Missing your best player is never easy. It’s normal for teams to struggle, especially if that best player is a two-time MVP.
But the Golden State Warriors have three players who could be considered the best on many other teams, which made their four-game skid all the more worrisome.
Stephen Curry missed his eighth-straight game with a groin strain, but the Warriors (13-7) didn’t miss him Friday, throttling the Portland Trail Blazers (12-7), 113-89.
With Curry still out, Klay Thompson looked to establish his shooting rhythm early, but the shot wasn’t falling. Thompson forced his shot, and though he did manage to finish the first quarter with 12 points he did so on 5-of-10 shooting — 1-of-3 from deep.
In the second quarter, Golden State looked like the team from earlier this season, with Curry, and started hitting their shots, pulling away for good.
Jonas Jerebko made another impact off the bench hitting two 3’s, one to tie the game at 29 and another to give the Warriors a four-point lead. He finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
Portland got three more points after a timeout following Jerebko’s second triple, but the Warriors followed with a 9-0 run.
Kevin Durrant took over for the rest of the quarter, pouring in 14 of his own points, including an emphatic and-one dunk, leading the Warriors into a sizeable 59-44 halftime lead. He’d finish the game with a team highs in points (32) and assists (7). He also grabbed eighth boards.
Of his hot second quarter, Durrant said:
“I played all 12 minutes. I played the whole quarter, it gave me a lot of time to just be effective out there.”
Bigs Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney were once again up to the task of filling in for starter Damian Jones, who was once again largely ineffective and saw just 10 minutes.
Head Coach Steve Kerr said of his big man rotation:
“It’s kind of matchup based but Jordan has earned himself some minuets for sure. All three of our young centers are going to play, it’s just a matter of matchups and who is playing well and what kind of rhythm we are in.”
Bell came in and provided hustle plays including a full-out dive in the second quarter to save a ball from going out of bounds. The young big has struggled to gain playing time this season, but was all over the court finishing with a Draymond Green-lite stat line of five points, seven assists and five rebounds along with 2 blocked shots.
Durrant said of Bell’s play:
“It changed the game for us, putting your body on the line for your team, especially when you’ve been struggling lately. For him to stay ready shows he’s a true pro, he’s always looking to take advantage of an opportunity.”
Kerr also praised Bell’s work ethic when he said:
“He’s been great. He’s stayed ready, never complained, worked hard every day and stayed professional. Really happy for him.”
Quinn Cook, who made his fifth start of the year in place of Curry, also had some praise for the versatile Bell when he said:
“I was so proud of Jordan (Bell). Me and him got extremely close and we hold each other accountable. Sometimes we are in the rotation and sometimes we are not. He told me to stay positive and would challenge me every day and vice versa.”
Cook finished with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from downtown, along with three boards and two assists in 30 minutes.
In the third quarter, it was more of the same from the second. Thomson trusted his early season shot and it paid off, draining three threes and scoring 15 points giving the Warriors a 19-point lead to start the final quarter. He finished with 31 points and eight rebounds, but more importantly, 4-of-9 from deep.
The Blazers still thought they were in the game and came out hot taking four points off the lead in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, leading to a Golden State timeout. Portland got the lead down to 13 after, a Jusuf Nurkic three-point play with six minutes to go, but that would be the closest it got. Nurkic finished the game with a team-high 22 points but a modest seven boards.
Portland’s dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum was held in check after what looked to be a hot start. The Oakland native Lillard had an off-night, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-20 from the field to go with eight assists, while McCollum added 22 points and five assists.
“With this team, it starts with C.J. (McCollum) and Damian (Lillard), one of the best backcourts in the league. We knew we had our hands full, we just wanted to make them work.”
The Warriors go for two wins in two nights when they host the surprisingly feisty Sacramento Kings, who no longer serve as the NBA’s punching bag, Saturday night at Oracle.
This will be their fifth back-to-back of the season already. The Warriors are (3-1) in the second game of back-to-backs this season.