Kendra AndrewsESPN3 minute read
SAN FRANCISCO — When Stephen Curry injured his left leg in early February, the Golden State Warriors’ goal was to stay afloat. After surviving 11 games without him in November, they felt they could start again.
But now, as they prepare for Curry’s imminent return — possibly as early as Sunday afternoon — the Warriors have done more than just stay afloat. Capping off a 5-0 homestand with a 108-99 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, Golden State has built some momentum and a lot of confidence.
“It’s exciting to see our team, I think, reach a milestone,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
The Warriors are 7-3 since dropping Curry on Feb. 4. They have four games over .500 (34-30) for the first time this season and sit in the fifth seed in the Western Conference, one game behind the Phoenix Suns and one game against the Dallas Mavericks.
“The guys have understood their roles and I think we’re in great shape,” Klay Thompson said. “We’re having fun, first and foremost. … You realize how important all these games are from now on. We want to do everything we can to get the pitch at home, especially in the first round. So that’s a big challenge and it’s up to us to take it.”
In each of their last four games, the Warriors have overcome a double-digit deficit – the first time they have won four straight games after trailing at least 10 in each for the past 25 seasons.
Two of those four games — against the Portland Trail Blazers and LA Clippers — were won in the third quarter, something that has almost become a Warriors signature over the years.
After trailing the Pelicans by 17 points in the first quarter on Friday, the Warriors found a rhythm in the second, edging out New Orleans by 11 points. Six Warriors finished in double digits, led by Thompson with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
But even with these big goal bursts, the team insists it all starts with defence. It was their play on that side of the pitch, they said, that allowed them to find their rhythm. Kerr said it was the best and most consistent defense the Warriors have played all year.
“I think there’s a courage that comes with defense that lets you shake off (slow starts) and keep playing,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ win over the Clippers on Thursday. “It’s hard to do that when you’re only trading buckets. For most of the season our defense has been pretty poor. I think courage goes with defense and our defense has been considerably better .”
Between back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday, the Warriors allowed less than 100 points in back-to-back games after doing so only once all season. The 91 points the Clippers scored against Golden State was a season low, snapping a 48-game streak of opponents scoring at least 100 points.
The biggest difference between their defense now and earlier in the season has been the Warriors’ ability to execute their game plan – something that has been key in limiting Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Brandon Ingram.
Now the challenge will be to take that on the road, where the Warriors have suffered a noticeable decline all season. Golden State has the third-worst defense in the league and allows the second-most points (123.5) when away from Chase Center. At home, the Warriors have the third best defense and allow 111.6 points (14th less).
“I’m very confident,” Thompson said of the road. “I just know that we trust each other more, we’ve spoken and our communication has been great. We have great defenders, so I’m sure we’ll make the same effort on the road.”