OAKLAND – Somewhere beneath the sweet shooting and the familiar defense that utterly dismissed a Houston Rockets team unfit for an NBA floor, the Warriors may have uncovered something of real value.
Brandon Rush, resuscitated.
Starting for the wounded Harrison Barnes (right knee bone bruise), Rush seized the opportunity to look, once again, like the Brandon Rush of old. If his performance was more than a mirage, the Warriors have rediscovered a wing worthy of their rotation.
“I told Harrison that he may have lost his starting spot to Brandon,” interim coach Luke Walton joked after the 124-101 thrashing.
The Warriors, particularly point guard Steph Curry, made a concerted effort to get Rush involved early. He launched four shots in the first six minutes, making a 3-pointer from the corner and a driving finger roll that led to a 3-point play. Rush finished with 12 points, on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, in 14 first-half minutes.
“I wanted to get out there and play with confidence,” said Rush, who spent last season at the far, far, far end of the bench, searching for confidence he never found. “Guys were looking for me, and I was able to knock down some good shots.”
Rush said he didn’t know he was starting until “about 15 minutes before the game,” but Walton seemed to have a plan, quite likely one discussed with coach Steve Kerr, who remains on leave of absence.
“We played 3-on-3 with Brandon all the time last year,” Walton said. “We gave the guys who were playing that (previous) night the day off and tried to keep the other guys fresh. Brandon was phenomenal in those games. He would never miss. He would go to the basket and he was going all sorts of things.
“When an athlete loses their confidence, it can be tough. He didn’t have it. He came back this offseason and has been going hard every day in training camp. He played well tonight, which is what you guys all see. But we’ve seen him doing that every day in practice.”
At 6-foot-7, Rush is capable of playing at shooting guard or small forward. His 40.1 career shooting percentage from 3-point distance ranks behind only Curry (44.0 percent) and Klay Thompson (41.8) among Warriors regulars.
Rush last season was 3-of-27 (11.1) beyond the arc and, moreover, looked lost whenever he took the floor. Not so Thursday night.
“We’ll need him all year to come in and provide those bursts of offense, and he’s no slouch on the defensive end, either,” Curry said. “So it was good for him to get some reps, get some flow, so it’s just a matter of continuing that push. He’s going to get minutes. He’s going to play. So he’s got to be ready.”
Rush, 30, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee back on Nov. 2, 2012, the second game of that season. It wiped out his season and, pretty much, crushed his swag. Nearly three years later, he’s playing without a brace and looking as if he belongs.
“We remember who he was all the way up until he got hurt,” Curry said. “Obviously, it’s a tough road back. So it’s great to see him out there playing well, shooting the ball with confidence, moving well. It’s only going to get better.”
Rush on Thursday did just enough to encourage the Warriors into believing he is, at last, fit and able to make the long climb back from the abyss.
And if he is, the team that last season rode its depth to a franchise-record 67 games and an NBA championship, will be that much deeper.