The turning point, it now seems, was the fourth quarter against the 76ers. After a brutal road trip and their worst stretch of basketball in three years, the Warriors returned home only to find themselves down 12 against the lowly 76ers on March 13. Kevin Durant was out with a knee injury, Steph Curry’s normally deadly jumper looked leaden, and the wheels had all but fallen off.
And then, Draymond Green practically willed the Warriors to beat the 76ers, and since then everything has been gravy.
The Warriors rolled into San Antonio last night, spotted the Spurs a 3-22 advantage, and still won 110-98, holding Kawhi Leonard to 7-for-20 shooting and repeatedly exposing Tony Parker, David Lee, and Pau Gasol as defensive liabilities. The night before, they beat the Rockets 113-106 in Houston, keeping James Harden to a paltry 5-for-20 shooting night. Those are the second and third best teams in the league, respectively.
The Warriors have gone 9-0 over the last three weeks, also notching double digit victories over the Magic, Bucks, Thunder, Mavericks, Kings, and Grizzlies. They now lead the Spurs by 3.5 games, and with six of their last seven at home, are all but assured of home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The team also announced yesterday that Kevin Durant was progressing well, and it seems likely he’ll return in time for the last few regular season games.
Despite Adam Silver sending a memo warning teams about resting star players—and all of the bleating about the practice by talk radio hucksters—the Warriors are clearly benefitting from being fresh. Their last loss was at the end of a seven-cities-in-twelve-days stretch, when they sat all of their stars against San Antonio. That gave them three days off in a row, their longest stretch since the All-Star break, and the team is clearly playing with more energy.
The rest, along with an aggressive reversion to the mean, seems to have solved the team’s three-point shooting problems. On the road trip, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot a ghastly 27 percent from three, but since resting they’ve hit 47 percent of their threes. They are confident again, doing dumb Warriors-y shit like opting for a Thompson three-point attempt instead of an easy layup on a 4-1 fast break to end the second half last night.
Their bench has also improved its play. Matt Barnes has found his rhythm and is doing the best he can to fill in the holes left by Kevin Durant. Andre Iguodala—one of the best bench players in the league—is playing increased minutes, as well as his best basketball of the season, scoring in double-digits six times in his last 13 games. And David West has hit his stride and looks something like Indiana David West. He’s even playing point-center at times, like last night when he racked up 15 points, five assists, and four rebounds.
Assuming Durant comes back healthy for the playoffs, his injury will have been a blessing in disguise. It artificially forced the Warriors into tougher games, to try out different rotation combinations, and to play more aggressively without worrying about incorporating Durant or getting him his shots. Their defense actually improved without Durant’s stretchy shot-blocking abilities. When Durant comes back, he’ll be joining the strongest version of the Warriors we’ve seen all season. That’s a scary proposition for their playoff opponents.