Leave it to the Warriors to turn what looked like a catastrophic injury to Stephen Curry into a rallying point, a reminder to play within themselves, and a confidence-booster to boot. After they beat Houston 114-81 in Game 5 to clinch the series and outscored the Rockets by 60 points in the six quarters since Curry sprained his right knee, the team somehow gained something new as they prepare to start the next series without him: the realization that they can still be The Warriors without the MVP.
“It definitely gives you more confidence, for sure, because you know you can do it,” said Draymond Green, who came awfully close to a triple-double and was +32 on the night.
“You have the blueprint to doing it. So we know what we have to do when he’s not out there.”
Let’s not go any further without noting that the Rockets are an atrocious outfit. A dreary, cynical, broken team. Still, the Warriors were expected by most to look a little shakier than this without Curry, especially after they struggled in Game 3. Most teams could take an entire season to figure out how to mesh without their best player. The Warriors took less than two games, which has to be a little frightening for the Blazers (or the Clippers, if they somehow win two in a row without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin).
So, what is the “blueprint,” exactly?
First, someone needs to step into the lead gunner role that Curry has taken to new heights, and Klay Thompson has scored 39 points in 39 minutes since Curry injured his knee, shooting 70% from the field and going a very Curry-like 11-for-16 on threes in his absence.
“We got another killa who draws a lot of attention as well. And you have someone who’s so good, you guys tend to forget about him a little bit,” said Andre Iguodala. “That’s Klay.”
And as historically dominant as the Warriors have been over the last two seasons with Curry, they have two things going for them when he isn’t available.
1. They’re the deepest team in the NBA, and they get along (unlike the Rockets).
Green: “It definitely helps the confidence a bit, and this win tonight, everybody chipped in. Obviously Klay heated up. Shaun had a good game. I was able to play well, Bogut played well, Ian played well, Brandon Rush played well, Harrison chipped in. Everybody who came in. Anderson Varejao, who hasn’t played the entire series, came in the game with big minutes. That’s a true professional. The gratifying thing about this win is everybody chipped in, and that’s what it’s got to be about when Steph’s not out there.
J.B. Bickerstaff: “When Steph goes down, they raised their level of play, because one of their brothers has fallen. That’s very unique in this league, this type of common bond and togetherness. You see the fruits of it every night on the floor. They don’t take nights off. And I think it’s special, and it’s special for all of us to get a chance to watch … They’re still one of the best two teams in the Western Conference (without Curry) in my opinion. Their depth. I can’t think of a team that has as much skill or as many guys that can put the ball in the basket, and as many guys who are two-way players as this team has.”
Iguodala: “We compete every day against each other in practice and that gets overlooked at times. Everyone wants to step up and everyone wants an opportunity to show what we can do. Steph’s our guy, and he’s the reason we are who we are, but we also have guys who don’t get as much playing time who’s always ready to go. That’s really the key for us. That’s something Coach Kerr really harps on with the third unit in practice every day is, get your reps. Stay ready. Mentally be prepared. I think with us having a good relationship with one another, it’s easier for guys to stay locked in.”
2. Playing without Curry forces them to pay attention to detail.
Steve Kerr: “The turnovers, that’s the main thing. We don’t have the margin for error that we have with Steph. We don’t have the five or six threes that he’s going to make. So we have to take care of the ball, and we did that tonight beautifully … We just have to keep the turnovers down and the defense up.”
Iguodala: “We have to do a few things differently when Steph’s out. We don’t have that explosive, that MVP-type player. But we did a good job of getting into that mode. We made a couple extra passes per every possession. The ball had to move quicker, quickly. Klay has to move a little bit more than normal. Get the ball into the post a little more.”
— The mood in the locker room was positive, as one would expect. Andrew Bogut told Ian Clark, who probably faced more reporters after this game than at any other point in his life, that “it’s an In-N-Out kind of night tonight.” Yes, it’s nice to avoid that long flight back to Houston and get a few nights off. If the Clippers pull off something close to a miracle and force Game 7 with a win on Friday, the Warriors get even more rest. But if the Blazers close out their series at home, the second round will begin on Sunday.
— The prevailing mood among everybody else was probably something like, “Damn, Klay was on fire … And thank goodness we don’t have to watch the Rockets anymore.”
That was a tough series, and not just because Curry only played two halves. Watching James Harden score 18 of his team’s 20 points in the first quarter was so fitting. He’s supremely talented, and his supporting cast did not play well this season, but he might have made them worse. He dribbles and dribbles, spins, fakes, and everyone stands around getting cold, tight and probably bored. He also plays no defense whatsoever. He’s a good passer, but his ball-dominant ways represent the opposite style of basketball from what the Warriors play. Houston’s next general manager and head coach need to think long and hard about this over the summer.
— Everyone in the rotation shot at least 44.4% in this series … except Harrison Barnes, who shot just 29.4%.
— I wrote earlier today about ESPN’s Brian Windhorst’s Warriors source(s) telling him they were “thrilled” with Curry’s MRI results and he may come back sooner than any of us thought possible. Here’s some visual proof that his knee injury probably isn’t all that serious.
“Obviously (Curry is) frustrated by what’s going on and he just wants to be out there. The only way he can be is to cheer and be loud,” Bogut said.
I asked Bogut whether it’s OK for Curry to lift Clark, but no one else on the roster due to size concerns.
“Probably. Especially with a bad knee, probably want to keep him with a smaller guy.”
— I had a front row seat for Green’s postgame press conference, so I got a chance to see his facial expressions in person. The highlight came here, when he described what it’s like to play with Curry: