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3 takeaways as Warriors need epic finish to overcome Curry’s ejection, Grizzlies



© John Hefti | 2023 Jan 25

With 1:14 left and the Warriors up two points, Stephen Curry tracked back on defense and threw his mouthguard into the first row in disgust. His action came moments after Jordan Poole attempted a 30-foot shot with the shot clock at 14 seconds. As Poole put up the shot, Curry clapped his hands.

Curry’s uncharacteristic outburst earned him a technical foul and ejection, ending his night but not the Warriors’ chances. 

Down one on their final offensive possession, Klay Thompson — he of so many clutch moments in his 12-year career — stepped into a one-dribble 3 on the left wing and buried it. 

An incredible Ja Morant setup and Brandon Clarke dunk tied the game at 120 with 6.3 seconds remaining, but with 2.6 seconds left, Jordan Poole snaked under the hoop and finished with his left for the game-winner on a perfect out of bounds play. 

Thompson and Draymond Green were the first to hug Poole, the anti-hero then the savior in a matter of 74 seconds. 

Even as the Warriors coughed up 22 turnovers, the game never got out of reach. The biggest lead either way was a Memphis 10-point advantage, and that lasted eight seconds. 

The Warriors blew late leads against the Nets and Celtics in the past week. This time, they needed to storm back late, taking their first fourth-quarter lead with 1:55 left and overcoming Curry’s bizarre ejection. The late-game execution was pinpoint, rather than stomach-churning.

Before the game, Steve Kerr likened the budding Grizzlies-Warriors rivalry to the classic NBA tale of a young team trying to unseat the old, established one. Unlike their first matchup on Christmas Day, the young Grizzlies displayed more composure than the veteran Warriors (24-24), but the result was the same.

Here are three takeaways from Golden State’s thrilling 122-120 win over Memphis.

Kuminga best supporting actor

Starting in place of Andrew Wiggins (non-COVID illness), Kuminga slid into the game with a concrete role: play hard defense, keep the ball moving, roll to the rim and finish strong. He was an All-Star in that role. 

He posterized two Grizzlies with ferocious dunks. He sank a corner 3 off a beautiful Stephen Curry extra pass, earning him a hug from Steve Kerr. He scored off a nifty post move on the baseline late in the shot clock and crashed in for a putback tap. 

One play early in the game stood out as an example of Kuminga learning the Warriors Way. Draymond Green pushed after getting a steal and found Jordan Poole. Poole dished to Kuminga for an open 3, Kuminga thought about it for a split second then made an extra pass across the court for Klay Thompson, who sank a pull-up deuce. The 20-year-old gave up a good look for a great look from a better scorer. 

In this limited role that he’s likely overqualified for, Kuminga had one of his most impactful games as a Warrior. 

Draymond Green: Everything Everywhere All At Once 

In a year when the Warriors’ defense has been lacking, Draymond Green has done everything possible to hold it together. On Wednesday, he was outstanding on both ends. 

On one sequence early in the first quarter, Green bottled up two Jaren Jackson Jr. attempts at the rim, a clinic on how to contest without foul. 

Later, he executed a classic Draymond sequence. He touched a perfect pass inside to a cutting Klay Thompson, then on the other end corralled a contested defensive rebound on the other end. Pushing the pace, he faked a dribble handoff and found Kevon Looney inside for another assist. 

Green blocked a Ja Morant finger roll attempt, a rare feat for any big let alone a 6-foot-8 one. But that’s what Green has done his entire career: defend the rim like a seven-footer. 

He took a charge on a driving Brandon Clarke in transition and stuffed Xavier Tillman at the rim on consecutive possessions in the fourth, igniting the Chase Center crowd. Late in the fourth, a heads-up play on a rebound drew Jaren Jackson Jr.’s sixth foul. 

Green’s value to the Warriors is often felt when he sits. In the third quarter, Green’s minutes on the bench were a main factor in Memphis’ 42-point frame. Golden State has struggled getting stops without Green on the court all year, and Wednesday was no different. 

Green finished with eight points 13 rebounds, seven assists and countless winning plays invisible on the box score. 

Green wasn’t perfect, committing a moving screen and passing out of a layup for a turnover in the fourth. But his constant activity jumped off the court and kept Golden State competitive.

Another Wiggins absence felt 

Wednesday marked the 19th game of the season Andrew Wiggins has missed, already more time away from the court than in any season of his career. 

Wiggins was ruled out with a non-COVID illness after waking up feeling ill and then consulting with the team’s medical staff. An abductor strain and illness sidelined him for 15 games in December and early January — his longest continual absence as a pro. 

In his seven games since returning from his extended stay on the injury report, Wiggins has struggled. He’s shooting 34.1% from the field and 21.6% from 3, nadired by a season-low four point game against Brooklyn. 

“I’m not attacking as much as I used to,” Wiggins said Tuesday via NBC Sports Bay Area. “I think it’s a mindset thing.”

Wiggins earned his first All-Star selection last year as a sterling two-way player. Even when his shot isn’t falling, he can still contribute as a point-of-attack stopper and rangy help defender. 

Against the Grizzlies, it felt like more Grizzlies than usual were able to blow by their defenders on the perimeter. That’s one of the reasons why the Warriors piled up so many fouls, and why Green was forced into tough positions so frequently. 

Although Wiggins’ absence also allowed Kuminga to fit into the puzzle, the Warriors could’ve used another shutdown defender to throw at Ja Morant (29 points, 13 rebounds). 

Wiggins signed a four-year, $109 million extension last summer. None of these illnesses or injuries should be long-term concerns, but part of why Wiggins is so valuable is his durability. Already this season, much of that has been lost.