For all the flash that this Warriors team shows with DeMarcus Cousins, it was the center’s grit that proved to be the difference Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
A Cousins screen with seven seconds left in a tie game cleared the way for an open Kevin Durant 3. It clanked off the rim, but ricocheted right to where Cousins was bullying his way into the paint. An offensive rebound, a foul and two free throws later Golden State (40-15) escaped with a 120-118 win over the pesky Miami Heat (25-29).
Steve Kerr said the team and Cousins needed to play a close game with him on the floor at the end:
“It was a really good night for him and for us to feel that defensive pressure. We definitely have to get better at both ends… But I was really happy that he was out there at the end of the game, it’s good experience for him. Because he hasn’t been out there much since he came back to close games.”
Just like Friday against the Suns, the Warriors fell down early and often against a far inferior team and got bailed out by their own individual talent.
Kerr said that whenever they play Miami, they know what type of game it’s going to be:
“We kind of warned our guys before the game about what a tough team this is to play. Miami every year, no matter what their roster looks like, they’re one of the best defensive clubs, most disciplined, they just compete and play hard.”
Durant led the way offensively with a game-high 39 points on an efficient 16-of-24 from the field, including hitting 3, his only such make of the night, with 44 seconds left in the game to tie it up.
While those offensive numbers look nice, his overall game was lacking. It was open season on him defensively with Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson taking turns finding open jumpers over an unusually lazy Durant.
He also picked up a technical with the Warriors firmly in control up eight with six minutes to go in the game. The Heat went on a 11-3 run immediately following, and took the lead.
But some timely shooting from Klay Thompson, who had 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, helped fend off the surging Heat.
It was a game of runs. Miami scorched out to a 24-2 run in the first quarter, with Richardson lighting up anyone in sight for 11 points on 3-of-4 from deep. He would stay hot for the full 48 minutes as he finished with 37 on a blistering 8-of-11 from 3.
Meanwhile, the Warriors looked lost and uncaring.
The only thing the home fans had to cheer about in the opening quarter was when a video tribute was played on the jumbotron for Dwyane Wade’s last game at Oracle.
At the end of the first, Miami had nine offensive rebounds — five of them by Hassan Whiteside — while the Warriors had just six rebounds total.
Draymond Green offered his honest opinion on the teams recent struggles against bad teams:
“My honest opinion, it’s the dog days right now. Usually you hit that in January, but we haven’t really hit that because we got DeMarcus back, so it kind of gave us an extra boost. We there right now.”
Golden State was able to pull within five at the half once Stephen Curry did Stephen Curry things. After going just 1-of-4 to start the game he went 5-of-7 in the second to energize the lumbering juggernaut, crawling their way to the All-Star break.
Curry finished with 25 points but ceded the scoring duties to his All-Star teammates in the later parts of the contest.
He said the scoring was really balanced as each superstar took over in different parts of the game:
“I had my moment in the second quarter. Klay was amazing, especially to start the fourth quarter in those first six or seven minutes. And K made big shot after big shot down the stretch. We just had to be a little more methodical about shots we were trying to get.”
Without Andre Iguodala, who sat out with left hamstring tightness, the Warriors spark off the bench came in the form of Jonas Jerebko, who has reentered the rotation the last few games.
Over the last three games he’s averaging 15 minutes and just over seven points per game.
He poured in seven points Sunday on 2-of-3 shooting and gave the Warriors some much-needed effort on the glass.
When Iguodala comes back it’ll be interesting to see if Jerebko maintains a spot in the rotation, and from the way he’s producing he has earned it.
It’s fitting that because Iguodala missed the game, it didn’t allow the Warriors to use their normal finishing death lineup, and instead went with Cousins. And that proved to be the difference.
Thankfully for the Warriors, there are just two games left before the All-Star break, which this team looks like it desperately needs. But first, Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz will visit Oracle Tuesday.
A matchup NBA fans have been looking forward to since both Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala trolled Gobert for crying after not being named an All-Star.