A recent rash of injuries left the Warriors thin coming into Thursday — but then it turned into a full-blown epidemic.
Already without reserves David West, Andre Iguodala and Jordan Bell due to injuries suffered in the past few days, the biggest blow came early in the first quarter of the latest Warriors-Spurs showdown, when Stephen Curry turned his troublesome right ankle again.
But a former-MVP named Kevin Durant was there to bail his team out down the stretch, guiding Golden State (51-14) to a 110-107 victory over the scuffling Spurs (37-28).
Down seven with four minutes left, Durant knew it was time to take over:
“Well we were down eight and we were struggling a bit. So I just told myself to empty the clip.”
And he did, scoring a game-high 37 points, including 14 straight down the stretch to lift the Warriors after the spirit had been sucked out of the building with Curry’s injury.
Head coach Steve Kerr jokingly credited himself for the run:
“It was brilliant coaching, it was wonderful coaching. No, him and Draymond (Green) got into the pick-and-roll action and did a great job. KD was just breathtaking down the stretch … I thought Kevin was instrumental in that, just taking over the huddle and taking over the game.”
Green pitched in statistically as well, notching a triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while ratcheting up the defensive intensity in the fourth, helping the Warriors hold San Antonio to just 20 points.
Kerr said Green is like the Warriors safety net on the court, especially in games like this:
“It’s just what he does. He seems to be at his best when things go wrong for us and we have to have that fight. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around, and we he gets going like that defensively and he’s all over the floor blocking shots, getting steals, yelling. That’s when we are at our best.”
JaVale McGee played his most complete game this season with 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in just 17 minutes.
It was a far cry from the big-fight feel that these two franchises have been used to the last few seasons. That’s what happens when only one starter from those past matchups — LaMarcus Aldridge — remains a constant for the Spurs, while they continue to play with different rotations and lineups.
And the energy fell even further as a collective groan left the lips of Oracle when Curry was fouled going up for a fastbreak score and limped straight into the tunnel. He would return to shoot his two free throws but then exited the game just two minutes in. He did not return.
Green said anytime you see Curry react the way he did you hold your breath:
“With Steph’s ankle injuries it’s kind of always a worry. He’s done it so many times where you can kind of tell immediately whether he can get through it or not by his reaction. And just by his reaction that he had tonight it’s kind of a worry.”
The team called the injury a “tweak” as opposed to a more serious “sprain” so there is some hope for a speedy recovery, but considering the trouble he’s had with the ankle this year, that might not be the best idea. Also, this is now the fourth time this season Curry has hurt the same ankle, so the lingering concerns for the playoffs are also there.
But he’s not the only one banged up, the majority of the Warrior bench is out with injury.
West has an infection in his arm and is without a timetable to return, although signs point to it being a short recovery time.
Iguodala has a left wrist sprain, which might be precautionary but is going to need some maintenance rest going forward.
And Jordan Bell just rolled his ankle last game and won’t be reevaluated until the Warriors return home on the 14th. Only Iguodala has a chance to play in the upcoming road trip.
With Patrick McCaw already sidelined with his wrist fracture, that’s four of the Warriors first five reserves unavailable.
And now without Curry the Warriors may be better off playing the long game, not worrying about the first seed and sitting everyone until they are fully healthy.
They can afford to wait, especially with Curry, as long as possible.
It also helps when Durant is unleashed like he was Thursday — and he may be forced to do exactly that moving forward.
A short two-game road trip now awaits the Warriors as they will make the short flight to Portland next where they’ll meet the Trail Blazers (39-26) Friday.
Kevin Durant blocked four shots Thursday, which sets his single-season career-high. He currently sits at fourth in the league in blocks per game with 1.86