­don, the War­riors look the part of pro­hib­i­tive cham­pi­onship fa­vorites.

“Our fourth-quar­ter de­fense was tremen­dous,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said. “Ev­ery­body fly­ing to the ball. I thought Dray­mond set the tone. I’m not sure I’ve seen Dray­mond play bet­ter since I’ve been here.”

In im­por­tant ways, the War­riors and Tim­ber­wolves have been les­sons in con­trasts this sea­son. Golden State is a bas­ket­ball utopia of sorts, and Min­nesota is the league’s most com­pelling soap opera. Sel­dom has a day passed in re­cent weeks with­out more sto­ries sur­fac­ing about Jimmy But­ler want­ing off the team.

Dur­ing the pre­sea­son, But­ler in­ter­rupted a prac­tice, trashtalk­ing ev­ery­one from the owner to the head coach to the gen­eral man­ager to team­mates Karl-An­thony Towns and An­drew Wig­gins. That Min­nesota man­aged to ar­rive at Or­a­cle Arena with a .500 record was a tes­ta­ment to its tal­ent.

But re­gard­less of what teams are deal­ing with be­hind closed doors, they tend to de­liver in­spired per­for­mances against the War­riors. Off-the-court drama be­comes ob­so­lete when faced with the chal­lenge of play­ing the back-to-back NBA cham­pi­ons, es­pe­cially in Oak­land. Through three quar­ters Fri­day, Min­nesota did as good a job as any team this sea­son of throw­ing Golden State off rhythm. The Tim­ber­wolves switched off screens, got hands on shoot­ers and, as­tound­ingly, com­mit­ted just a sin­gle turnover in those first 36 min­utes.

By the start of the fourth, Min­nesota was up four points and had traded leads 11 times with the War­riors. The prob­lem for the Tim­ber­wolves is that mo­ti­va­tion usu­ally can over­come a siz­able tal­ent deficit for only so long.

Within an 83-sec­ond span early in the fourth, Thomp­son fol­lowed an 18-foot jumper with two three-point­ers to give Golden State back the lead. Min­nesota had no an­swer. With lit­tle re­sis­tance from the Tim­ber­wolves, the War­riors did what they do best: spread the floor, make the ex­tra pass and con­vert open looks.

By the time Curry made a driv­ing layup with 44.3 sec­onds left to push Golden State’s lead to 17, much of Or­a­cle Arena had emp­tied out.

Fans had seen this script be­fore: The War­riors are the rare team that needs only a quar­ter to blow out a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent.

Asked postgame Fri­day how he felt in the fourth quar­ter, Thomp­son said, “I feel great at all times be­cause we get to play bas­ket­ball for a liv­ing. … It’s been a great start to our first 10 games.”

Pho­tos by San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

The War­riors’ Klay Thomp­son, driv­ing against Min­nesota’s Karl-An­thony Towns, turned it on in the fi­nal pe­riod.

Stephen Curry, who scored 28 points, cel­e­brates af­ter Thomp­son hit a three-pointer to help lead the vic­tory.

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