The Warriors seemed to be following a dangerous script in the first half. Golden State’s starters jumped out to a 27-17 lead, but the Dubs collapsed as soon as Curry went to the bench and head coach Steve Kerr turned to the team’s reserves.
Former second overall pick James Wiseman, who had a team-worst plus/minus heading into play on Monday, did not play. If Kerr hoped removing the seven-footer would transform the effectiveness of his second unit, he was sorely disappointed with the results. The Kings erased the Dubs 10-point lead before the end of the first quarter.
Still, the Warriors stayed within striking distance because Curry was having one of the best games of his career. Granted, it feels weird writing that. Sustained greatness can sometimes dull the magic of an amazing performance. Yet Curry, who remains one of the best players in the NBA, is somehow putting up the best numbers of his career since his 2015-2016 unanimous MVP season.
Unlike 2015-16, though, when the Warriors won 73 games in the regular season, this year’s team has looked like a mess. Trailing 67-55 at halftime in spit of Curry’s 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, the Warriors started Jordan Poole in place of Kevon Looney to begin the third quarter. On the surface, replacing Looney, who has been one of the Warriors most consistent contributors this season, with a struggling Poole seemed unexplainable, but it’s about what removing Looney from the lineup did for someone else.
It moved Draymond Green to center.
The Warriors normally want to hold off on sliding Green to the five until the postseason. Kerr has always believed it’s unsustainable to play Green at center over the course of a season. Going up against bigger bodies adds even more wear and tear to his already physical style of play. The fact that he turned to it at home against the Kings in the Warriors 11th game of the season tells fans all they need to know about where Kerr is at with this team.
He’s pushing the panic button.
The good news for the Warriors is Draymond at center worked. The Dubs went on a 7-0 run to start the half and outscored the Kings 13-5 before Green was replaced by Looney after five minutes of regulation.
Of course, eventually, Kerr did have to turn to his bench, and it once again quickly lost the Dubs early gains. Perhaps Kerr thought swapping Poole and Looney could maybe draw out better play from Poole. However, the young combo guard’s indecisiveness continued throughout the third quarter, including several possessions where he passed up creating shots for himself to kick the ball out to Anthony Lamb for mildly open (at best) threes.
With that said, if Kerr swapped Poole and Looney to help improve the second unit’s defense by limiting the amount of time with Looney or Green off the floor, it paid dividends. The Kings managed just 46 points in the second half and the Warriors were able to string stops together for the first time in a while.
Despite being down 95-90 with 7:47 left in regulation, the Warriors starters returned to the floor and slowly began chipping away at the lead, eventually tying things up at 107 in the final minutes. After another stop, Curry got the rebound, dribbled up court, got a screen from Green, and knocked down a step-back three over Kevin Huerter to put the Dubs up 110-107.
Malik Monk beat Klay Thompson off the dribble for a layup on the other end to pull the Kings within one, but Curry answered quickly, spinning into a fadeaway in the paint to push the Warriors ahead 112-109.
A pair of free throws from Domantas Sabonis pulled Sacramento within a point, but a dunk from Green with 37.7 seconds remaining in regulation put the game out of reach. Despite the drama, despite the disappointment, the Warriors evaded disaster.
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 28 points and 6 assists while Monk scored 24 points off the bench. Domantas Sabonis racked up 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists, but had a Kings-worst -16 plus/minus.
Curry finished with 47 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists, but even that undersells his caliber of play. He made 10 of his 12 field-goal attempts from two-point range. He made 7 of his 12 shots from three. His ability to score at that volume with such efficiency remains unparalleled.
Andrew Wiggins was a pivotal second scorer for Golden State, adding 25 points and 10 rebounds while Green filled the statsheet with 11 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists.
The Warriors are now 4-7. They are still far below where they expected to be at this point in the season. They still have yet to find a consistent contributor off their bench. But they have another win, which makes it easier to bide some time to right the ship.
They will look to build a winning streak on Friday when they host the Cavaliers. Opening tip is scheduled for 7:00 PM Pacific.