Here are five observations from the Warriors’ 127-120 win in Houston on Sunday night, their first road win of the season, bumping their overall record to 8-9.
1. The two 3s that sealed it
Regardless of the Klay Thompson fireworks that preceded it, the Warriors led by only three with under two minutes left. More collective bench trouble, continued hacking and 17 more turnovers kept a 3-13 Rockets team within striking distance.
That’s been dangerous for the Warriors earlier this season. They let the Hornets stick around in Charlotte, then blew a four-point lead in the final minute. Their veterans were outplayed by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis down the stretch of a close game in Sacramento. Jalen Suggs made a pair of 3s, and Thompson missed a game-winning runner at the buzzer in Orlando.
If they had been closing like normal, they’d already have a handful of road wins. But they instead entered Sunday 0-8 away from Chase Center. They were still in tenuous territory when Steph Curry had the ball up top, leading by three, with 1:12 left and Thompson curling along the baseline to set up a double screen.
Some of the dynasty’s best moments from the past decade came from the fingertips of Thompson in the final minutes of road playoff games. But some of his early-season issues have included misfires down the stretch. The NBA considers it clutch time when a game is within five points with under five minutes left. Entering Sunday, Thompson was 3-of-13 shooting in the clutch.
But this looked nothing like the slumping Thompson. He had life in his legs and pop in his jumper, capping a 41-point outburst with this curling 3 to double the Warriors’ lead in that crucial moment — the smooth catch, release, land and backpedal an indication of how well he was feeling. :
The Warriors got a defensive stop the next time down, giving them a chance to seal it. At home this season, Curry has slammed the door shut several times. But the dagger had eluded him on the road. Most memorably, he took a pair of errant game winners in Charlotte, then blamed himself for hero-ball hunting in his hometown.
But hero ball has a better than 0 percent success rate. Sometimes Curry makes his highest-difficulty attempts. Watch this rainbow to clinch the win in Houston. Curry fails to get room on the drive against the bulky Eric Gordon and instead settles for a stepback, off-kilter heave that flies out of the screen, then swishes right through the hoop. Keep your eye on the Houston bench right after.
2. Wait, what were their stat lines?
That was Thompson’s 10th made 3 and Curry’s seventh made 3. The two went 17-of-27 from deep, combining for 74 points, the 17th time the two have totaled at least 70 in their careers. The Warriors are 15-2 in those games.
Thompson finished with 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting and 10-of-13 from 3. That’s the bigger story. Curry has spent the entire early season scorching defenses, while Thompson has been one of the lowest-efficiency players in the NBA.
Thompson made his first six shots and had 18 points in the first seven minutes, bumping the Warriors to a double-digit lead, which the bench blew quickly to open the second quarter. Thompson had 26 at halftime and made three fourth-quarter 3s to help them across the finish line.
“When Klay worries about what happens with this team, Klay plays great and we win.”
– Draymond on Klay getting out of his own head pic.twitter.com/x23TRyxvC2
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) November 21, 2022
How big of a slump buster was this for Thompson? He jacked up his overall field goal percentage for the season from 36.3 percent to 38.8 percent and his season 3-point percentage from 33.6 percent to 37.7 percent.
It wasn’t nearly the outlier for Curry. This was the ninth game this season he’s scored 33 or more points. He is averaging 32.3 points for the season, tying him with Joel Embiid for the second most behind Luka Doncic.
But check out Curry’s full stat line: 33 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
3. Stat of the night
Andrew Wiggins made six of his 11 attempted 3s against the Rockets. This was only the third time in history that three teammates made at least six 3s in the same game. The three combined to make 23. That’s an NBA record, per Elias.
Wiggins is now 44-of-105 from 3 on the season, a 41.9 percent clip that would qualify for a career high. He made 39.3 percent last season, his previous career high. But Warriors coach Steve Kerr rerouted a Wiggins question after the game to the other side of the floor.
“I don’t think his defense has been as good as it was last year,” Kerr said. “I think he knows that. I think it goes hand in hand with our team’s overall defense. Every single guy has to look in the mirror — coaches, too. We have to think about our schemes and possibly make some adjustments because we’re giving up too many points.”
4. Rotation rearrangement again
The Warriors were up 38-28 when Curry went to the bench for the first time. The second unit gave up a 13-0 run to open the second quarter. When Curry returned, they were down 43-42, a minus-11 stretch in six minutes.
That was enough to entice Kerr to jumble up his rotation again. In the second half, he went away from Jonathan Kuminga and Anthony Lamb and inserted Moses Moody, who had not appeared in the first half. He also flipped Kevon Looney (who’d been the second-unit center to open the second quarter) for Draymond Green. Kerr said he thought it settled down that unit a bit.
This was the lineup to open the fourth quarter: Moody, Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, Draymond Green and JaMychal Green. Poole hit Draymond Green for a little floater to open the fourth-quarter scoring; Draymond Green found DiVincenzo backdoor for a spinning layup, and Poole made three free throws.
But more importantly, they strung together enough stops to survive with Curry on the bench. The Warriors opened the fourth quarter up three. When Curry returned with 7:27 left, they were up one. That’s adequate.
5. Up next
There is no official word on who will rest for the Warriors on Monday night in New Orleans, the second side of a rough back-to-back. Kerr said the cross-country travel and heavy usage from his starters could lead the performance staff to hold some guys out. The Warriors have recalled Ryan Rollins and Patrick Baldwin Jr. from Santa Cruz for extra bodies.
Thompson hasn’t played a back-to-back this season and, despite Sunday’s eruption, isn’t likely for the Pelicans game. The performance staff has shown more leniency for Curry and Green, who have rested for only one game this season — coincidentally, the last Pelicans matchup in New Orleans, which was also on the second side of a back-to-back.
This begins a challenging stretch for the Warriors. After the Pelicans game, they return home for the Clippers and Jazz on Wednesday and Friday before another quick trip to Minnesota and Dallas starting next Sunday.
(Photo of Klay Thompson after making a 3: Michael Wyke / Associated Press)