Young Warriors produce winning blueprint in victory vs. Heat originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
With Draymond Green and Klay Thompson confined to the bench in street clothes and Stephen Curry watching from 3,000 miles away, Steve Kerr turned to the young Warriors on Wednesday hoping they’d give him what he has been seeking for weeks.
They delivered, coming forth with unity, energy, focus and sustained effort.
And, as a welcome bonus, the unlikeliest of victories.
With Jordan Poole dictating the action, Damion Lee rediscovering his shot, Jonathan Kuminga dominating before fouling out and Andrew Wiggins stepping out from the shadows to produce in the clutch, the Warriors salsa-danced out of FTX Arena in Miami with a 118-104 win over a Heat team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s a really physical team and we stayed with it after the early deficit,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought our guys earned it. They just competed, and when you defend that well and you (also) box out and rebound, the game gets easier offensively.”
One night after a pathetic performance in Orlando resulted in one of their worst losses this season, the Warriors responded with a gritty, resilient display that should inspire every player and coach on the payroll. If they are to start winning, this is the way.
They trailed by as much as 11 (in the first eight minutes) before coming back to tie it at halftime. They followed by opening the third quarter with a stunning 19-0 run, pumping air into their confidence and convincing them they could prevail.
“Credit to the guys for playing hard, sticking together and finishing out a strong fourth quarter,” Lee, who scored a season-high 22 points, said on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Postgame Live. “Obviously, in Orlando, we didn’t do that. We haven’t done that through the majority of the games the past two months.”
This was a game that, on paper, invited a white flag. Green and Thompson were resting on the second night of a back-to-back set, as was Otto Porter Jr. The Warriors started both teenage rookies, Moses Moody and Kuminga.
The Warriors outplayed the Heat in almost every significant way. Shot better, 51.9 percent to 43.5, including 41.8 percent to 38.9 from deep. Golden State won the rebounding battle 45-34, with Kevon Looney grabbing 16 in 29 minutes.
Most impressive, the Warriors owned the fourth quarter, shooting 64.7 percent (to Miami’s 38.1) against a vastly more experienced team.
“We can keep winning like this every single day,” Kuminga said. “It’s just that we need to stay locked in every single night and finish the game well. Like Draymond said (Tuesday), we always get beat in the fourth quarter.
“But we didn’t give up on this fourth quarter. Keep going hard. Keep pushing every single time. That’s what’s going to keep helping us to win.”
Kuminga submitted 22 points and five rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Wiggins also scored 22 points, 20 of which came in the fourth. Poole posted 30 points and nine assists, nullifying his five turnovers. Nemanja Bjelica was solid in 19 minutes off the bench, with nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
Green, Thompson and Porter watched from courtside seats as their teammates showed the level of tenacity the team will need to succeed in the games to come. The Warriors could benefit from it as soon as the veterans return Friday in Atlanta.
“There’s no excuses,” Lee said. “There’s nine games left. You can say we haven’t had our full roster for whatever percentage, but guys are just coming out and playing hard. Playing together and bouncing back from, obviously, last game and several games before. Just trying to continue to find that continuity. We definitely needed this one.”
If this show of perseverance can’t light the fire so often missing since the calendar turned to 2022, maybe the Warriors are incapable of creating the flame required for an emphatic finish to the regular season, much less an extended stay in the postseason.