In the hallway outside the Warriors locker room before Monday night’s game against the Clippers, head coach Steve Kerr made light of his own team in his usual, sarcastic tone. He joked that anything under 20 turnovers would be acceptable to him, and when asked about the energy level on the back-end of a back-to-back, he replied:
“It should be fine. We didn’t spend much effort last game.”
Valid or not, the Warriors (5-3) didn’t look like a team playing the second of a back-to-back on the road, beating up on the Clippers (4-2) 141-113 at Staples Center.
And with 12 turnovers, they kept that statistic under 20.
Coming off a deflating home loss to the Pistons Sunday that continued the defending champions’ up-and-down start to the season, Golden State finally flashed their championship composure against their divisional rival.
Kerr opened his postgame remarks by saying:
“That looked like us.”
Klay Thompson, who scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, added the Warriors were disappointed after Sunday’s loss, and did not want to drop two in a row:
“We hate losing two games in a row. We’ve done it very seldom the last three years. We were angry, as we should’ve been and we rebounded very well today, as well as we could.”
It seemed like the Warriors were due for one of these games, a comfortable, blowout win that happened so often last season. But Draymond Green, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, said it was all about actually desiring a win:
“We all started to want [a win]. We’re competitors. We’re a championship team. You kinda just want to feel good about yourself. More so than ‘due for one,’ it was just searching for that feeling.”
For starters, they held on to the basketball, which, for an offense as potent as Golden State’s, is usually a recipe for success.
But that offense was also churning. The Warriors shot 61 percent in the first half, dropping 74 points on a Clippers team that entered the contest with the association’s best scoring defense to take a 17-point lead into the break, with four starters in double-digits no less.
“Seems like we didn’t have any huge lulls like we’ve been having the last 6-7 games. Our focus was much greater.”
The Warriors pulled away in the second quarter with a 40-point frame, extending the lead to 66-50 with two minutes left in the half on a 3-pointer by Thompson.
Then Stephen Curry took over.
He scored 15 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter dropping four 3-pointers in the frame, displaying his patented second-half explosion for the first time this season. His make from distance after Lou Williams cut the lead to single digits reaffirmed the Warriors’ grasp on the game, and then he finished off the quarter with a dazzling behind-the-back move on Austin Rivers followed by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put the Warriors up 107-86 after three quarters.
Kerr’s halftime speech, Curry said, challenged the team to not blow another lead:
“Great message to send us out to the second half, challenge us to keep our foot on the pedal. The first three minutes of the third quarter was slow-paced, but we didn’t compound that with turnovers and mistakes that could kill us and change the momentum.”
Indeed, Kerr said that the one stat he was proud of the most was the assist-to-turnover ratio (the Warriors finished with 37 assists compared to 12 turnovers). He also liked how the Warriors had more field goals than the Clippers (89-86), just the second time this season they have accomplished the feat. And they did it by taking care of the basketball and hitting singles instead of aiming for triples or home runs.
Kevin Durant, who had 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, said:
“We’re beating ourselves with some things right now. The small detailed things are why we’re losing basketball games. You see tonight when we correct that, we can be a phenomenal team.”
The Warriors also received a spark from Jordan Bell, the rookie forward who was inactive for Sunday’s loss. He showed Kerr why benching him again would be bad idea, with a productive five-minute spurt in the second quarter where he finished off an alley-oop in the game’s closing seconds. He set it up dishing a nice assist, knocking down a mid-range jump shot and recording a steal that resulted in two free throws by Durant.
Green said of Bell, who some have touted as the protege of the reigning defensive player of the year:
“He’s a gamer. You put him out there and he just figures out a way to get stuff down.”
By the time Bell departed with under three minutes left in the first half, the Warriors had increased their lead from three to 11 points.
Just one incremental step to what would be a night of the Warriors returning to championship form, though Green said this year’s Warriors are not even close to a finished product:
“I don’t think we’re better at all right now. We’ve got a long ways to go. We’re talking about a championship team who won the Finals pretty handily. We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be or where we can be. It’s a long road, and we’ll get there. It has the potential to be better, but we’re not even close right now.”
The Warriors have a few days off before what should be another good Western Conference matchup against the Spurs (4-2) in San Antonio.
The Warriors’ 74 first-half points were a season high for a half. And their 40-point second quarter was tied a season high for a quarter. … JaVale McGee, with 10 points, finished in double digits for the first time this season. … Curry recorded his third 30-point game of the campaign. … ESPN reported before the game that the Warriors would not pick up Kevon Looney’s fourth-year option, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. After playing a starring role in the Warriors’ win over the Wizards on Friday, the 2015 first-round pick was inactive for Monday’s game. Kerr insinuated that Looney and Bell would be battling for minutes this season. … Kerr also talked at length before the game about the post-championship hangover the Warriors are going through:
“You feel it after a number of years. The team has a different vibe around it. You’ve got to fight through that. When I got here three years ago, these guys were bouncing off the walls every night. They couldn’t wait to play. They had lost in the first round the previous year. They had this hunger and this motivation.”