The Golden State Warriors remained undefeated on Sunday, defeating the Sacramento Kings 119-107 in the latest back-and-forth affair between the Northern California rivals. Stephen Curry recorded his 5,000th career assist and finished the game just three rebounds shy of a triple-double. Despite Curry’s historic milestone, it was another unexceptional performance from the future Hall of Famer.
It did look like Curry was heading towards an MVP-caliber night early. He made two deep threes and recorded 17 points, four rebounds, and seven assists on 5-for-11 shooting in the first half. However, fantastic shooting from Sacramento kept the Kings ahead for most of the half.
Sacramento as a team shot .533/.417/.800 in the first half, but rookie guard Davion Mitchell was easily the standout performer. Known for his advanced defensive prowess, Mitchell made his presence felt on both ends of the court. Mitchell racked up 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting (3-for-5 from three) in the first half.
Mitchell was far from the only Kings player with a strong start from the field. Harrison Barnes, Tyrese Haliburton, and Mo Harkless combined for 27 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field (7-for-11 from three) in the first half as well.
Yet, once again, the Warriors played well enough to stay within striking distance. Starting shooting guard Jordan Poole dropped in 10 points on five shots, and ordinarily non-scoring bigs Draymond Green and Kevon Looney combined for 14 points in the half.
With Andre Igoudala out with left hip soreness, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr had to shake up his rotation a bit. When offseason acquisitions Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. failed to generate much offensive punch, Kerr turned to the 15th player on the roster: Gary Payton II.
Payton’s defensive intensity made life more difficult for Sacramento’s guards. However, it did not make much of a difference in the first half. Still, he made sure to come away with a highlight from his first extended playing time of the regular season.
While Bjelica, Porter, and Juan-Toscano Anderson all struggled to make an impact, Damion Lee once again stepped up off the Dubs bench. Through the first three games of the season, Lee has seemed to drop in a bucket whenever Golden State is at risk of falling far behind.
When the Kings nearly stretched their lead to double-digits towards the end of the second quarter, Lee scored nine points over the next three minutes and helped the Warriors retake the lead momentarily before both teams exchanged baskets over the final minutes of the second quarter.
As the half ended, Andrew Wiggins missed an uncontested layup that would have tied the game. Still, given all that had gone right for the Kings, it was a foreboding sign that they only led 62-60 at halftime.
Curry’s offensive production fell off in the second half. He was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and finished the game 4-for-15 from three. Without Curry’s usual production, the rest of the starting lineup continued stepping up. Poole scored another 12 points in the second half, and the slumping Andrew Wiggins found his first offensive rhythm of the season. Wiggins bailed out several bad offensive possessions, finished with a game-high +18 plus/minus, and scored 17 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
Payton, though, would be the story of the game. In another extended run in the second half, Payton continued harassing the Kings guards and flashed some shooting touch. He nailed a pair of open threes early in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field.
Whether it was Payton’s harassment, regression to the mean, or a combination of the two, Mitchell’s offensive spark dissipated in the fourth quarter. In fact, the entire Kings offense evaporated down the stretch. Sacramento scored just 19 points in the fourth quarter on .364/.154/.500 shooting as the Warriors slowly pulled away and avoided any last-minute run from the Kings.
After struggling with turnovers throughout the preseason and in their first two regular-season games, the Warriors limited their mistakes and made sure the Kings hot offensive start could not snowball into a massive early lead. Golden State made just six turnovers in Sunday’s game while Sacramento racked up 19 turnovers.
The Warriors have bounced between the extremes of the NBA over the past few seasons. From the historic dynasty years to being the worst team in the NBA in 2019-20, Dubs Nation has had little exposure to the variance of an average NBA team. Even last year’s 39-33 team was more a story of how much Curry could carry a flawed roster than anything else.
Many Bay Area sports fans were busy watching the 49ers blow another early lead in an embarrassing 30-18 loss on Sunday Night Football. The Niners have become a team devoid of confidence from their fanbase. Any deficit feels insurmountable, and most leads feel destined to evaporate. Warriors fans have often felt the same way over the past couple of seasons.
It’s hard not to have a different feeling watching the Warriors this season. Curry is still the center from which everything else orbits, but Golden State seems to finally be back discovering different ways to win instead of finding new ways to lose.
The Kings have been a constant pain in the Warriors side over the years, playing them tougher than the standings would suggest. Yet while the Kings led for most of the first three quarters, Golden State still seemed in control. This roster is confident and comfortable, especially against unproven teams. It’s still early, but it’s hard not to feel excited about where this team could head after starting the regular season on a three-game winning streak.
The Warriors head to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder on Tuesday. The Dubs have an opportunity to rack up some wins early in the season. Following their trip to OKC, Golden State comes home for an eight-game homestand against the Grizzlies, Thunder, Hornets, Pelicans, Rockets, Hawks, Timberwolves, and Bulls. That’s a long stretch without playing any of the most talented rosters in the league.
The Warriors started their season with a big-game win over the Lakers. That’s half of being a great team. The other part is consistently beating lesser opponents. After defeating the Kings on Sunday, they are off to a good start. Now, they have an opportunity to keep the victories coming as the schedule loosens up.