Don’t look now, but the Golden State Warriors are catching a little bit of fire. Winners of four straight and six of their last seven, they’ve inched back to .500 (25-25) with three games remaining before the All-Star break.
Saturday’s win over the visiting Suns was a thriller.
Trailing by two with 3.3 seconds to play, the Warriors ran a side out-of-bounds for Stephen Curry, who took what appeared to be, at least at first glance, a fortuitously errant pass from Brandon Podziemski and turned it into what proved to be a 33-foot game-winner.
That pass was begging to be stolen by Bradley Beal, who, again at first glance, looked to be lured out of position by the bait of a game-winning steal. But watch the clip again. Beal actually shoots the gap right away. Had Podziemski made a normal straight-line pass to Curry, Beal likely either picks it off or at least deflects it with a hard denial.
Which is to say, Podziemski, a rookie, in a split-second decision, with a huge game on the line, actually read Beal’s route and purposely adjusted his pass just wide enough to evade Beal, and in doing so, wound up pulling Beal completely out of position and giving Curry the slight separation he needed to spin and fire cleanly.
“Brandon made a fantastic pass on that play,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Reading, you know, Bradley Beal jump in the passing lane. And he got it past him.”
As it turns out, Podziemski threaded an even tighter needle than it looked like. In his postgame interview, Podziemski revealed that not only did he intentionally place the ball just beyond Beal’s reach, but he also intentionally kept the pass in the front-court, as he was uncertain whether a back-court pass was legal in that situation. (A back-court pass would’ve been legal, but the point is, Podz didn’t know, and even if he did, had he forced Curry to catch falling over the half-court line, the shot would’ve been almost impossible to even get off, let alone make.)
Podziemski split the difference perfectly. Just enough to avoid Beal, but not an inch too wide. It was a close enough call for Podziemski to flinch when he released the pass.
Curry has now made five shots this season to either tie the game or put the Warriors ahead in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, the most in the NBA. He finished with 30 points and nine 3-pointers, giving him 20 triples in his last two games after an outburst against the Pacers on Thursday night.
The Warriors have played a ton of clutch games this season, which are defined as being within five points inside the final five minutes, and Curry has been outstanding in these situations — leading the league with 157 clutch points on 52% shooting, including 49% from 3 and 97% from the free-throw line.
Still, the Warriors are just 17-18 in clutch games. A few flipped possessions here or there, and their record could be a lot better than it is. Golden State’s last defeat, in fact, was an overtime affair at Atlanta in which Curry scored 60.
With the return of Draymond Green, who has single-handedly brought Golden State’s defense back to life and is back to wreaking havoc on opposing centers with his impromptu brand of offense, and with Curry heating up and Jonathan Kuminga popping as well, dare I say the Warriors look kind of scary?
With 32 games to play, they’re only three games out of a top-six seed in the loss column. There are four teams in front of them, yes, and it still feels unlikely that they can rise above the Play-In line. But as long as they get into the Play-In at least, there’s not a team in the league that will want anything to do with them if they keep playing like this. Last season, the Miami Heat made it to the Finals out of the Play-In.
Golden State also has the league’s sixth-easiest remaining schedule, and Chris Paul will be coming back at some point. Gary Payton II is already back and making immediate impacts all over the floor. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins remain hit or miss, but on the nights they’re hitting, Golden State is still very good.
We’ll see how many of those nights they can string together the rest of the way.