The Warriors needed this.
Yes, the Warriors won 112-108 in what was the best atmosphere Oracle has provided since the Finals. Yes, Steph Curry did finish with another Steph-like line: 31 points, 7-for-11 from deep and four assists. And yes, Luke Walton did extend his interim coaching win streak to five despite some questionable lineup decisions on Wednesday.
No, they didn’t need the win. The Warriors will have plenty of those throughout this 82-game season, maybe a historical amount of wins, but that remains to be seen. The Warriors needed a close game, a challenge and a blip on their perfect early season campaign.
Walton, who has impressed as an assistant and now interim coach of a champion roster, almost cost his team a win. Curry, in the midst of a stunningly awful stint – 2 points, 0-for-6 from the floor and no assists – checked out with 2:16 left in the third quarter. The game was tied 77-77 and very much up for grasp.
The Clippers proceeded to take advantage, going on an 18-10 run with the second units form both teams doing battle. The score flipped entirely, as the Clippers led 95-87 when their MVP, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green checked back in. With Curry carrying only two fouls, it was an especially peculiar move to wait to insert your three best players with just over eight minutes left and momentum clearly in favor of their Southern California rival.
“We give the bench a lot of leeway,” said Walton following the game. “But we know what we see in practice every day that they can play with most starting lineups in the league.”
Would Kerr have kept the bench unit in for so long? Would he have taken Curry out after the two early fouls at all? Answers to those remain to be seen, and with a report before the game that Kerr may be out until after the All-Star break, it’s time to accept Walton for who he is: not Kerr.
This hard fought battle between two of the best teams in the league was everything you could want in a November matchup. Green vs. Blake Griffin has turned into one of the best 1-on-1 matchups in the league, CP3 vs. Curry is always highly competitive and Doc Rivers vs. everyone is must-see TV.
“It’s growth for everyone on this team,” said Festus Ezeli, who had another impressive game in the absence of Andrew Bogut. “You can see Luke growing every day. His composure is way different now even just from the preseason games. We just continue to get better, and that’s our goal this year, to get better throughout the season.”
Growth is an interesting word to associate with a 67-win championship team that entering tonight, beat a former playoff foe by 50 points. But, as Curry stated after the game: “We’re a better team than last season.” Under Walton, they’re growing in ways that couldn’t be seen as the beginning of the summer. Walton at the helm in itself is a great challenge and add the early loss of Bogut, a new lineup is also under construction.
Wednesday night was the Warriors’ first true test of the season. They were toying with their early foes, especially Curry, who has the basketball world at his fingertips. He finished with an impressive line, but Harrison Barnes also proved his worth in the fourth as well, scoring 10 straight at one point highlighted by a familiar soaring slam.
Chris Paul, after scoring 20 points in the first half, was limited to 4 points in the second. He credited his late game absence to a groin injury, even though he had no noticeable limp. Griffin scored 23 points, but most were highly contested or midrange jumpers, which the Warriors will live with every time.
The Warriors needed this challenge, if anything, to remind them that close games do exist. We now have a glimpse at Walton’s late game execution, which is just a little easier with such a formidable roster. The Warriors’ small lineup is simply put: incredible. Versatile enough to switch everything, spread the floor and run with anyone, Walton used it to perfection.
Of course, it helps any team with the likes of Josh Smith, an errant Jamal Crawford and inept Austin Rivers are on the floor. Those three were -11 on the floor together and a combined 10-for-27 from the floor. Their bench is improved and will only progress as the season goes on, but it’s an oddball collection of talent to trot into any playoff series. The Warriors reaped the benefits of all three, and they certainly won’t be the last team to do so.
The Warriors outclassed the Clippers in the final minutes of the game with Curry heroics, stout defense and forcing their opponent into situations they’re none too accustomed to seeing (Hint: guarding someone from 29 feet out). The stability of both units proved enough to beat the feisty, and frankly annoying, Clippers.
Golden State put their Los Angeles counterpart in their place on Tuesday, which as long as they stay healthy, will always be in the rearview mirror.