OAKLAND — After the final buzzers sounded on the Golden State Warriors’ 137-90 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night, Golden State point guard Stephen Curry and his backup, Quinn Cook, shared a laugh as they leisurely walked down the tunnel leading to the Oracle Arena home locker room.
On a night where the starters exited after a dominant third quarter, Cook scored a season-high 21 on one of his most productive nights of the season, helping Golden State to clinch its fifth-straight Pacific Division title despite the fact that star center DeMarcus Cousins was ejected for a controversial flagrant foul call.
“[Cook is] such a great shooter” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “We know what he can do… It’s just great to see him in a great groove.”
Coming back to Oracle after a pair of road games against the Grizzlies and Timberwolves, the Warriors looked to finish their regular season on a high note after losing three of their last seven games.
Something that’s played a major role in those losses has been slow starts. This has been true for Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson. In his last two home games, the eight-year veteran had missed his first 12 combined shots in the first quarter.
On Sunday, those struggles vanished as Thompson scored nine of Golden State’s first 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor. He would go on to score 12 of the Warriors 35 points in the opening quarter.
“The ball just went in,” Kerr said. “We just ran the same stuff and he’s one of the best shooter to ever play the game so if he has a few slow starts, he’s probably going to reverse that quickly.”
Along with Thompson, Curry scored 12 points in the first thanks to five field goals, including a pair of triples.
With 24 combined points between Curry and Thompson in the first, the Warriors held an eight-point advantage in the second. But after a quick pair of shots from Charlotte, Golden State held just a five-point lead 30 seconds into the period.
Enter: Cook, who, after turning the ball over at the 10:51 mark, embarked on a Curry- and Thompson-like quarter to help the Warriors gain a stranglehold on the game.
Over the next three minutes, Cook, who has averaged 13.7 minutes per game, 6.2 points and 2.6 3-point attempts per game, striped three straight 3-pointers to give the Warriors a 14-point lead midway through the second.
“He stayed ready,” Curry said of Cook. “On a night like tonight, when he was about to come out in the middle of the second quarter, he had the hot hand. Kind of a group effort to switch the rotation up and help him finish. He took advantage of it.”
Cook went on to score 13 points in the second, including a reverse lay-up which brought Oracle to its feet.
Kerr spoke about Cook’s journey this season, which has included spotty minutes (67 games, but jsut nine starts) and an inconsistent place within the rotation. He even compared Cook’s career thus far to his own, and said he’s been able to relate to the Duke product in that way.
“[Kerr] has definitely been there for me,” Cook said. “After games he’ll shoot me a text or give me a call. He’s a player’s first kind of coach and he cares about us … I think that’s what makes him so special.
“He’s always in my ear. Obviously I want to have a career like he had. Just known as a winner. He played a lot of years in this league. He’s helped me tremendously.”
After taking a 71-49 lead into the break, the Warriors outscored the Hornets 34-23 in the third to give themselves a 33-point lead heading into the first, which allowed Kerr to insert his reserves and keep all of his starters under 30 minutes in Golden State’s 52nd win of the season — the fifth straight year under Kerr that the Warriors have not only won the Pacific division, but also surpassed 50 wins. In fact, Golden State has won 50 or more games in six straight years. Before the current stretch, Golden State had not won 50 or more games in even back-to-back seasons ever in franchise history. They’d only won 50 or more games three other times before the 2013-14 season.
“[Warriors Vice President of Communications] Raymond [Ridder] told me that [before I got here] there were two division championships, in terms of being in the Bay,” Kerr said. “I think we all should feel lucky … It’s a wonderful time to be a part of this organization.”