OKLAHOMA CITY — Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr believes a loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns last week woke up his team from a recent malaise and got them to refocus heading into the final month of the season.
“I think the loss to Phoenix opened our eyes a little bit,” Kerr said after the Warriors finished off a 110-88 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night. “And I think our guys just felt threatened on the road. We’ve played two great teams, we’ve got another one, maybe the hottest team in the league in San Antonio coming up, so anytime they’re threatened, I think our guys tend to play better.”
The win over the Thunder was one of the Warriors’ most impressive of the year, and it came on the heels of another impressive win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night. It’s no coincidence to Golden State players and coaches that two of the team’s best wins of the year came after a stunning loss to the Suns at Oracle Arena on March 10 in which the back-to-back NBA champions gave up a 16-point first-half lead to one of the worst teams in the league.
That the Warriors have put together two of their best games of the season without star forward Kevin Durant, who is resting a sprained right ankle that he injured in that Suns game, makes the victories stand out even more.
“That game wasn’t great by any stretch,” Curry said of the Suns game. “Especially having beat Denver right before when we were starting to build that momentum. At this point in the season, whatever you can kind of hold onto to create those challenges and just the expectation of playing a game like we did tonight. On the road, these last two games we wanted to start off with the right intentions, the right focus, obviously understanding with KD out we’re a little different. So our energy and intensity has to be there because you’re missing 28 points out there on the floor. It’s hard to replace that.”
Kerr is optimistic that Durant will return for Monday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, but the Warriors haven’t needed to rely on Durant because their defense and focus has been much better over the last couple games. Kerr and several players called the performance against the Thunder one of the group’s best defensive performances of the year, including limiting OKC to 32.3 percent shooting from the field.
“Absolutely,” Warriors forward Klay Thompson said. “What did we hold them to, under 35 percent shooting? They got some great scorers over there. It’s definitely up there.”
Thompson, in particular, was stellar on the defensive end, holding Thunder guard Russell Westbrook to 2-for-16 from the field.
“Everybody’s been locked in,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “You see a different fire in the coaching staff, a different focus in their eyes. You see a different focus and fire in our players’ eyes, and that’s important. The training staff’s been locked in, like everybody’s been locked in since that loss. It comes at a good time for us, I think we got 13 or 14 games left, it’s the right time to start playing well and try to roll on into the playoffs feeling good.”
On top of Durant’s imminent return, the Warriors are feeling even better knowing that center DeMarcus Cousins is finding his own rhythm after struggling at times over the last couple of weeks. Cousins, who has faced criticism from fans and media for some of the Warriors’ recent inconsistencies, especially on the defensive end, finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He also provided a stabilizing presence down low.
Cousins tweaked his right ankle in the second half Saturday. While Kerr didn’t sound too concerned about the injury, Cousins has yet to play in a back-to-back since returning from his Achilles injury, and the team is likely to take a cautious approach with him with the Warriors playing in San Antonio on Monday and in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Green continues to support Cousins, believing his best games are ahead as he continues to work his way back from a left Achilles injury that kept him out for almost an entire year.
“He’s starting to find that rhythm,” Green said. “He’s starting to find that confidence in his game again. We’re starting to see what he’s capable of. Obviously we already know he’s been doing it for years, but on this team we haven’t saw it. It’s starting to come together, and it’s coming together at the right time … no one can stop him. Same s— that we knew years ago. We’re starting to see it again.”
In Thompson’s mind, the reason for the uptick in consistency isn’t just that the Suns game provided a wake-up call — it’s that the Warriors know they need to play their best basketball soon.
“The playoffs are right around the corner,” Thompson said. “And we want to go in on a nice little winning streak, and we’ve started one so far.”