Exhausted, lethargic, sluggish, apathetic. Whatever synonym you want to use, the Warriors looked like every single thesaurus entry Friday night.
It seemed impossible to imagine a worse loss than Thursday’s debacle against the Indiana Pacers who were missing their four best players. Yet, 24 hours later, they almost achieved it.
But a clutch Stephen Curry stepback at the buzzer dragged the Warriors (33-13) to a 105-103 win against the Houston Rockets (14-33).
Steve Kerr said the play was a Curry iso to end it, after the Rockets switching defense gave them fits all night:
That was the play. Get the ball to Steph and get out of the way… A fitting end to a grind out game that we really needed.”
Taken as individual performances, these were unacceptable performances for a team with championship expectations even without Draymond Green.
Taken as a two-game stretch though, falling to the third and fifth worst teams in the NBA in back-to-back games would have been catastrophic.
Luckily for them, Curry was able to eke Golden State across the finish line despite shooting just 6-of-21 from the field.
His final line of 22 points and 12 assists looks pretty decent if you were just looking at the box score, what you wouldn’t see was his game-long slog.
Houston was in control from the get go as they came out with the energy of a team desperate for a win. That energy, coupled with careless Warriors ball security led to a 15-point hole at one point.
Kerr said that his team has been lacking the energy needed to win ballgames recently, but finally showed the necessary fight:
I think in some ways we had forgotten how hard you have to play to win in this league. And I think tonight our guys remembered that lesson, especially during that first half when we were getting our butts kicked and nothing was going our way.”
The Warriors finished with 19 turnovers, which led directly to 29 Rockets points.
Golden State actually shot better from the field and behind the arc than Houston, but those turnovers kept them in the rearview.
Slowly the Warriors made their run in the third, Jordan Poole had a five-point possession after hitting two flagrant free throws, and following that up with an and-1.
And though they clawed their way back, they just couldn’t get over the hump.
Curry had a few shots to tie or take the lead late, but his jumpers were nowhere close. The only shot that mattered though was the last one.
And the last one was as pure as you can get.
Kerr said he’s not worried about Curry because the confidence he has in himself is unwavering:
That’s the deepest level of confidence a player can have, turning an 0-for-10 or whatever he was to start the game, into a night where he hits the game winning shot at the buzzer… He lives by the motto of ‘the next one’s going in’, he genuinely believes it. And he understands the power behind that thinking.”
The bench celebrated like they had just won a playoff series, which may seem silly when it takes a buzzer beater to beat one of the worst teams in the league.
It was cathartic though, which is exactly what Kerr felt:
It’s been a real struggle the last couple of weeks and it hasn’t been fun. It’s no fun losing. We’ve just had some adversity and we haven’t handled it very well… So that celebration was as much relief as anything, but it was warranted.
Curry’s frustration has been boiling over the last couple contests.
He was demonstrative after a blown play from Gary Payton II Thursday, and Friday saw him come into the huddle and Spartan kick a chair.
It’s been a struggle for him to get his shot going, something he’s never really had to deal with before. But after his game winner you could see the weight lift off his shoulders immediately.
The smile was back as his teammates mobbed him.
Will that carry over to the next few games? That we’ll have to wait and see, but you can see the joy from Curry start to creep back in. Joy and a lot of relief.
The road doesn’t get any easier after the Warriors recent rough two-game stretch as the Utah Jazz will come to town Sunday. The Jazz have also been scuffling of late and missing a key component with Donovan Mitchell in concussion protocols.
Otto Porter Jr got the start Friday, which moved Jonathan Kuminga back to the bench. Porter finished with 13 points and seven rebounds and Kuminga stayed productive off the bench with seven points of his own. … Kevon Looney pulled in 12 rebounds, marking the fifth straight game he’s had double-digit rebounds. He’s averaging 12.2 rebounds over that same stretch.