OAKLAND — Even from his seat on his couch, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry could feel the sense of disappointment after his Warriors suffered the worst loss of the Steve Kerr era on Saturday night: A 126-91 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
“Nobody felt good about that,” Curry said. “Even guys that didn’t play,”
On Saturday, Curry was given a night of rest — a scheduled one designed to keep Golden State’s leading scorer fresh and spry ahead of what what the Warriors hope to be another lengthy playoff run this season.
Coming off of the night of “load management,” Curry was back in the fold Sunday night. With a game-high 26 points, Golden State’s sharp shooter was able to help the Warriors turn the page on the sobering loss in the form of a 121-114 win over the visiting Detroit Pistons.
“Pretty much everything has to do with Steph being on the floor,” forward Kevin Durant said. “He creates so much for us with the pick-and-roll and the with his movement and 3-point shooting. Just his presence out there just opens up a lot for us. It was huge having him back.”
For the last three games, the Warriors have had a hard time getting started in the first quarter. On Thursday against the Indiana Pacers, Golden State scored just 19 points in the first period and on Saturday, they gave up a 12-2 run to start the game.
Sunday, things initially looked to be heading in that direction, as Warriors guard Klay Thompson bricked his first two shots to open the game.
In a much different fashion compared to the first two games, which saw the Warriors unsuccessfully try to shoot their way out the early funk, Golden State’s fortunes flipped immediately once Curry got the ball in his hands.
Emerging from a cloud of Pistons defenders, Curry slipped to the left corner. After fielding a pass from Draymond Green, Curry striped a 24-foot 3-pointer to get the Warriors on the board.
Feeling the momentum, Curry went on to score Golden State’s first eight points of the game. He finished the quarter with 11 of the Warriors’ 29 points.
“Just having a little bit fresher legs,” Curry said. “It’s a lot about rhythm. Tonight I felt like I had that.”
With the scoring punch of Curry back and as potent as usual, the Warriors also regained a part of their game that was also missing just 24 hours earlier: Their defensive presence.
For Golden State, a typical barometer of good defense has been the degree to which Green, the former Defensive Player of the Year, is locked in and focused. While his attentiveness and interest was missing on Saturday, it most certainly was visible on Sunday night.
“Draymond’s energy and defensive effort sparked us all night,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Draymond was fantastic.”
Taking on Pistons forward Blake Griffin for most of the night, Green took special interest in controlling the latest chapter of a rivalry that’s been brewing for the last six years, dating back to when Griffin was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I enjoy playing against great players,” Green said. “Blake is a great player and he’s gotten better since the last time I played him. It’s always a challenge and just try to stay physical. He tried to go to bully ball from time to time. Just stand my ground and try to make him take tough shots.”
In the spirit of making life hard for Griffin, Green even forced the Detroit star into the only Pistons shot clock violation of the night. Griffin tried to back Green into the paint but was forced into a well contested fadeaway jump shot after the shot clock buzzer sounded.
With Green’s defense and Curry’s offensive playmaking ability, the Warriors built a comfortable 20-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The lead was thought to be enough cushion for Golden State to sit its starters for the rest of the game. The Pistons used the opportunity to roar back as second-year guard Luke Kennard began to catch fire from the floor.
Scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, Kennard reeled the Pistons within nine points with five minutes to play.
Similar to how he saved the Warriors from falling into a deep rut in the first quarter, Curry entered the game midway through the fourth and buried his first shot of the period, increasing the lead back to double digits.
When the lead was cut down to as few as seven points with 59 seconds left in the game, Curry was there once more to save the day. Hitting a runner in the lane, Curry put the game just out of reach for Detroit.
“We lost by 40 [last night,]” Durant said. “You don’t want to get embarrassed like that again. I think we came out with a nice sense of urgency.”