Kevin Porter Jr. has made some mistakes in his NBA career. He freaked out and threw food when the Cleveland Cavaliers moved his locker and got traded, crashed his Mercedes with a loaded gun inside, and once stormed out of the arena and went home at halftime after arguing with Houston’s coaches. But no mistake was bigger than talking trash to Steph Curry in the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ 122-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
At the time, the Warriors were leading 74-67, and Steph Curry had mostly been a distributor. He had 16 points, but he’d only taken ten shots in his 25 minutes. Then Porter was whistled for an off-ball foul, yelled at the ref, and then decided to stare down Curry. This was not wise. For the rest of the game, and Porter grabbed, chirped, and mean-mugged, Curry just scored. And scored. And scored. He scored 24 points in the last 16 minutes of the game, on 8-13 shooting, including five three-pointers. NBA Jam fans will know this as “on fire” mode, as Curry appeared to also have unlimited turbo capabilities during this run. Oh, and he also dished out four assists. Maybe the cause of Curry’s January shooting woes was a lack of revenge motivation.
The result was a sixth straight win for the Warriors, and their first win to open a road trip since November. Despite Curry’s heroids, the Dubs didn’t truly put the game away until Curry won a jump ball with under four minutes left - is there anything Steph can’t do after a chirping opponent feeds him a metaphorical Mario star? - and then calmly drilled his sixth triple of the half.
Curry finished with 40 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. He even blocked a shot! His 21-point 4th gave him the most 20-point quarters in NBA history, passing a guy named Kobe. It’s probably due to Curry’s intense competitiveness and focus, his signature Holey Moley Mentality.
Andrew Wiggins once again tore it up early, scoring 17 of his 23 points in the first half, before wisely deferring to Chef Curry later. Wiggs also had two steals and two blocks. Klay Thompson had 14 points despite going 1-8 from distance, plus three assists, and a rejuvenated Juan Toscano-Anderson had ten points and two steals in 21 energetic minutes off the bench, plus his one requisite offensive foul.
The Warriors played small all night with Draymond Green and Nemanja Bjelica out, starting off with Wiggins at power forward and giving the start to rookie Moses Moody, who acquitted himself well with 11 points and three triples. That meant that once again, the burden of the boards fell on the Ground-Bound Mound of Rebound himself, Kevon Looney, who pulled in 14 rebounds without jumping more than 15 inches off the ground at any time. He finished the month of January averaging 9.9 rebounds per game, with 29 combined in the last two games. Looney is also the only Warriors to play in - and start - every game this season.
Looney’s biggest play of the night came with the Warriors leading by nine in the final minutes. Gary Payton II missed a three from the corner, and Looney fought for the offensive rebound, then made the putback through contact. A game-icing three is called a dagger; this was a mace, a two-by-four to the back of the head, or some other blunt object. After he made the free throws, it was 118-106 lead, and Rockets’ fans were heading for the exits after losing to Steph Curry yet again.
For Houston, seven players scored in double digits, led by Christian Wood’s 24 points and 13 boards. But just as in the teams’ earlier clash this month, Wood did most of his damage before halftime, scoring 17 of his points. In the second half, he only put up seven, along with four turnovers. After the game he said, “Overall, I think we did okay. I’m not mad,” exactly the kind of sentiments Houston fans want to hear after their star disappears in crunch time. Wood also threw perhaps the worst outlet pass of the year midway through the third, overthrowing his teammate by roughly 25 feet.
Porter also turned the ball over four times in the second half, though he scored 14 points, finishing with 17 points and 11 assists. Rookie Jalen Green struggled again against the Warriors, scoring ten points on 2-9 shooting. In the three Houston-Golden State games, he’s 6-32 from the field and averaging 7.3 points.
Garrison Mathews continued to torment the Warriors off the bench, hitting three bombs and also drawing another three-shot foul, a specialty of his against Golden State. Speaking of fouls and long-distance shots, the Warriors had three-pointers waved off three different times due to off-ball offensive fouls, a big part of Houston staying in the game so long.
Golden State started the game on a 10-0 run, with four different players scoring on four different players’ assists. Moody led off the game nailing a three, a very welcome development. Moody’s shot always looks pretty, but so far this year, it’s mostly been only going through the hoop in Santa Cruz.
But they couldn’t keep it up, and after three Wood three-pointers in a minute and a half, the Rockets took the lead on a Jae’Sean Tate dunk. Wood had 14 for the quarter. Houston led 25-23 going into the second, and took their biggest - and final - lead at 27-23, before three-point plays from Kuminga and Curry, plus a conventional three-pointer from Thompson gave the Warriors a lead they’d never relinquish.
The Warriors pushed the lead to 13, but the resilient Rockets scored ten points in the final two minutes of the second to keep the lead at nine, despite Wiggins scoring the Warriors’ last seven points of the half. It’s part of a troubling recent trend of the Warriors easing off at the end of quarters, possibly the result of Steve Kerr substituting Curry back into the game late, or not at all.
Just before Porter pumped him up, the Rockets had closed to within three points in the third quarter, after a 1-7 stretch where Klay Thompson missed three straight triples. But Curry drew a three-shot foul, then hit a very confident shot over Wood to push the lead to nine points again.
The Warriors also did it with defense down the stretch. The team had ten steals overall, but the most impressive one came from Wiggins. With four minutes left, he doubled and took the ball away from Jalen Green so strongly that it was more of a robbery than an outright steal. A minute later, Payton savagely blocked Green, and managed to hit Wiggins on a run out as Young Glove fell out of bounds, leading to free throws. Finally, Looney forced a jump ball on Wood, and actually won it, despite having almost no ability to jump. Steph Curry + gritty defense is a very difficult combination for any team to overcome, but particularly a team relying on rookies and combustible veterans.
The solid play of JTA kept rookie Jonathan Kuminga’s minutes limited. Throughout the game, Kuminga constantly showed off why he’s such a talent, and how he’s still just a teenager. A sequence in the fourth quarter summed up the Johnny K experience of this game: Curry knocked away a pass, and Kuminga drove furiously to the rim into two Rockets, getting it blocked by Kenyon Martin Jr. as Damion Lee sprinted to the corner, wide open. Seconds later, he committed a flagrant-one foul on Alperen Sengun, leading to a four-point possession. He finished with just three points in a rough offensive night, but figures to get a lot of opportunities tonight in San Antonio.
The Texas two-step continues tonight in San Antonio, where Steve Kerr will reunite with his old friend Gregg Popovich. The Dubs will be without Otto Porter Jr. and likely Nemanja Bjelica, with Klay Thompson resting on the second night of a back-to-back as well. That means they’ll need a strong effort from the rookies, more quality rebounding from Looney, but most of all, they need Dejounte Murray or Derrick White to stare down Curry early, or Lonnie Walker IV. Because you don’t want to poke a bear, and you definitely don’t want to mean-mug a baby-faced assassin.