SAN FRANCISCO — Brandin Podziemski, the rookie Steve Kerr entrusted with his role as a high-leverage inbounder, watched Bradley Beal navigate around Draymond Green’s screen and jump the direct passing lane between Podziemski and Steph Curry . But Podziemski said there was never any chance he would pass it on to anyone other than Curry.
So he got creative, firing a curveball several yards to Curry’s left, avoiding Beal but making life difficult for Curry, who needed one hand to grab a short rebound.
“If you watch the replay, I’m like, ‘Ahh, shit—” Podziemski said, shuddering with fear that his pass was destined for a turnover.
Curry picked it up, spun and shot in one fluid motion, taking it away before Devin Booker could enter the picture. The shot saved what was almost another late-game heartbreak for the Golden State Warriors, delivering a 113-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns that planted them at a 25-25 record in 50 games.
Even after Curry’s ninth 3 of the game was dropped — his 20th was 3-for-32 attempts over the last two games — he had a slight hesitation during the celebration. He noticed that there were 0.7 seconds left on the clock.
“You know how our season went, 0.7 seconds seemed like an eternity to me,” Curry said.
Andrew Wiggins made a 3 with 1.4 seconds left against the Thunder in November to take the lead. Chet Holmgren hit a fadeaway on the next pass to salvage the win. Last week, Curry made a 3 with 5.4 seconds left in double overtime to go up one point on the Lakers. LeBron James fought his way through a foul moments later and made both free throws.
“Steph has made several shots like that this year, and we haven’t been able to close out the game on the defensive end,” Green said.
It wasn’t a painless 0.7 final. During the Suns’ approach, Wiggins was called for a wrestling foul while trying to fight off a Devin Booker post-up. The Warriors contested the call. Wiggins thought Booker had him hooked. But they didn’t have a timeout, meaning they couldn’t contest.
Officials went to the monitor to determine if Wiggins had fouled Booker before the finish. If he had, it would have been a Phoenix free throw (to tie) and a possession. But because the foul occurred after the pass left the hand, it was ruled grounded. The Warriors had a foul to commit, so the Suns didn’t get two free throws.
The final inbound came with 0.6 seconds left. Phoenix tried to throw it over Kevin Durant. The Warriors put Green on him. He knocked it down and informed the Suns.
Green’s final fight was a fitting way to end the match. His return to the lineup turned their season around. They went from the 29th ranked defense in the NBA without him to a top 10 defense with him.
They received an extra dose of energy and length with the return of Gary Payton II on Saturday. Payton guarded Durant, Booker and Beal at various points during his high-tension 14-minute stint, working his way to 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting at the other end.
“His defense, his speed and his pressure on the ball,” Kerr said of Payton. “We had it on Kevin quite often and as soon as he came into the game. He nailed the quick dunk and knocked down a three. You just feel his presence there. That’s why he’s a fan favorite.
Curry finished with 30 points. Jonathan Kuminga continued his rise as the team’s second scorer, living on the rim and complementing Curry with 21 points. Wiggins had 12 points, two steals and took long shifts on Phoenix’s scoring trio. Podziemski was again the fifth member of the final lineup, replacing the struggling Klay Thompson.
But it was Green’s electricity that ignited the Warriors again. He repeatedly clashed with Jusuf Nurkić, the player he hit back at in December, leading to an indefinite suspension that sent the season crashing down and putting him under a microscope again more attentive.
Green has remained out of the league’s crosshairs since his return. He had no technical or glaring issues in his first 10 games. He received his first technical Saturday, yelling for an and-1 after being hit on a no-whistle layup. But, in his interactions with Nurkić, he chirped, stomped and taunted in return, but did not take the upper hand.
“We need him competitive,” Kerr said. “Draymond, if he’s passive, you might as well not play him. With him, everything depends on his strength, his energy and his competitiveness. This is what makes him unique and the great player that he is. We want him to cross the line, but we don’t want him to cross it. Technical, that suits me. A blatant foul, he’s fine. But he has to stop there. »
After the match, Nurkić made headlines with the soundbite below, claiming that Green hadn’t learned anything and that it was only a matter of time before he hit someone other.
One of the highlights of the match came in the third quarter after Nurkić made a hook shot and stopped for a long “too small” celebration, hitting the floor twice to put the accent. Green looked at it shortly after and returned it.
“You can’t be an advocate for anything if you do that,” Green said. “He weighs 70 pounds more than me and got put in the rim? I have to be more careful.
Curry watched Nurkić’s soundbite before doing his postgame media session, calling the comments “idiotic” before defending Green.
“Draymond was in his head,” Curry said. “Clearly and simply. »
The win puts the Warriors in 10th place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz, a team they will face twice in Salt Lake City this week. They are 4 1/2 games behind the Suns in sixth, which is their target spot in the standings.
“I think the defensive improvement over the last few weeks is going to help us close out games like this,” Kerr said.
(Photo by Draymond Green and Steph Curry: John Hefti / USA Today)