Warriors

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 104-99 Game 5 win over Rockets

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 104-99 Game 5 win over Rockets

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OAKLAND — It appeared the Warriors were in deep trouble when Kevin Durant limped off the court and into the locker room with 2:05 left in the third quarter, never to return.

But no. They came together. They weren’t going to let this one get away. Not at home.

The Warriors held on Wednesday night for a 104-99 Game 5 victory over the Rockets, taking a 3-2 series lead and moving within one win of advancing to the Western Conference finals for the fifth consecutive season.

Here are three takeaways from the victory at Oracle Arena.

They overcame the loss of Durant

Durant had scored a team-best 22 points in 32 minutes when he left the game. He also had five rebounds, four assists and one steal. The Warriors had a 68-65 lead.

Coach Steve Kerr suddenly had to shuffle his rotation in ways he surely never imagined. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jonas Jerebko, who didn’t play at all in Games 1 and 4, were summoned. More was asked of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.

Plunged into unfamiliar territory — a playoff game without Durant — the Warriors responded splendidly.

The collective focus sharpened, the effort went to another level, and the Warriors made enough shots to hold off the Rockets.

Thompson arrives

The Warriors and their fans have been waiting for Thompson’s offense, mostly MIA in the first four games of the series, to show up. It did in Game 5.

Finding his rhythm early, puncturing Houston with 12 points in 10 first-quarter minutes, Thompson finished with a team-high 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc — including a huge triple that gave the Warriors an eight-point lead with 2:34 remaining.

The Warriors won Games 1 and 2 without much from him, and that script remained as they lost Games 3 and 4. But when Thompson shoots efficiently, it’s extremely difficult to beat the Warriors. The Rockets rediscovered that in Game 5.

Maybe Thompson took another dip in the ocean. Or perhaps he locked himself in the gym until the nets started to shred.

The defense rarely rested

When the Warriors held the explosive Rockets to 17 points in the first quarter — and one field goal over the final 6:48 —that was a sign. The defense would be a presence.

There was no indication of the lethargy and poor fundamentals that resulted in a whopping 27-rebound deficit over Games 3 and 4 in Houston. The Warriors held the Rockets to 41.8 percent shooting, including 29.3 percent from deep.

The Warriors own three of the last four NBA titles because, above all, they brought championship-level defense whenever it was needed. That was the case in Game 5.

The shooters shot well enough, but defense was the primary source behind the Warriors pulling out this one.

Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein explains origin of his mouthguard grills

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Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein explains origin of his mouthguard grills

When Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein smiles on the court, he puts the gold in Golden State. His teeth shine with customized mouthguards that look like grills. 

“I ain’t think it would look that good, but they looked real," Cauley-Stein described. "They fit real."

The grills are standard plastic mouthguards, embellished with extra bling created by a jeweler friend who makes specialized pieces for athletes. They’re molded in a tray, just like braces.

Cauley-Stein has been wearing a real grill since college. He keeps up the look at work with a collection of mouthguard grills in rose gold, white gold and crystal, with the crystal version marked with two X’s. 

The two X’s are for a friend who passed away this summer.

“His name is Rexx, two X’s, so I’m carrying that on,” Cauley-Stein explained. 

[RELATED: Slew of Warriors injuries hinders young core's development]

Cauley-Stein also has two X’s tattooed over his left eye. His skin is a canvas of tattoos that tell the story of his life. The gleam on his teeth gives him one more way to stand out. 

“A lotta people are like, ‘This dude doesn’t care about hoops, he’s got a freakin’ grill in his mouth!’ But it’s a mouthpiece!” he exclaimed. 

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

[RELATED: How die-hard Warriors fans can stay optimistic]

Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.