With an injury-ravaged roster, rotations thrown into chaos and their postseason buried beneath a heap of losses, the Warriors continue to believe in themselves.
To be specific, they believe in the Presence of Steph. As they should.
How else to explain Monday night?
Stephen Curry needed 19 points to become the franchise career scoring leader. He scored 21 in the first quarter to clear that barrier.
The Warriors needed Curry to hang 50 points on the Nuggets to beat the Western Conference power. He hung 53 on Denver to check that box.
Riding the wave of Curry’s latest transcendent performance to a 116-107 victory at Chase Center, the Warriors for the first time in three weeks walked off an NBA basketball court with something remotely resembling momentum.
“We’ve found a good rhythm, put two good games together – you could almost say three, minus the last seven seconds against Washington,” Curry said after Golden State posted back-to-back wins for the first time since March 17-19.
At 26-28, the Warriors sit in the 10th and final conference playoff spot, two games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies and 6.5 behind the sixth-place Trail Blazers. Getting to No. 8 is conceivable. Getting to No. 6 and achieving their goal of avoiding the play-in tournament is a longshot, with the only chance of shortening it being though Curry’s presence.
There have not been many occasions this season in which the Warriors exhibited what Curry often refers to as their “championship DNA,” but that’s what he and fellow three-time NBA champion Draymond Green flashed against Denver.
“I’ve been watching this stuff for a decade,” coach Steve Kerr said. “As coach, it’s seven years. That’s who these guys are. They’ve been winners and All-Stars and, in Steph’s case, MVP. They’re great players, they’ve got a lot of pride.”
Green scored a season-high 18 points, adding seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and steady harassment of Denver big man Nikola Jokic, a strong MVP candidate. Draymond was plus-16 over 37 minutes.
But it was Curry, plus-16 over 36 minutes, who owned the evening. He shot 14-of-24 from the field, 10-of-18 from distance and 15-of-16 from the line, adding six rebounds and four assists.
Moreover, though, Curry inspired his teammates, sprinkling his smooth brand of savagery over the roster and stamping his personality on the game. Losing on this night was not an option.
“There have been games before when he started hot and we weren’t able to convert on the defensive end,” Damion Lee said. “We knew going into halftime that we were in a pretty good place. We just had to make sure that we string some more stops together.”
The Warriors have reached the point at which they fully realize the fate of the season lies with every game. Every loss brings the offseason closer, and every win increases the chance of playing for higher stakes.
This is the kind of challenge that speaks to Steph’s heart.
“Just stay in the moment and understand that we can’t fast-forward to whatever record we want over the last 18 games,” he said, peeking into the final month of the season. “Just bring good energy, have the right intentions, try to play the game the right way each night. And that will hopefully keep us focused on the right effort, like we had tonight.”
One of the cruelest competitors in sport, Curry’s fortitude doesn’t allow for bowing to the forces bedeviling the Warriors this season – the most recent being the news Sunday that rookie James Wiseman, the starting center, will be out indefinitely with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Wiseman was joined on the sideline by starting guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (sprained wrist), forward Eric Paschall (hip flexor strain) and, of course, Klay Thompson, out all season after surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon.
This game had a different feel than so many others during Golden State recent slide, during which it lost eight of 11 and 13 of 19. There was an urgency and, for most of the night, an attention to detail.
What came of it was a resilience not often seen in recent weeks.
“I’ve been predicting for the last few weeks that we were going to have a run at the end of the season,” Kerr said. “I really believe that, and tonight gives me faith that it can happen.”
Any faith within the organization stems from having Curry on the payroll and healthy. If you’re searching for a reason to believe, he’s it.