SAN FRANCISCO – After trying 14 different lineups, most of them abject failures, the Warriors on their 15th attempt discovered one that might be capable of pushing them back into the NBA playoff race.
Lineup 15 was on display Saturday night, featuring Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson at guard, Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga at forward, and Draymond Green at center.
This group is not built for big minutes every night, mostly because it’s unfair to ask Draymond, at 6-foot-6, to bang and bump with mastodons for 30 minutes on a regular basis. But it is, for now, as good as Golden State has to offer. Even after another infuriating loss, 145-144, to the Los Angeles Lakers in double overtime, it’s apparent this lineup has the best chance of pulling their backsides out of the fire.
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“It is a lot of versatility amongst that group, defensively, offensively, and great athletes, shooters,” said Thompson, who fouled out in the second OT. “Draymond was incredible tonight. A plus-31 shows his impact. A lot of versatility with that unit.”
Green was starting for the first time since Dec. 12, so he’s the new addition. He was tremendous: eight points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals and two blocks. His plus-31 was the team’s best by a wide margin.
Curry and Thompson combined for 70 points, well above their combined 44.2 per-game average, and added 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Kuminga played through foul trouble to post his 23rd consecutive double-digit scoring performance – sixth in a row of at least 20 points – with 22 points while also snagging nine rebounds.
Golden State Warriors
“With that lineup, we got some speed, we have some athleticism, we have Draymond’s brain, and mind, and just the way that he sees the floor defensively,” said Curry, who scored a game-high 46 points – 24 after the third quarter. “We had a pretty good start to the game tonight.”
The Warriors started well enough to build a five-point lead in the first eight minutes. One of the reasons for the solid start was Wiggins.
It’s Wiggins, a ghost for most of the season, who is the key to this group’s fortunes. If he can rediscover something close to the top of his game with a measure of consistency, the Warriors will have two options more appealing than they were a week ago.
One, they likely will have an opportunity to trade Wiggins while his stock is rising. Or, two, they can keep him because he’s looking a lot like the player who was so crucial to Golden State winning the 2022 NBA Finals.
Wiggins was superb. There was production: 22 points. Efficiency: 8-of-12 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from deep. There was engaged defense on the perimeter and in the paint, including a crowd-pleasing chase-down block of LeBron James at the rim.
“Gives us a little more size and athleticism across the board,” Kerr said of the latest lineup. “We’re trying to maximize the number of possessions that those guys play together. We’re in a position now with Wiggs playing at a high level and JK having come around, Klay, Steph, Draymond back after the suspension.
“We’re in a position where we can put those guys together and probably our best five. We want to maximize the number of possessions they have together.”
The Wiggins-Kuminga combination, which did poorly in earlier iterations, suddenly looks like a threat. It wasn’t the combo a wayward experiment. It wasn’t good because Wiggins was in the grip of some of the worst basketball of a career in its 10th season.
“We figured out how to play off each other and with each other on the same time on the floor,” Kuminga said. “It’s not that much of Draymond being in there or being out. He helps us with a lot of things, (but) it’s just we kind of have a feel for each other now.”
Just as Wiggins was a huge factor in Golden State’s struggles, because he was struggling, he also can be crucial to any recovery. If he’s very good, they’re much better. If he’s so good in the next few games, perhaps it gives the front office new leverage.
If Wiggins stays on point, the Warriors probably won’t find a better two-way wing on the open market. Moreover, they won’t need to look.