Dubs escape Grizzlies despite Steph Curry’s late ejection

The Golden State Warriors escaped Chase Center with a 122-120 win over the rival Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday despite Steph Curry’s late-game ejection. Here are three key takeaways from a thrilling Warriors victory.

A much-needed crunch-time turnaround

The Grizzlies led this game 107-99 midway through the fourth quarter, in pretty much the same strong position Golden State found itself in heartbreaking, frustrating losses to the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. But instead of crumbling under crunch-time pressure, the Warriors rose to meet it, suffocating Ja Morant on one end and hitting timely shot after timely shot on the other.

Klay Thompson drilled a wing three after a timeout. Curry drained a pair of long jumpers in the last few minutes once he got Morant switched onto him, the latter of which tied the game with 2:15 left. Golden State fought like hell on the offensive glass, and made Morant see three bodies once he creased the paint. Curry hit three free throws after Dillon Brooks inexplicably went under the first of staggered screens, putting the Warriors up 116-113.

If Curry hadn’t thrown his mouth guard to the crowd in exasperated anger with 1:14 remaining, drawing an automatic ejection, Golden State might not have needed Jordan Poole’s baseline out-of-bounds layup—off another offensive board, mind you—as the game clock read 0:01 to beat the Grizzlies.

Why did Curry so suddenly lose his cool in the midst of leading an awesome fourth quarter comeback? Poole missed a wildly ill-advised 30-footer following another offensive rebound even though 12 seconds were left on the shot clock, marring a golden opportunity for the Warriors to go up two possessions.

It was a horrible mistake by Poole, one that speaks to Golden State’s season-long struggles in crunch time. But the Warriors did just enough in the final minute—aided by a pair of missed free throws from Desmond Bane, an elite foul shooter—on both sides of the ball to render that gaffe moot, notching one of their best team wins of the season in spite of countless self-inflicted errors from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Good thing Ziaire Williams, whose game-worst -19 plus-minus was hard-earned, briefly turned his head to create enough space for Poole’s game-winning finish. Otherwise, Golden State would’ve suffered a loss requiring a lot of soul-searching.

Jonathan Kuminga thrives again

Andrew Wiggins didn’t play on Wednesday night, a late scratch due to a non-COVID illness. Obviously, the Warriors won’t be going anywhere this season if he fails to regain the two-way form that made him arguably the league’s top 3-and-D wing heading into the season, not to mention the scorching hot shooting that propelled him to career-high efficiency before going down with injury then illness in mid-December.

But Wiggins’ absence paved the way for Jonathan Kuminga to start in Golden State’s new, downsized opening five, and the sophomore picked up right where he left off Sunday against the Nets.

Kuminga’s 13 points, two rebounds and four assists on 5-of-6 shooting don’t do the gravity of his performance justice. He was the Warriors’ primary matchup on Morant, contributing to the Grizzlies superstar’s slow start by diligently going under ball screens and keeping his hands high upon feeling contact. Kuminga checked Bane when Morant was out of the lineup, too, often not even getting the benefit of off-ball switching while chasing a premier movement shooter across the floor.

Impactful as he was defensively, offense is where Kuminga popped most. This composed corner three came moments after he’d almost brought Chase Center down with a soaring lefty dunk upon driving a Brandon Clarke close-out.

Golden State targeted Morant defensively all night, either forcing Memphis to put two on the ball in pick-and-rolls or switch him into the primary action. As many fruitful results as that strategy yielded, Kuminga wasn’t its main beneficiary.

That didn’t matter on this awesome lefty putback, the 20-year-old high-flier fully embracing his role by committing to dirty work.

Kuminga helped drive the Warriors to a 7-0 start in the third quarter, finishing with a towering dunk then swiping Morant’s dribble from behind to ignite a transition attack.

Kuminga wasn’t on the floor much in the clutch, Steve Kerr going with Donte DiVincenzo alongside Curry, Poole, Thompson and Draymond Green. Kevon Looney even came for Curry when he was ejected. Morant got by Kuminga to draw two made free throws and a score-tying dunk for Clarke once he came in for the final 30 seconds, too.

There’s no shame in failing to contain a supernova playmaker like Morant off the bounce, though, and Golden State wouldn’t have been in position to steal a late-game win if not for his earlier contributions. Kuminga wasn’t quite as good on Wednesday as he was versus the Nets, but call his performance another hugely positive step in the right direction regardless.

If Kuminga plays like this come playoff time, he’ll give Kerr another worthy crunch-time option next to the Warriors’ stars and proven veterans—something Bob Myers and the front office will no doubt keep in mind as the trade deadline approaches.

Warriors turnover woes continue

Golden State committed 14 turnovers in the first half alone, a new season-high. The Grizzlies scored 22 points off those miscues, racing out for easy open-floor scores that kept them close early despite disjointed halfcourt offense.

Most of the Warriors’ turnovers before intermission weren’t even forced by Memphis, either.

Poole simply lost his grip on the ball while driving on Bane in the first quarter. Kuminga threw the ball in the backcourt while trying to find an outlet after his baseline drive was stymied. Green threw the ball right into the hands of Xavier Tillman, his primary defender, trying to find a cutter. Curry made the baffling decision to try a behind-the-back leave after creasing the three-point off the bounce.

Golden State got a handle on its debilitating penchant for turnovers in the third quarter, surviving a Memphis run as a result. But those woes resurfaced in the first few minutes of the final stanza, the Warriors’ five turnovers helping the Grizzlies get out to that 107-99 lead the home team ultimately overcame.

There’s no getting around Golden State’s turnover woes. This team doesn’t have the margin for error any other recent Dubs teams did. Turnovers could absolutely doom the Warriors’ chances of repeating as champions, understandable as some of their unforced errors on Wednesday were due to Memphis’ primary top-lock defense on Curry and Thompson.

Expect taking care of the ball to be an even bigger emphasis for Golden State going forward.

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