SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors rode the COVID-19 wave to shorthanded wins over two conference rivals, but on Monday reminded the league of what they’re capable of at full strength, or at least getting closer to it.
With a vintage performance from Draymond Green in his return from health and safety protocols, the Warriors didn’t mind getting more assists (10) from Steph Curry than points (nine), or that Klay Thompson remained on the bench in street clothes. It’s unlikely either of those remain true for long, leaving Golden State (29-7) only primed to add reinforcements to a group that raced out to a double-digit lead and rarely trailed to prevail, 115-108, against one of the top teams in the East, the Miami Heat.
I was definitely energized, and I felt great,” Green said after stuffing the stat sheet again (5 points, 13 assists, eight assists, four blocks). “My lungs felt great. … I played 36 minutes and I’m not sure I breathed hard more than two times.
Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins were the primary beneficiaries of Green’s team-leading 13 assists — one shy of a season-high — scoring 32 and 22 points apiece to lead the Warriors. With 39 total assists on 45 buckets, Golden State matched the season-high in assists it set the game prior against Utah while playing without Green, becoming the first team since 1994 to record 39 or more assists in consecutive games.
The Heat (23-15) represented the East two years ago in the NBA Finals and hold the fourth spot in the conference standings this season, but they were missing eight players, including starting center Bam Adebayo, and were playing the second leg of a back-to-back. Leading scorer Jimmy Butler injured his ankle on a drive in the second half and didn’t return, either.
That game was a testament to Heat culture. That was extreme Miami Heat basketball,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve established a competitive spirit that’s going to be there every single night. We knew that. We talked to our team about it beforehand. Honestly that was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from an undermanned team.
The Warriors were able to race out to a lead as large as 13 points in the first quarter, but Miami used a 21-6 run in the middle of the second quarter to erase the deficit and briefly take the lead. After that, Golden State didn’t extend its lead back to double digits until the end of the third quarter but also went all but one possession for the remainder of the game without losing the lead again.
They kept competing; they kept coming after us,” Kerr said.
Golden State didn’t need much of a contribution from Curry, who started the game empty-handed on his first five attempts from the field. Curry was held to a season-low nine points (previous: 12) on 3-of-17 shooting; it was only the second time in his past nine games with fewer than five 3-pointers. He picked up his second foul less than 3 minutes into the game and made his way to the bench, where Poole, in his second game out of the starting lineup this season, was ready to enter.
It was clear Poole has embraced his new role. He provided an immediate spark plug with a pair of 3-pointers — the Warriors’ first points from a source other than Wiggins — and led the team in scoring, despite coming off the bench.
We needed all of his 32 points,” Kerr said. “The early foul trouble with Steph changed our rotations. What a luxury to be able to come off the bench with a guy who just started the first 35 games, or whatever it was. Jordan has turned into a critical player for us and he will remain to be critical with guys coming back, even coming off the bench.
In addition to his five points, Green scored roars from the crowd with two blocks: one on P.J. Tucker on a second-quarter corner 3 that went flying out of bounds, despite Green’s best efforts to save it, and late in the fourth quarter, under the basket on Omer Yurtseven, which led to an emphatic finish by Poole on the other end that made it 115-104, after completing the play at the foul line.
Six of Green’s assists came in the first quarter, helping the Warriors open a 28-15 lead. Otto Porter Jr. started the second quarter with two quick steals, using the second to set up Jonathan Kuminga for a fast break layup that made it 37-25 with 10:44 left before halftime. Barely 4 minutes later, though, Caleb Martin sank consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game and give Miami the lead, 46-43.
With the returns of Green and Damion Lee, the Warriors have cleared all their players from health and safety protocols. Kerr also had associate head coach Mike Brown back on the bench for the first time since before Christmas after his own stint in protocols.
Golden State is due for even more reinforcements in the coming weeks that should make permanent Poole’s transition to the bench.
Before tipoff, Thompson donned his pregame garb and joined his teammates for pregame warm-ups, sharing the court with Green and Curry at the same time for the first time since the 2019 Finals, when he tore his ACL in Game 6, kicking off a two-and-a-half year recovery that is entering its final stages.
After going through pregame warm-ups, Thompson flashed six digits on his fingers as he ran back into the locker room. As in: six days until the possible long-awaited return of the star shooting guard, Sunday against the Cavaliers. All that’s left is a two-game swing to Dallas and New Orleans, the third straight road trip Thompson will accompany the team.
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