Harrison Barnes landed on Markieff Morris’ foot, and the Golden State Warriors turned it into a positive. Of course they did. But Saturday night’s story escalated yet another blowout (a 120-101 win to push the Warriors’ record to 18-0) into a feel-good tale that would melt the heart of anyone in Northern California who doesn’t root for the Sacramento Kings.
Brandon Rush was named the starter, and yeah, it seemed kind of weird. Yes, even though Rush, 30, started when Klay Thompson missed a game with his back injury. Rush’s story is well-known to Warriors fans, but we’re all trained through years of watching professional sports to write off guys like him, who’ve torn ligaments and didn’t bounce back within a year.
- His last productive season was four years ago, when he was one of the Warriors’ best players in 2011-12. Back then he defended, made threes, and was kept off the floor late in the season because his efficient play was hindering the Warriors’ tanking efforts.
- He suffered a terrible knee injury in the second game of the 2012-13 season, and ended up on the Utah Jazz as a throw-in in the Andre Iguodala trade.
- He’s done next to nothing since.
Until Saturday night!
OK, there’s more to it. Bob Myers re-signed Rush two summers ago, and it seemed like a nostalgic, yet intelligent reunion. The Warriors could use another three-and-D guy, and Rush didn’t cost all that much. They went on to win the title, but Rush was the 11th or 12th man on the bench. He wasn’t in shape. He could barely dunk. After making well over 40% of his threes throughout his career, he went 3-for-27 from long range last season. He looked like he was done. And if he was, no one would’ve thought twice.
Rush came into this season much slimmer, but he still hadn’t done all that much. He appeared in nine of the Warriors’ first 17 wins, scoring a grand total of 24 points.
Then the third quarter happened.
Rush dunked over Ben McLemore less than a minute in. Andrew Bogut had the assist. Rush made a three a little over a minute later. Draymond Green assisted there. Rush made another three 20 seconds later, this time on an assist by Stephen Curry. It took just 48 more seconds for Rush to make yet another three, and Curry was the helper yet again. It was clear at this point that Curry, who knows a hot shooter when he sees one, was looking for Rush.
Yes, the best shooter on earth was doing all he could to find a guy who looked completely out of place on an NBA floor months ago. And, as my dad texted after the game, “When he came off (the floor), the team knocked him around then Curry sat down next to him.”
With every shot Rush made, you could see how much his teammates love him. Rush’s threes caused Andre Iguodala — who probably shows more joy playing basketball than anyone else in the NBA right now — to dance in front of the bench. With every timeout following a Rush three, the team celebrated like they just watched Rush win the Slam Dunk contest. And Rush couldn’t stop himself from smiling throughout.
It’s easy to scoff at an NBA player who might not have had the best possible time during a championship season. No big deal, right? Life could be worse than (1) collecting NBA paychecks when your play is subpar, (2) riding through a parade and (3) getting a ring after the guys in the rotation vanquished the rest of the league.
But Rush’s career was on the rise before he wrecked his knee against Memphis. Money and minutes should’ve been his. The Warriors knew what he used to be, and today he briefly recaptured what most thought he had lost. Saturday night may have been a fluke, but who knows — maybe 14 points in a 3:19 stretch gave Rush enough confidence to become a valuable role player and change the course of his career. Whenever it seems like this team is done either surprising us or making the rest of the league feel ill, due to their personnel depth and overall camaraderie, stuff like Rush turning Barnes’ ankle injury into another reason for optimism occurs.