Late in the first quarter, the Oracle crowd rose in unison. But it wasn’t for a Stephen Curry 3-point barrage, or a Kevin Durant dunk — it was for Damian Jones creating another second chance opportunity.
It was an unspectacular play, knocking the offensive rebound off of Deandre Ayton, but the third-year big man’s impact had been anything but up to that point. It was Jones and a slew of reserves who ignited the Warriors 123-103 dismantling of the Suns Monday night.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors’ locker room at Oracle Arena.
Jones finished with a career-high 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting along with four rebounds and one block in his 20 minutes of action. He beasted number one overall pick Ayton in the first quarter, muscling him for rebounds and running past him on fast breaks, and put up an impressive nine points, four rebounds and one block in his eight minutes in the opening period.
Head coach Steve Kerr said Jones’ play has shown why he is going to be a big key for the Warriors this season:
“This is why we have to have Damian. You think about the past week, Steven Adams, Gobert, Jokic and now Ayton. You have to have that kind of size to deal with the position. Now there will be smaller matchups as well, but I thought he passed this week’s test with flying colors.”
The young center routinely beats opposing bigs down the court for easy buckets — it’s his best NBA attribute. Even if he’s not able to hit his midrange or contributing on the glass, his ability and willingness to sprint up the court puts a lot of pressure on opposing bigs to do the same. It’s how he can stay involved without actually being part of the actions.
Curry said that he and the Warriors are looking for that lob almost every time down the court:
“He’s a threat, we try to open that up for him in terms of setting screens or seeing openings… It’s all about timing and just continuing to look for it and putting pressure on defenses at the rim, and that opens up other things. He surprises you a couple times with how he gets though, that’s for sure.”
It was the pick-and-roll sets that set the tone for the Warriors early. Five of their first six buckets were dunks and three of those were easy lobs, almost all of them targeting Ayton.
The team finished with 35 total assists, which is exactly what Kerr enjoys watching. And he said that this was a more familiar sight after the team failed to reach the 30 assist mark in the first three games:
“That looked like our team, just the purpose of each possession. Driving and kicking, and trying to get guys better shots, and playing together. It was a good night.”
Once Jones exited it was another reserve, Alfonzo McKinnie who took over.
McKinnie played just the last three minutes of the first, but his impact was enormous, piling up five rebounds and running the floor like a madman. He would finish with career highs in points with 10 and rebounds with seven, in a season high 18 minutes.
McKinnie has steadily moved up the rotation since the beginning of training camp, now sitting comfortably ahead of Jordan Bell and Jacob Evans. He’s made the most of Patrick McCaw’s decision to hold out and has a stranglehold on the third wing off the bench spot. He hit even hit a 3 Monday, but it’s his ability to play with high effort every second he’s on the court that’s been his calling card.
But not to be outdone Jonas Jerebko continued to shine in his role off the bench. His hot start to the season rolled on as he had a season high 13 points, nailing three 3’s and providing that offensive spark that the Warriors reserves have lacked the last few seasons.
Jerebko said he worked hard over the offseason to be able to come in and try to have an instant impact with his new team:
“It feels good, I’m fitting in well with the guys. It’s easy to play with guys who move the ball and just want to play good basketball. [With the Warriors] I’m playing at a little bit faster pace and a little more freedom. I’m getting a little more touches, I’m not in the corner anymore, so it’s been nice.”
The pick-and-pop abilities have opened up a lot of space whenever Jerebko is involved in an action, and he continues to improve on the defensive end. He’s no stopper, but as long as his effort and positioning are there, the Warriors will happily live with the trade-off.
Over his last three games Jerebko is averaging 8.3 points per game, while shooting 5-of-9 from deep.
He’s actually second on the team in made 3’s with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson struggling to knock down shots from the outside.
Durant pitched in 22 points but continues to operate mostly out of the midrange, taking just three shots from deep.
And while the bench provided the spark, it was Curry who did the exploding. He went for 29 points, four rebounds and eight assists while getting his usual fourth quarter rest.
The two-time MVP looks locked in and poised to have another huge year. His shooting has started hot, but the way he’s moving and creating is already in midseason form.
His 22 3-pointers through the first four games of the season are a record for that stretch, breaking his own record from 2015-16.
And that coupled with the improved bench play is good news for the Bay Area.
The Warriors will take on the John Wall and the Wizards Wednesday before departing on a three-game road trip. The last time Washington played at Oracle Kelly Oubre threw a haymaker at Draymond Green, a scuffle that ended with Bradley Beal and Green each being tossed.
With their win, the Warriors have now beaten the Suns for the 16th consecutive game. The last time they lost to Phoenix was Nov. 9, 2014. T.J. Warren is the only Suns player to still be on the roster from that date. … Klay Thompson hit just one 3 Monday. While his midrange jumper looks to be coming around, his 3-point stroke is still missing in action as he’s hit just three total shots from beyond the arc in four games.
Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.