Chris Paul

With CP3 back, Warriors' second unit has potential to roar

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Chris Paul was wide open Tuesday when he launched a 3-ball that rattled around the rim and off with 1.9 seconds left in the third quarter. He responded by grabbing his head with both hands, as if he’d blown a chance to give the Warriors a lead.

This was needlessly dramatic. He merely missed a shot that would have pushed the lead from 23 to 26.

The Warriors had spent the last six minutes of third quarter running the Washington Wizards off their home floor, posting a 38-17 advantage that powered a 123-112 victory. And Paul was the conductor of the charge, which created enough of a margin even Golden State couldn’t give back – certainly not against a team with a 9-49 record.

“We've been playing pretty well over the last month or so,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Capital One Arena. “But we’ve really been looking forward to getting Chris back. You could see why tonight. He's a plus-17 in 21 minutes, always in control of the game. The way we closed the third quarter was really important, and he was at the helm.”

The Warriors held a seven-point lead (78-71) over the Wizards when Paul entered with 5:48 remaining in the third quarter. They outscored Washington 17-2 over the next four minutes and 20-4 the rest of the quarter.

The frenzy began with Paul finding Klay Thompson for a triple, then swishing his own 3-ball.

Another Paul dime to Thompson resulted in another triple that gave the Warriors a 19-point lead. CP3 closed the quarter with a lob to Jonathan Kuminga, who flushed it.

This was Paul as the maestro the Warriors need him to be. They acquired him last July to coordinate the second unit and make the game easier for every teammate sharing the court.

“CP is one of the greatest to ever see the floor,” Thompson said on NBC Sports Bay Area’s "Warriors Postgame Live." “His ability to read the game, especially offensively, is second to none. We have a great chemistry out there, especially when I’ve got it going. He’s looking for me. He’s looking for me off pin-downs, off ball screens, and he’s an incredibly unselfish player.”

In Paul's first game since Jan. 5, when surgery on his fractured left hand forced a 21-game absence, the guard slid into the rotation so smoothly it was as if he had never left. He tap-danced across the stat line, finishing with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field, including 3 of 5 from deep, adding six assists, four rebounds and a season-high four steals.

With Paul as the architect and Thompson collecting buckets (he finished with a team-high 25 points, including 6 of 11 from beyond the arc), Golden State’s second unit outscored its counterparts 59-15.

“What a luxury to come off the bench with Chris Paul and Klay Thompson,” Kerr said. “That's crazy.

“I said this before the game, but it feels like we've kind of found a nice combination of a starting group that we've been able to count on over the last month and a second unit that's been good all year. But adding Klay to that only makes it better.”

This was Thompson’s fifth consecutive game off the bench, but his first alongside Paul. It’s a natural connection between two vets bound for the Hall of Fame. They have the potential to torch opposing second-unit backcourts.

“It’s just a privilege being able to play with him,” Thompson said. “And I Iook forward to having a great partnership the rest of the season.”

Paul, who has been a regular presence even while recovering, understands how high this squad can go. He also realizes this is a new beginning, as this is a greatly evolved Warriors team compared to that which struggled from November through most of January.

Which is why the 38-year-old expresses a measure of caution.

“It’s one game – one game,” Paul said. “We still got a lot of work to do as a team, as a unit. We have so much depth, so many different ways that we can play, that it's going to take us a little while to figure it out. But obviously, you want to figure it out and win at the same time.”

The Warriors held together well, posting a 12-9 record during Paul’s absence. They’re 30-27, in ninth place in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The final 25 games will dictate whether Golden State is bound for the NBA play-in tournament or can rally into the top six within the conference.

A healthy Paul is enough of an asset to breed confidence.

“We got a really good group of guys on this team, and [Kerr is] going to need different things every night,” Paul said. “You know one thing about me though: I know who I am and what I'm capable of. You know what I mean? There ain't any question about that. I'll always be ready, and I think he knows that.”

Oh, he knows. Having coached against CP3 and now with him, Kerr knows he has a competitor so driven that even a 23-point lead won’t keep him from gritting his teeth over a missed shot.

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