Facing the first-place Miami Heat without Draymond Green or Klay Thompson, on the second night of a road back-to-back, one night after a heartbreaking loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, it seemed impossible that the Golden State Warriors would win. Almost as impossible as it would be for All-Star Jimmy Butler and Coach Erik Spoelstra to nearly come to blows during a timeout, with eternal Heat player-coach-enforcer Udonic Haslem threatening to “beat [Jimmy’s] ass.” But both those things happened Wednesday night in Miami, as Jordan Poole carved up Miami’s vaunted defense and Jonathan Kuminga - who’s 22 years younger than Haslem - bullied his way to 22 points, as the Warriors rode a 19-0 third quarter run to a 118-104 victory over the Heat.
Poole scored 30 points on 10-18 shooting, including seven three-pointers, and also dished out 9 assists. His Steph Curry impression was complete when the desperate Heat started sending double teams at him late in the game, even 25 feet from the basket. It was his 11th straight game with 20+ points. He’s now shooting 54% from the field in March, and 49% from three-point range. Last March, Poole was recalled from the G League on March 1st - he’s had a pretty nice 12-and-a-half months since then. And early in the third quarter, he gave a preview of what he’ll be doing after a contract extension this summer: Making bank.
Kuminga, starting in place of Green, was 9-17 before fouling out on a controversial call where his solar plexus apparently fouled Butler’s elbow in the 4th quarter. At this point, Draymond may need to send an edible arrangement and an apology note to referee Marat Kogut, or the Warriors may never get a call from a referee again.
Besides the fouls, an unavoidable consequence of guarding Butler all game, the only knock on Kuminga’s performance - he was a staggering +26 in his 30 minutes - was 4-8 shooting from the free throw line. But he was the only Warrior to miss a freebie as the rest of the team was a perfect 19-19.
Speaking of perfect from the line, Splash Brother-In-Law Damion Lee was 9-9 from the charity stripe, on his way to 22 points, six rebounds, and three assists in 31 minutes, proving his family connections aren’t the only reason he’s on the roster. As Vice President of the Damion Lee Is Just Fine, Okay? Society, it was a performance that warmed my heart. And despite a slow start, Andrew Wiggins was dominant late, salting the game away with a three-point play while falling down, a dagger three, and two free throws with the Warriors holding onto a tenuous lead.
We’d be remiss not to celebrate the tenacious game from the Warriors’ iron man, the Ground-Bound Mound of Rebound Kevin Looney, who was a terror on the glass. He hauled in 16 boards for the Dubs, part of a team-wide commitment to hustle plays and boxing out, and finished with two steals and zero turnovers while matched up against the Heat’s young star, Bam Adebayo. He’s also the only Warrior to play all 72 games this season. Improbably, the Warriors won the rebound battle soundly, 45-34, with point center Nemanja Bjelica contributing six rebounds and five dimes. Draymond told them they needed to get physical; they got physical.
For the Heat, longtime Golden State nemesis Kyle Lowry had a big game, scoring 26 points on just 14 shots and dishing out nine assists. Adebayo had an efficient 25 points and 9 rebounds, though he turned the ball over four times. And Butler had 20 points and hit both of his three-point attempts, despite shooting 18.5% on the year, which clearly drove Warriors announcer Bob Fitzgerald into a fit apoplexy, as it does anytime an opposing player out-performs his season average. Remember it’s a small sample size, Bob! And stop trying to make “Running with friends” happen!
Butler’s hot shooting - two threes in the first five minutes - and a lot of Heat threeballs put the Warriors on their heels early, and after Duncan Robinson hit his second triple and Butler nailed a short hook shot, the Warriors, despite a new starting lineup with rookies Kuminga and Moses Moody, had their fourth straight double-digit first quarter deficit. But after a timeout, Poole delivered a Curry-esque flurry of seven points, showing of his variety of moves - a deep stepback jumper, a a pullup three, and a driving layup. (We need a term for these explosions. Poole Party? Jordan puttin’ the sword in? We’ll work on it.) Meanwhile they held the Heat scoreless for the final 4:24 and closed the quarter tied 23-all.
But the Heat got very little scoring from their bench, with Miami reserves shooting just 5-22 for 13 points. Victor Oladipo was 3-11, the whiplashed Markieff Morris missed both his shots, and Max Strus was scoreless in his five attempts, and got into it with Bjelica, to his detriment. Meanwhile the Warriors got 42 points from their bench, with Lee leading the way with 22 and the thankfully-returned Gary Payton II notching 11 points on six shots, including a huge steal and layup.
Lee got especially hot in the second quarter, keeping the Warriors in the game with 12 points in the quarter, five of them from the line. Even without any outside shooting - the Dubs were 3-19 from long-range in the first half, about as accurate as a James Wiseman injury report from Warriors management. Though the third one they hit was a thing of beauty, when Poole nearly faked Lowry into the stands on a triple.
The Warriors maintained a small lead mainly thanks to Kuminga’s relantless drives to the basket, resulting in dunks, layups, and a lot of free throws. And when Duncan Robinson finally stopped him and got help, Kuminga hit a turnaround jumper in his face.
After the game, Coach Steve Kerr called him “so gifted, so explosive,” and Andrew Wiggins simply said he was “nice, man.”
Lowry hit two layups in the final 12 seconds, and at halftime, the teams were locked up at 50-50. But it didn’t stay tied for long. Wiggins shook off his first half rust and nailed three early jumpers. Butler couldn’t draw a shooting foul on Kuminga, and Lowry couldn’t draw a charge on Poole, both almost as improbable as Poole’s one-legged banked-in three. And the Heat got, well, heated.
Haslem started yelling at Butler. Heat players started pointing fingers at each other. Coach Spoelstra threw down his clipboard and started after Butler. Dwayne Dedmon tried to play peacemaker with a giant back brace around his waist. Adebayo held back Haslem on the bench, and Duncan Robinson wandered around, painfully aware that no one needed to hear from him at this time.
But the onslaught continued after the break. Wiggins stole a pass and hit Poole for a three. Then Poole, thinking he was fouled, flung up a second banked-in three. The Warriors had three three-pointers in the entire first half, and then hit five in less than five minutes. The result was a 19-0 run, in 4:23 of game action. P.J. Tucker finally ended the run after a long possession featuring an offensive rebound and two Warriors fouls, including a fourth on Kuminga that sent him to the bench. And that’s when the Heat began creeping back.
A flurry of threes got Miami back within single digits, even as Wiggins continued to drive and score. It helped Miami that Moses Moody took a spill and almost took Wiggins down with him as Duncan Robinson hit his most open three of the game. What else helped Miami? The Warriors switching to a junky zone for the last four minutes of the quarter, which somehow left Jordan Poole or Chris Chiozza on Bam Adebayo over and over. The Heat closed the 4th on an 8-0, and despite spotting Golden State a 19-point lead, Miami finished the quarter down only a point, and would have led if not for a chase down block from Wiggins at the buzzer.
Miami finally took a lead early on a Lowry stepback, but then Kuminga went back to what he’d been doing all game, and nailed two more layups, giving the Dubs an 85-84 lead they’d never relinquish. Kuminga kept playing hard and fighting, despite being on the wrong end of a ton of foul calls and no-calls. Dedmon hacked him, no call. Butler launched himself backwards into Kuminga while hooking his arm, foul number five. Maybe he’ll start getting 50/50 calls once he can legally drink?
Bjelica, Oladipo, and Lee traded threes, and then no one made a field goal for a long time. The killer play for Miami was one that the Warriors have been all too familiar recently: a late three-shot foul. Oladipo landed under Poole’s feet, with not a lot of contact, and the NBA’s leading free throw shooter sank all three shots.
Kuminga hit one final layup before more Butler trickery on an and-one finally fouled him out, and the Warriors, who were -20 without their rookie at this point, tried to hold on for the final 5:35. How’d they do it? The three ball. Poole found Lee for another three, and on the next possession, he found GPII in the corner for another. Finally he took advantage of an awkward Miami switch and hit a three of his own - his sixth of the game - to give the Dubs a ten-point lead with 4:22 to go. And unlike the Orlando game, they kept scoring.
Adebayo cut the lead to seven with just over two minutes left, and then they should have played “Enter Sandman” over the PA system at FTX Arena, because Andrew Wiggins was ready to close the game. In three possessions he scored eight points by himself, and the Warriors had won a game that looked like they were planning to essentially forfeit. It was likely a very celebratory night in South Beach, and if Anthony Slater talks about the details, Draymond is going to lose his mind on him again.
With Utah getting smoked by the red-hot Celtics, the Warriors tightened their grip on the third seed in the West, extending their lead over the Jazz to three games. They’ll get a well-earned day off before facing Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks Friday night, where their goal will be to get Trae to fight Nate McMillan and Danilo Gallinari during a timeout. Then they’ll finish the road trip with a back-to-back Washington-Memphis double. Still, going 3-2 on the trip suddenly seems like a distinct possibility, which was unthinkable after the Orlando debacle.
All is well in Warriors Land for another 48 hours, at which point fans can go back to hating Kerr’s rotations, and Klay’s shot selection, and Wiggins’ body language. Just remember that tonight, this scrappy Warriors team made the Heat hate themselves.