OAKLAND — Over the last three games, with both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green back on the floor, Golden State has averaged 322.4 passes per game — right in the zone where head coach Steve Kerr wants his team to play. Golden State is, after all, at its best when it plays a joyful, up-tempo, unselfish, ball movement brand of basketball.
Yet, in those last three games, the Warriors have barely fended off a youthful Sacramento team, lost an out-of-sync game to the stacked Toronto Raptors and beaten bottom-dwelling Minnesota by just eight points. Something hasn’t been quite right with the two-time defending champions.
Monday was the first time since Oct. 26 that the Warriors have had their top six players — Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston — completely healthy. It showed. They went on a 25-12 run in the second quarter and never trailed in a 110-93 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Wow. That’s a long time,” Thompson said. “It feels amazing. Period. It feels amazing. Period. Whoa. That’s awesome.”
Golden State had 22 points in transition on Monday night. The Warriors held the Grizzlies to 7-of-25 from three, the bench accounted for 36 points and Golden State had five players score in double figures, led by 23 from Durant, who passed Larry Bird for 33rd on the NBA’s all-time leading scorers list. Upon being informed that he’d passed the Celtics great, Durant said he felt “giddy,” and that’s how Golden State played.
“I think, in terms of just putting together as close to [a complete] 48 as possible, we had a slip up in the third quarter, but it’s been the story of the season in terms of mixing and matching lineups,” Curry said.
The familiarity and comfort showed.
Curry, who missed 11 games in November with a groin injury, eclipsed the 15,000-point mark for his career with 7:33 to go in the second quarter, appropriately enough, on a 31-foot transition three.
Six minutes later, Green — who’s missed 14 games this season — Shammgod’ed his way past the 3-point line for an uncontested lay-up with 1:15 to go before the break. The Warriors laughed their way back up the court.
Memphis’s possessions served as mere respites for Golden State’s frenetic possessions, with balls whipping around the perimeter to the likes of Jonas Jerebko, who went off for 16 points on 4-of-7 from three, including 3-for-3 in the first half. He is now 17-for-30 from three over his last nine games.
“He gives us more space, but Jonas is much more than a catch-and-shoot player,” Durant said. “He rebounds well, he can drive and make plays, he can pass. Obviously on this team, with the firepower that we have at the wings, just the scoring we have in the front court as well, I think he’s relegated to always spacing and catching and shooting, but you see him in space, he’s dribbling up the court, he’s finishing in transition. He can hit the hook shot and the lay-up. I think he’s just playing a great game, as far as surveying and seeing what needs to be done.”
Iguodala, who missed the last three games with a hip strain, scored 10 points in his first game back — his second straight game in double figures, as he scored 15 before he missed three games with his injury. Shaun Livingston, who’s missed eight games since Oct. 26, played 15 minutes, scoring two points, pulling down a rebound and dishing out two assists.
“I thought Shaun and Andre both came in after their absences and looked fresh,” Kerr said. “I thought our reserves came in and did a great job. It’s really helpful when Jonas and Andre are making threes — I think they made seven combined — and space the floor well.”
Most importantly for the Warriors, they were able to get to the foul line, and not foul, limiting the grind-it-out Grizzlies (16-14) to just 14-of-18 at the line, while hitting 24-of-27 of their own free throws and turning the ball over just 10 times.
“Not fouling was a big deal,” Kerr said. “They try to control the tempo, slow the game down a little bit, and if you don’t foul them, and they’re not getting to the free throw line much, it’s easier to keep the pace going.”
It didn’t hurt the Warriors that Memphis was without likely All-Star point guard Mike Conley, held out because of a sore right hamstring. Conley had not yet missed a game this season, shooting 41.9 percent from the field, 33.9 percent from three and averaging 3.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 20.4 points per night.
Beyond those numbers, though, it’s been Conley’s defensive acumen that’s been invaluable to Memphis. In 29 games, fourth in the NBA in defensive win shares (0.173, up from 0.120 last year over a full season), and has a 100.2 defensive rating, improving from 103.7 last season.
Without Conley on offense, Memphis had no counter to Golden State’s pace. Without him on defense, the Warriors had four players in double figures with 1:53 to go in the third quarter, and moved the ball at will.
Iguodala would hit a three with 9:44 to go in the final stanza, giving him 10 points and making the Warriors’ bench 99-of-235 (42.1 percent) for the season from beyond the arc.
With 3:30 to go, Golden State kept having its fun, as Jerebko pushed the ball up to Green in transition. A grinning Green turned around to face the back court and underhanded a pass to the trailing Thompson, who promptly drained a three and drew a foul, hitting one of his two free throws and putting the Warriors up by 20. Thompson exited with 16 points.
Curry, the man of the night, finished with 20 points on 6-of-16 shooting, pulling down a game-high-tying seven rebounds and had just one assist.
Durant — who scored a game-high 23 — picked him Curry in the assist department, dishing out five to tie Green for the team-high, as the Warriors assisted on 23 of 37 field goals.
Omri Caspi, who played most of the regular season with the Warriors last season before being waived, got a nice ovation, and finished 8-of-20 from the field and 2-for-4 from three for 20 points.
Oakland native and Cal alumnus Ivan Rabb played six minutes, and went 1-for-3 from the field, grabbing three rebounds.