How Warriors bench players raised their game with Kevin Durant out

How Warriors bench players raised their game with Kevin Durant out

The Warriors were able to finish off Houston and sweep the Blazers without Kevin Durant. That does not mean the team does not need Durant.

In fact, it does not mean that at all. What it does mean, however, is that the Warriors stepped up in a time of desperation, and have given their superstar a chance to return and help them compete for a title against one of the two powerhouses in the East.

So which Warriors players took their game up a notch to send them to the Finals? We all know what Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala have done for the team, but what about the bench?

Let's take a dive into some of the players and their numbers behind "Strength in Numbers"...

Shaun Livingston

No one on the Warriors saw a more dramatic turnaround of their playoff productivity more than Shaun Livingston. In the first 11 games of the playoffs before the Warriors lost Durant to injury, Livingston averaged 13 minutes per game, scoring 2.6 points on a poor 34 percent from the field.

While he was on the court, the team was a -39 in point differential. It seemed like age and injuries finally had caught up with him, and the man that the Warriors had called upon to be Mr. Reliable throughout their dynasty quickly faded away.

But with the loss of Durant, Livingston's game rose from the ashes back to a level the team needed so desperately. Over the last five games, Shaun has converted 12 of his 16 field goal attempts and has been a +24 while on the court. He is hitting timely buckets and providing steady leadership that is necessary to relax the Warriors' nerves when in a tightly contested match.

Livingston has turned back the clock to be the player the Warriors have come to know and need over the last five seasons, and it could not have come at a better time. 

Kevon Looney

I feel like I have written the same things about Looney all season. He is reliable, patient, productive, steady, consistent etc. But during the playoffs, Looney has taken his game to another level to the point in which Steve Kerr called him a "foundational piece" of the franchise.

Through 16 games this postseason, Looney is shooting an incredible 73 percent from the field and playing his typical stout defense. Since Durant's absence, Looney has upped his game even more. Over the last five games, Kevon is averaging 11 points on 77 percent shooting.

In the close-out game against the Blazers, Looney collected a career-high 14 rebounds to go with his 12 points. Everyone has found ways to explain Looney's game as subtle yet effective, and under-the-radar. But it is time to call the 22 year-old what he is, a very good basketball player who is integral to the success of the Warriors.

[RELATED: Looney not take Finals appearance for granted]

Jordan Bell

The best way to describe Bell's rise is to simply explain that for most of the playoffs he was not in the rotation, and for the close out game of the Western Conference Finals, he started. If that does not portray the emergence of Bell, then maybe this well: the first 11 games of the playoffs, Bell averaged 2.6 minutes and under one point per game. In the last five games, Jordan has played 13 minutes and scored 6 points per contest.

With the depth of the team taxed and thin, Bell was called upon to bring energy and quickness to the front court, and he responded immediately. He is the best option off the bench when the Warriors need a big man that can help the team in transition with rim running.

With Durant and DeMarcus Cousins possibly returning for the Finals, it is unclear if Bell will have a major role anymore. But Kerr knows that Bell is ready if called upon, and that is a luxury this time of year.

[RELATED: Draymond's pep talk helps Bell]

Alfonzo McKinnie and Quinn Cook

Sometimes it takes a qualitative approach rather than quantitative when explaining bench players' worth, and that is the case with McKinnie and Cook. While their numbers have marginally increased and improved over the last five games, their overall impact has been obvious when watching the game.

Take the close-out game against Portland for example. McKinnie started in place of an injured Iguodala, and immediately made the first bucket of the game, a corner three-pointer. From there, Zo scored 12 points and collected two offensive rebounds in overtime, including an important one that he put back in the hoop to give the Warriors a one-point lead.

Meanwhile, Quinn Cook was on the court for big minutes in the fourth quarter, providing spacing and play making for the team as they completed their come back. Cook was a team best +14 while on the court, scoring four points. Like Bell, it is yet to be seen how big of a role McKinnie and Cook will have in the Finals, but their impacts have been felt in getting the team there.

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors exited Chase Center on Sunday after adding another defeat to their tally, this time against the New Orleans Pelicans. But Golden State, along with the remainder of the NBA, is preparing to reckon with its toughest loss in years.

The league momentarily will come to a standstill Monday, when all eyes will fixate on Staples Center in Los Angeles for the memorial service of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died last month -- along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others -- in a helicopter crash.

Golden State pillars Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are expected to attend the service, along with general manager Bob Myers. But the other Warriors, armed with memories of their hero, will be left to reconcile his death in the confines of practice and search for closure in a familiar setting.

"It's going to be emotional," Warriors big man Marquese Chriss told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday. "I think it's going to bring back up a lot of emotions that everybody was feeling on the day that it happened. I think people aren't going to know how to feel. It's going to make it real."

The practice court serves as a unique reminder of Bryant's death. That's where the team received the news five weeks ago, just as it began pre-practice workouts.

An assistant coach relayed the initial message, and practice soon was stopped as Warriors players and staff gathered their thoughts.

"You could hear a pin drop in there," rookie forward Eric Paschall said. "It was stopped."

From the bowels of the billion-dollar basketball facility, Warriors assistant Jarron Collins walked through the adjoining weight room, up the steps and down a corridor to Chase Center's main court to tell Chriss the news. Chriss, then on a two-way contract and away from the team as to not burn his NBA service time, was floored when he heard it.

Chriss and Bryant once shared an agent, Rob Pelinka, who represented them both before he became the Lakers' general manager in 2017. The legendary Lakers guard even stopped by Chriss' college pro day at an LA-area high school ahead of the 2016 NBA Draft, bringing a buzz with him into the gym.

"It was dope to see his energy," Chriss said. "He walked into the gym, and the energy in the gym changed. He had a presence about him. Everybody wanted to talk to him, kind of pick his brain and be around him."

Similar stories are told throughout Golden State's locker room. Thompson -- whose father, Mychal, still calls Lakers games for the local radio affiliate -- met Bryant when he was a child, and he occasionally worked out with him at UC Irvine.

“He was obviously the best player in the world at the time," Thompson remembered after Bryant's final game at Oracle Arena in 2016. "I just remember watching him work out, how methodical [he was] and attention to detail he gave to every drill. It inspired me a lot.”

When Thompson was charged with marijuana possession during his junior year at Washington State, Bryant sent him an expletive-filled text.

“He said, 'Forget about that,' said it with a couple expletives and, 'Just go out there and kill,' " Thompson recounted.

“I have a potty mouth,” Bryant added that evening when asked about the exchange. “I just told him, 'Listen, man, we all make mistakes. You can’t worry about that stuff. Just keep your focus on basketball, and everything will work itself out.' "

While Thompson personally knew Bryant for much of his life, Green admired the five-time NBA champion from afar as a kid. Nonetheless, he still finds himself reconciling the loss of his idol.

"I think I'm still at the point where every time you see it, you're like, 'Damn.' Like is it a real thing?" Green said Sunday. "I don't know. Maybe tomorrow brings closure. Maybe it don't."

The topic of Bryant's memorial brought Green back to the first time he played against the guard at Oracle, which forced the forward out of his routine.

"I'm never really a guy to get star-struck," Green said. "There's two people that I've ever been star-struck by in this league, and that's Kobe and Grant Hill."

"I was finishing my pregame shooting, and Kobe was coming out," Green added. "And you have your stuff you have to do in the back when you're done shooting, and so I finished my shooting and Kobe was coming out, and I just sat on the end of the bench, and before I knew it, 20, 25 minutes had passed, and I was late as hell to finish my pregame prep, but that was just a moment for me where I was stuck like, 'Wow, I just saw Kobe work out.' "

When Green wasn't in awe of Bryant, he wanted counsel from him. Four years ago, following Green's suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he sought Bryant's advice in the wake of criticism during a time Green called "the lowest point" of his career. After hearing Green vent, Bryant responded with a message: "You’re chasing something so much bigger. How do you ever expect anyone to understand you?"

Green keeps the advice close to this day. 

"It helped me a lot," he said. "Because you kind of deal with things a certain way, and when you're dealing with things a certain way, you can only do what you think is best at the end of the day. But when you get reassurance from someone who's been through it at the highest level that the way you're dealing with something is like OK, it gives you that confidence to carry out whatever it is in the way you think it was right. It gives you that green light, like it's cool."

[RELATED: Steph looks sharp before Dubs-Pelicans as return nears]

Now, as his Warriors teammates say one last goodbye Monday, each will try to follow Green's credo in carrying on Bryant's legacy.

"The way you approach this game," Green said. "I think if there was anything he could ask for, that's what he would ask for. That he gave everything he had to it."

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Steph Curry didn't take the floor during the Warriors' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. 

The injured Golden State star did beforehand, however, looking game-ready as he went through a pre-game workout. 

Curry hasn't played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30. He was cleared for contact in practices Saturday, scrimmaging with his teammates for the first time since picking up the injury and subsequently undergoing two surgeries. The 31-year-old said Saturday that lingering nerve damage in his left hand has taken some getting used to, but that he is targeting a March 1 return

Former Warriors Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin dealt with the same injury during their NBA careers. Mullin had three separate hand surgeries during his, and he said Curry's biggest adjustment will come from playing with his teammates again.

"He practices at game pace," Mullin said of Curry on Sunday during Warriors Pregame Live. "He takes game shots all the time. His fitness will be there. It's (about) getting acclimated to the players around him, finding the spacing and the timing."

[RELATED: Why Bender signing is 'great opportunity' for him, Warriors]

Though Curry didn't injure his dominant hand, he relies on his left a lot to pass and when he finishes at the rim. He won't lose trust in his shot, but Richmond thinks the two-time MVP has to ensure  

"I went through that same injury [and so did] Mully," Richmond said Sunday. "It's all about confidence when you come back. ... I think, for him, he wants to find that confidence that it can be hit, and then he can come back from it." 

The Warriors owned the NBA's worst record after Sunday's loss, which clinched their third losing streak of six games or more. Curry's return won't lift Golden State out of the league's cellar, but it undoubtedly will lift his teammates' spirits in an otherwise dreary season.