Down this homestretch of the season the Warriors have gotten key contributions from a different player each game.
One day, it’s Draymond Green scoring 10 points in the first quarter. The next, it’s Andrew Wiggins pouring in 38. Others, it’s Juan Toscano-Anderson sparking a win with his emotional and solid play, or Jordan Poole going off for a career high.
Oh, and sometimes it’s Stephen Curry going absolutely nuclear.
Sunday, in what was essentially the start of the playoffs, the Warriors (39-33) got all of the above to throttle the Memphis Grizzlies 113-101 to secure the eighth seed in the play-in tournament.
Green started out the game with eight in the first quarter and 14 for the game, while Wiggins had a very important 21 and a career-high 10 rebounds, all while providing the hustle plays that the state of Minnesota had been waiting for. Poole had another big night with 15 off the bench, and Toscano-Anderson led the team in plus-minus for 99 percent of the night.
And Curry did what he has been doing all season, putting up ungodly numbers on preposterous shots when the Warriors need him the most. He finished with 45 and took a career-high 36 shots, all while being draped by multiple Memphis defenders.
First it was Green setting the tone in the first quarter. Dillon Brooks and the Grizzlies (38-34) played full-on deny against Curry; they top locked every offball screen, forcing him down and never lost contact with him.
He did a really good job on him, and it prevented Curry from getting any rhythm early. One play halfway through the first perfectly encapsulated the Grizzlies strategy on Curry. He grabbed the defensive rebound, dribbled to midcourt, gave it up to start the action, then Brooks’ denial prevented Curry from ever touching the ball the rest of the possession.
While Curry was hounded off ball, Green was using all that attention to aggressively look for his own shot. His eight points in the first might be pedestrian compared to quarters Warriors fans have seen from Curry and Klay Thompson, but they were the key to keeping the Warriors afloat.
They started using Curry as a screener more and more, which resulted in a bunch of open looks for whoever he was screening. Green finished with nine rebounds and nine assists and played his usually stellar defense as well. He captained a swarming defense, reminiscent of those championship teams, holding the Grizzlies to just 43 percent shooting and 24 percent from deep.
Then it was the Warriors new second unit. The Grizzlies had to have been counting on their depth to put the pressure on the Warriors, but instead it was the Warriors short rotation that pushed the lead. Jordan Poole continued his recent string of impressive offensive performances.
Poole has averaged 21.6 points per game over his last five games and the confidence he’s exuding on the court is palpable. The scoring is great, but the most impressive thing has been his passing. He had a hard drive, before upfaking and dishing for a layup all in one smooth motion.
His benchmate Toscano-Anderson doesn’t put up the same numbers, but his presence is felt just as much. He just makes winning plays, whether that’s sacrificing his body for possessions, making the correct defensive rotations or moving the ball on offense.
After that, it was Wiggins’ turn. He had a quiet first quarter and looked like it might be another frustrating game where he floats around in an important game.
But that all changed, he picked up his defensive intensity and his shots started falling. And more than that he was making effort plays all over the court.
He had three offensive rebounds, all of them coming on hustle plays, but none more important than his putback dunk on Jaren Jackson Jr. with just under four minutes to go that put the Warriors up three.
What was most impressive was the play before, that Wiggins gave up and offensive rebound dunk to Jonas Valančiūnas which caused Green to yell at him. To respond to that with his own putback speaks volumes to his resolve this year.
This was the Wiggins we’ve started to see down this closing six-game homestand, and this is the Wiggins that the Warriors have wished for since trading for him.
And then it was Curry to close out the game. Superlatives don’t do justice to just how good Curry has been this season. With the game hanging in the balance and the Warriors clinging to a 100-97 lead, three straight Curry 3’s put an end to any Grizzlies hope.
Memphis defended him well almost all game. But when Brooks fouled out with six minutes to go, that opened the door for Curry to finally get loose. And as we’ve seen for his whole career, Curry doesn’t need much space at all.
The defenders Memphis threw at him all look gassed, and Curry looked like he could play another full game. Curry at 33 is still outpacing these young mid-20-year-olds with his stamina.
And that’s a scary thought for the league, but more specifically, any of the top-seeded teams in this year’s playoffs.
The Warriors need just one more win to punch their ticket to the playoffs, and that’s where Curry and the rest of the Warriors really thrive.
The Warriors play as the eighth seed Wednesday at the No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers (42-30). The Lakers blew out Golden State in two of three 2020-21 matchups by a combined 55 points.
Curry needed just four points to clinch his second career scoring title and he easily attained that in the first quarter. He is the second-oldest player to lead the league in scoring behind only Michael Jordan. Curry finished the year averaging a career-high 32.0 points. … The Warriors signed Gary Payton III Sunday for the rest of the season and he will be eligible for the playoffs. He has impressed with his defense and could find a role as a perimeter stopper in these play-in games.