Precisely 24 hours after the “more minutes” side of the debate regarding Stephen Curry’s minutes reached peak hue and cry, the Warriors offered a robust rebuttal on behalf of the “same minutes” side.
The fourth quarter Tuesday night in San Antonio opened with Curry watching from the bench, as he always does, and the Warriors holding an 86-70 lead over the San Antonio Spurs. The first six minutes on Monday were a disaster, which led to defeat, so there was restlessness.
A little more than five minutes later, Golden State’s second unit had stretched the lead to 21. Curry reentered, as a precaution, with 5:36 remaining. He exited with 3:26 left and was able to observe his teammates close out a 114-91 victory over the Spurs at AT&T Center.
So, in the end, the Warriors got what they needed from Curry in the first three quarters – 32 points in 30 minutes, 16 points in the third – to achieve the 2-2 road trip that, at its outset, was a reasonable expectation given their small-ball profile.
“We really got it going in the third, energy-wise, at both ends of the floor,” coach Steve Kerr said to reporters after the win. “Obviously, Steph just took over.”
Curry’s work was done, which brings us to the point made Monday night by Kelly Oubre Jr., who said he and his teammates should be able to produce well enough to avoid making a habit relying on Curry to come to the rescue in the fourth quarter.
Oubre could not have been more correct. Curry is this team’s lodestar, its constant, its overwhelming force. The Warriors know what to expect, and he usually delivers. His minutes are this team’s best minutes.
But he has no business playing 48 or 44 or 40 minutes to win a regular-season game in February. Such a tendency becomes a setup for postseason disappointment.
So, it’s the 12-to-14 non-Curry minutes each game that will determine ceiling of these Warriors. What they can get out of Kent Bazemore, Damion Lee, Eric Paschall, and Brad Wanamaker matters a lot. What they can get from Andrew Wiggins and Oubre matters even more.
They failed on Monday. Draymond Green and Curry, watching from the bench, saw the Spurs wipe out a two-point deficit entering the fourth quarter and build in less than five minutes. The second unit got roasted and the Warriors took the loss.
Just like the rest of the team, we're all still trying to find our true identity and familiarity and putting consecutive good efforts and execution together,” Curry said. “They’ve had stretches where they got the ball moving and they’re creating good shots and defensively they’re causing havoc and they’ve built on leads and iced games. And sometimes it's been a little bit of a struggle.”
On Tuesday, the second unit stood up and earned a 28-21 fourth-quarter win. Paschall was fabulous, scoring 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-3 from distance, in nine minutes. He was plus-6 for the quarter, as were Lee and Wanamaker.
“That's part of the growing pains in putting a new team together, a lot of young guys trying to figure it out, mix and matching of lineups,” Curry said. “As down as we were after the game (Monday) night, we came in this morning and talked about the keys of what we need to focus on. Keeping things simple, especially for that second unit in how they’re supposed to play.
“They came out and executed. Everybody's doing good right now, so we have to continue to build on that on this (upcoming) homestand.”
They executed well enough that Kerr pondered leaving Curry and Green on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, as he did last Thursday when the Warriors crushed the Mavericks in Dallas.
“We considered it,” Kerr said. “But I had heard so much from our fan base the last couple days, I decided I should really put them back in to keep everybody happy.”
The coach was joking. But he knows, as does his point guard, that no matter how well Curry plays, the Warriors can’t be taken seriously without a reliable second unit.