The Warriors didn’t play particularly well when Steph Curry was in the lineup this season, so why on Earth would anyone think the Dubs would hit the ground running when he returned from an 11-game absence on Tuesday?
After all, Curry is anything but plug-and-play — his style changes everything the Warriors (and their opponents) do on the court.
Tuesday was Andrew Wiggins’ second game back in the lineup after a month’s absence, too. The Warriors were also graced by the season debut of Andre Iguodala.
There were a lot of moving parts.
“Hopefully, we’ll get everybody on the same page,” Curry said.
And sure enough, the Warriors and Curry struggled for the first three quarters of the final game of the team’s eight-game homestand.
But that fourth quarter of the Warriors’ 125-113 loss to the Suns was something to behold.
That fourth quarter is something to build upon.
In a game the Dubs trailed by as many as 27 points, Golden State cut Phoenix’s margin to six points in the final moments of the contest. They made the Suns sweat down the stretch. They were playing good basketball on both ends of the floor, and Curry scored 16 points in the frame, with Jordan Poole adding 13.
So forget the team’s three-game losing streak. The Warriors have some momentum heading into the team’s five-game road trip.
And no, that’s not trying to reshape a loss into a “moral victory.”
The Warriors head into this road trip in a better situation than anyone (or, at the very least, I) foresaw. The Dubs won more games than they lost with Curry out of the lineup (6-5) and jumped up in the Western Conference standings in the process. At the halfway point of the season, Golden State is one game back of the No. 6 seed, a true playoff spot, and 2.5 games back of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
And simply looking at the teams above them in the standings, it’s hard to imagine the Warriors, with all their talent, not continuing to rise.
I’ll concede the Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Pelicans — the West’s top three teams. But are Sacramento, Dallas, the Clippers, and the Suns better than the Warriors?
I have a hard time buying that.
The firepower on the Dubs is too much.
We know the importance of Curry. The value of Wiggins is understood.
But the re-introduction of Iguodala on Tuesday was eye-opening.
Who knew what he would be able to give the Dubs? I’ll admit that I thought he was only on this team for moral support.
But whatever the Dubs’ training staff was doing with him for the first few months of the season worked.
I don’t expect Iguodala to play every day, but if he can play like he did Tuesday when he does take the court, that’s a game-changer for the Warriors.
Iguodala provides that backup point-guard play the team is always seeking. He also gives the team another wing defender who can hold his own in the post — a critical addition for a team that has re-embraced its small-ball identity.
The Suns might have been without center Deandre Ayton on Tuesday, but they are still a team that believes in the center position. Backups Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale were effective against the small-ball Dubs, who have one healthy center, Kevon Looney.
But the combination of Draymond Green and Iguodala put on a defensive masterclass on Tuesday — particularly late. In 11 minutes together on the floor, the Suns were only able to average 0.76 points per possession. That’s the kind of one-two defensive punch that gives the Warriors liberty to play Poole and Curry together.
Add in the improved defense of Klay Thompson (who has been red-hot offensively as of late, as well), the all-around competence of Wiggins, and the outstanding contributions of Donte DiVincenzo, and the Warriors have an eight-man rotation that can be top-flight on defense.
And that rotation doesn’t include Jonathan Kuminga, who has been a revelation on that side of the ball in recent weeks, or Anthony Lamb, who has been solid on that end of the floor.
Remember: The basis of this Warriors team is defense. Stops turn into transition offense opportunities and Golden State playing its style of basketball. We saw flashes of the Warriors at their running, gunning best late Tuesday.
As of now, they have the pieces to be an outstanding defensive team. That makes them a team that can continue to win more than it loses.
And while that might not seem like a high bar, in a crowded Western Conference, that will take you a long way.
The squad is coming together. The superstar is back in the fold.
It’s time for the Warriors to show their true colors.
Let’s see what this team is made of.
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