The Warriors (69-8) struggled to gain early momentum in their 136-111 win over Portland Sunday night, but a late surge in the second quarter and consistent third frame provided the necessary ingredients for the desired outcome.
The final minute of the first half came with four points from Green, two points from Harrison Barnes, and momentum, which was the clear difference-maker in an otherwise honest exchange of apples and oranges.
The Blazers (41-37) have proven one of the few NBA teams that the Warriors haven’t been able to dominate this year, affording Golden State one of their eight losses.
It looked for a moment that Portland would split their hands, too, with a four-point lead during the first quarter that symbolized more than the box score can show.
Golden State was simply lackluster, more of an eighth-seed than a favorite to repeat a title run.
Their 32-point second quarter, though, with contributions coming from everywhere, changed all that. And it was followed by a 38-point third frame, with 14 points from Stephen Curry and 11 from Green.
Head coach Steve Kerr said:
“We took care of the ball. 13 turnovers, that’s a good number. 38 assists, that’s a great number. The bench came in and played well, I thought the bench in beginning of the second quarter really changed the game defensively for us. We started making stops, Portland was scorching hot that first quarter. When everybody plays well, and you’re locked in, it’s a good game.”
That’s when it became clear: Golden State was taking control, and relinquishing the stranglehold was not going to happen.
Even if Damian Lillard‘s 38 points nearly matched Curry’s 39.
Leandro Barbosa, bench scorer extraordinaire, provided 13 points and four boards. Livingston added eight points and a requisite four assists while Marreese Speights chipped away little by little every which way.
“Shaun is great with that. Normally we have both of them (Livingston and Andre Igoudala) out there, which really gives us a good feel for what’s happening. Two rudders, basically, for the ship. We altered our rotation a bit when Andre went down, and tried to bring Shaun in a bit earlier. And he’s been fantastic. He’s such a good player, he’s smart, and he’s really helped carry the second group since Andre’s absence.”
But as is often the case, Green provided the largest all-around impact. His 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists became the 13th triple double of the season, second in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook.
“They don’t give me the ball in good spots, I don’t score. They don’t knock down shots, I don’t get assists. If they don’t box out, I don’t get rebounds. That’s a complete team effort, that’s not something you just do on your own.”
The win keeps the Warriors in contention for the vaunted 73 win mark, the would-be NBA record for wins in a single regular season.
Let us not forget the record Golden State broke Sunday evening: Becoming the first team to make 1,000 triples in a season. The Warriors hit on 18-of-30 attempts from beyond the arc, resulting in a 60 percent clip.
The Warriors have five regular season games remaining — next up are the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night at Oracle — and can lose one more and still set the record they have been linked to all season: 73 wins.
Practice? We’re talking about practice?
Golden State hasn’t had more than one day in between games since the start of March. That creates some complex problems, especially for a team in contention to make history at the highest level.
And not practicing the way they would like — or at all — has been a constant obstacle, the Warriors are walking the tightrope between managing fatigue and fine tuning their talents as a collective.
“We actually had a good one yesterday. We will try and have another good one tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we have to go for two hours, but I thought we accomplished a lot yesterday without wearing them down. So we’ll try and do the same thing tomorrow knowing we have a game on Tuesday.”
Green is averaging 34.7 minutes per game, shattering his previous career high in 2014-15 of 31.5 minutes. Klay Thompson, too, is playing more than he did during the Warriors first championship run in 40 years.
While Curry is playing more than he did last season, but less than he did when the Warriors ended their postseason drought during the 2012-13 season under Mark Jackson.
And the Warriors aren’t in playoff mode yet, Curry says:
“We still have stuff to work on.”
Green considers Saturday’s practice “huge,” and said that the results showed during the win Sunday.
The Warriors play their next four games in a span of six days, with a back-to-back on the road. They’ll face San Antonio (64-12) on the latter half, though the Spurs won’t have much to play for should the Warriors win two of the next three.