OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors came back to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 106-104 on Tuesday, in what briefly looked as if it might be a humiliating defeat. Thanks in large part to Draymond Green's ubiquitous defense (6 blocks, 4 steals), Golden State narrowly averted what was sure to be the low point of this recent malaise.
"I just continue to remind guys that we've been in a little bit of a rut and the only way to change that is to grind your way out of it," Green said. "Like, I said, it's not going to be pretty."
It wasn't pretty, but that late effort was the difference. Golden State grinded its way out of a disaster.
The Warriors came in a bit off on their calibration. So coach Steve Kerr did something unusual and essentially tipped his hand on rotations in pregame. He spoke of changes, of Andre Iguodala and Matt Barnes at the 4. On those promises, he delivered. The Warriors, however, did not -- at least not for three quarters.
Golden State began with lackluster defense against a Sixers squad that passes far better than its reputation. Jahlil Okafor had success against Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia, bruising his way to 16 first-half points. Okafor was spelled by Richaun Holmes, a springier, less-heralded young big who made his mark on this game throughout.
While Okafor cooled off (thanks in part to Golden State's guarding him with a smaller player and sending help), Holmes kept it rolling as the Sixers built a huge third-quarter lead. Holmes' efforts were flanked by those of Dario Saric (25 points, 7 boards, 6 assists), who did much to build on his rookie of the year case in a couple of quarters.
Philadelphia's surge was compounded by Kerr's substituting James Michael McAdoo in to play center. It was a decision, combined with Golden State's frantic play, that seemed to push the Warriors toward the brink, as they were minus-10 in McAdoo's 7 minutes, 48 seconds of action, falling 16 points behind late in the third quarter. This was on the precipice of blowout territory.
None of these rotation decisions tend to matter if Stephen Curry simply makes open shots. What could easily be dismissed as a blip, as randomness, as noise, has refused to abate. Curry, the man famed for shooting 3-pointers, has stayed off his mark for weeks now. The last great game he had was on Feb. 23, at home, against an undermanned Clippers squad -- and that one didn't exactly come off a sustained run of sterling play.
Curry, like the Warriors, was at sea for much of this game, until the fourth quarter, that is. Kerr, who was visibly frustrated by his team's discombobulated offensive plays, benched his star point guard in the third quarter, probably to calm him down and ready him for a long fourth-quarter push.
It began with defense, as Green, Iguodala and David West all locked in. Defense begat offense, as Curry finally broke loose a bit, hitting three of his five 3-pointers in the final quarter. Golden State surged to a 19-2 run, finally taking the lead on a Shaun Livingston runner with 7:34 remaining.
Klay Thompson, who himself broke out a bit in the first half of this one, said of his backcourt partner Curry's shooting, "He doesn't need to worry. He set records through his whole career. He does stuff no player's ever done in the history of this game. That's what we all remind him of. And he reminds himself that, that's why he got hot tonight, and he'll have a huge breakout game coming soon. We know he will."
One fourth-quarter play encapsulated the run: Green played perfect pick-and-roll defense, never cheating in either direction, waiting for the right moment, and springing forth to emphatically swat an Okafor runner. On the other end, Curry canned a transition 3-pointer, to relieved sighs in the crowd.
With Curry unlocked, the Warriors controlled much of the latter fourth but still made enough mistakes to keep the Sixers in it. The final Golden State offensive play was illustrative. The Warriors, up 3 with 8 seconds left, got what should have been a game-ending play when Barnes stole the Sixers' inbound. Instead, Barnes shockingly bricked the transition dunk, leading to what could have been a tying Philadelphia 3-pointer. Instead, Green, aware as ever, simply grabbed Saric with 2.5 seconds left, so as to force a two-shot foul. Crisis averted, Sixers denied.
"That was just kind of a bang-bang play where you know, up three, just try to take the foul if they're not in the shooting position, shooting motion," Green recalled of the play. "So that's just kind of my thought process on it."
It sounds simple enough and surely, in retrospect, everyone knows the proper play to make. Green's feat was to know that course amid all the chaos, within a second, inside of what could have been a panic.
On a night when not much of anything was going right, Green was salvation. And while it all sounds as easy as "grinding" or knowing the score, few can combine that level of effort with that level of savvy. It's why, for whatever issues trouble the Warriors, Green's DPOY case is as strong as the game he had Tuesday night. Now, if Golden State can get the reigning MVP back in rhythm, the Warriors will turn their rut into a forgotten blip.