Warriors’ big win over Grizzlies should set tone for eight-game homestand

Dubs’ win vs. Grizzlies should set tone for eight-game homestand originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay area

SAN FRANCISCO — Coming off back-to-back losses for a combined 68 points to end a 1-5 road trip, the Warriors already had their backs against the wall on Christmas with their clash against the Memphis Grizzlies at Chase Center.

The Warriors knew they would be without Steph Curry, who continues to be out with a left should injury. The hope was Andrew Wiggins, who missed his 10th straight game to a right adductor strain, would be able to return for this marquee matchup. That didn’t happen making the young Grizzlies big favourites in front of a national audience.

How the game opened could have been the start of something bad for Golden State. Ja Morant found Jaren Jackson Jr. for an alley-oop, giving everyone the message that the Grizzlies were out for blood. So they were the Warriors, though.

The veterans were locked in. The young guys stepped up, and the bench did everything Steve Kerr could have asked for and more. That all led to a huge 123-109 Warriors win over the Grizzlies to open a key eight-game homestand.

“It’s a great win, that’s one of the best teams in the league,” Kerr said after the game. “To come off that disappointing trip and play the way we did was really encouraging. I just challenged the guy to build on it.

“We have seven straight home games coming up. We’ve been great at home, but we haven’t really built a lot of momentum this year. It’s kind of been stops and starts. It feels like it’s time to turn it up. We got to build on this We’re not always going to shoot the ball like the way we did tonight, but if we compete and defend the way we did, then I think we can get going, get some momentum, and that’s the idea.”

Beating the chirpy Grizzlies was plenty to celebrate for the Warriors as a sweet Christmas dessert. What the Warriors can’t do now is take one step forward and two steps back.

They now have home games against the Charlotte Hornets, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns. A handful of those look like winnable games, at least on paper, especially with how dominant the Warriors have been at home this season after improving to 13-2 in San Francisco. The big question is, how many of those games will Curry and Wiggins miss?

Earlier on Christmas morning, the Warriors announced Curry will be re-evaluated in two weeks on Jan. 7. Including a game on that same re-evaluation day, Curry is guaranteed to miss at least six more games. He’s likely to miss the entire homestead with the slight hope that he can suit up against the Suns, before the Warriors head out on a five-game road trip.

Kerr admitted prior to tipoff that Wiggins’ injury has “lingered longer than we expected.” Groin injuries tend to do that, and the Warriors want to be very cautious with their All-Star wing. The hope is he can play soon, but Kerr can’t put an exact date on it and Wiggins has to go through a scrimmage before he can be back to playing games.

All of that is what made the Warriors’ win in a growing rivalry so important. Without Curry and Wiggins, the Warriors have to take advantage of what looks like winnable games. Against contenders like the Grizzlies, they have to compete as hard as possible and put themselves in a position to win in the end. Compete they did, and it all started with Poole giving his best Curry impersonation in the first quarter.

“I give a ton of credit to Jordan Poole,” Klay Thompson said. “He really played so incredibly in that first half. I mean, he’s doing his best Steph impression and it’s just wonderful to see.”

Poole in the first quarter alone scored 17 points, going 5-for-9 from the field, 3-for-5 on 3-pointers and made all four of his free throws. Each 3-pointer was on Warriors Enemy No. 1 Dillon Brooks, which might as well have made each shot worth triple the points. Poole ended the night with 32 points before being ejected early in the fourth quarter, giving him his sixth 30-point game this season.

In the five straight games that Curry missed, Poole is averaging 28.6 points.

Right behind him was Thompson with 24 points. Proving what this game meant, Klay also grabbed a season-high nine rebounds — four offensive — along with four assists. This wasn’t a one-man show or even a two-man game. Thompson described it as “Strength in Numbers,” and the numbers don’t lie.

Donte DiVincenzo’s return after missing the previous two games to an illness proved to be huge. He started the game on Grizzlies star Ja Morant and proceeded to score a season-high 19 points with five 3-pointers. Draymond Green had his own unique box score with three points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists and two blocks, making him a plus-13 in plus/minus. Then there’s the bench, the unit that has been scrutinized but can carry the good vibes the rest of the way after this game.

Five bench players combined to score 42 points on 15-for-23 shooting. Those five also combined to have a plus/minus of plus-49.

RELATED: Draymond explains why the Grizzlies aren’t Warriors’ rivals

Ty Jerome had his best game in a Warriors jersey, leading the bench with 14 points, with 10 huge ones coming in the third quarter. He was a plus-23 while going 6-for-9 from the field, made two 3-pointers and added four rebounds. Anthony Lamb scored 11 points with big threes, Moses Moody gave the Warriors 10 points, Jonathan Kuminga was a plus-21 with seven points, and despite going scoreless after scoring a career-high 30 points the game prior, James Wiseman was a plus- 8 in eight minutes with eight rebounds in what was his best defensive game of the season, and perhaps of his career.

“I thought that was the key to the game,” Kerr said. “Every single guy who came off the bench was fantastic.”

What everyone will remember most, however, is a fiery Klay reverting from his normal chill self. With three-plus minutes to go, Thompson increased the Warriors’ lead to 16 points and let Brooks know all about it. In an almost older brother fashion, Thompson hovered over Brooks and made his message about him loud and clear.

We’re still here. I’m still here.

“Klay is crazy, man,” DiVincenzo said. “That’s all I got to say. He’s a funny guy, he plays with a lot of emotion. I love it.”

The fire and emotion the Warriors built up to beat the Grizzlies without two of their top players can’t sizzle out now. The flame must stay lit, even against teams like the Hornets. If so, the Warriors can get on a roll and climb up the congested Western Conference standings with Curry and Wiggins sidelined.

Doing so will only make Steph’s return that much sweeter. Wiggins’ should come first, and a win like that gives the Warriors even more validation to remain cautious with him. The Warriors now have played 34 games and their longest win streak is three games, which happened only once.

Now is the time to let it snow before unleashing an avalanche on the rest of the league.

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