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. 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.
Entering Tuesday night, 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.
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.
It’s unclear how long Looney will be out, but a sustained absence would leave the Warriors severely shorthanded. 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. That means that, should Looney miss extended time, the Warriors could go at least two more games without a true center.
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.
But with a glaring lack of depth already, every injury matters that much more.