Beating the Raptors in Toronto, always challenging, is even harder when the backs of the starters are burdened with the weight of the bench. That was the case with the Warriors Saturday night.
So bench boys, the “Dubstitutes,” came into Brooklyn on Sunday owing a debt of gratitude to starters.
Consider it paid.
Yes, there was fabulous work by the trio of Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. But it was the Warriors reserves that buried the Nets, 114-98, before a bipartisan crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center.
“They struggled in Toronto as a group,” interim coach Luke Walton, speaking to reporters in Toronto, said of the bench mob, “but then they come out tonight and take the momentum we built in the third quarter and just run with it in the fourth.”
Every Warriors reserve that played more than 10 minutes made a positive contribution, from big men Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights to wing Andre Iguodala to guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa.
The Warriors led throughout the first half, though their 17-point lead shrunk to three (57-54) by halftime. They wobbled even further when Brooklyn opened the third quarter with a 12-4 run, going up 66-61 less than four minutes after the break. The Nets rallied mostly against Warriors starters.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors run away from Nets, improve to 22-0]
How did the Warriors regain control? Down 75-72 with 2:44 left in the third quarter, Walton called a timeout. Less than a minute later, after a bucket by Draymond Green and two by Curry, they were up 79-76. Curry scored 11 points over the final 2:10 of the quarter.
“We were down three at the time or something like that, so we just needed a little life,” Curry said. “We like to close quarters out strong, and we were obviously able to do that, get a nice lead and not look back from there.”
That “nice lead” was built by the same reserves who had failed in their closeout mission in Toronto. Walton couldn’t be blamed if he had his fingers crossed when he turned to them to open the fourth quarter.
Never fear. Following Curry’s lead, the “Dubstitutes” opened the fourth by blowing the Nets off the floor. Barely five minutes in, the Warriors were up 17.
“They were a tough test early,” Green said of the Nets. “But our second unit was able to close the game out at the beginning of the fourth quarter.”
The Warriors opened the fourth quarter with Ezeli, Speights, Iguodala, Barbosa and Livingston. All five had a hand in putting way the Nets. Ezeli (12 points), Barbosa (11) and Speights (7) handled most of the offense, with Iguodala and Livingston taking care of playmaking and defense (a combined seven assists and five steals).
No Warriors starter played more than four minutes in the fourth.
“Mentally I feel like we had a little bit of a letdown in the second and third quarters, which obviously you don’t like to see,” Walton said. “Then you come back with the second unit, which is why we have so much faith in them.
“Really, we didn’t have to get the starters back in there at all in the fourth on the back end of a back-to-back and that was huge. Especially on this road trip we’re on, so it was great to see them respond like that.”
Insofar as they were facing the Nets on the second night of a back-to-back set, quality depth was crucial to the Warriors maintaining perfection.
“This team will always rely on each other,” Green said. “It’s not about one guy. It’s not about how I can do this or I can do that. Everybody depends on each other, and that’s why we are able to pull through so many games.”
It was enough to allow the Warriors to match the 1969-70 Knicks for the longest season-opening road win streak, with 12, while also keeping alive their other streaks – 22 in a row this season, 26 in a row overall – for at least two more days.