SAN FRANCISCO – Exhaling is allowed and embarrassment is spared for the Warriors, courtesy of Jonathan Kuminga.
And coach Steve Kerr’s decision to release Kuminga from the bench that was his residence for the first 31 minutes Wednesday night at Chase Center.
The Warriors, falling behind early and crawling uphill throughout, finally caught and passed the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter and held on for a 110-106 victory that is wholly symbolic of this fitful season.
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Once Kuminga entered the game, with 4:45 remaining the third quarter, he stayed on the court for all but one second. Repeat: One second. He simply was too effective to go back to the bench.
“He was the key to the game,” Kerr said.
“I was just chilling on the bench, being a good teammate and bringing the energy up in my teammates play and encouraging them,” Kuminga said. “I didn’t really know that I wasn’t going in. Obviously, I ended up going in. But I didn’t know anything, so I wasn’t really surprised.”
Golden State Warriors
Kuminga’s energy and effort seemed to further engage his teammates, who became the accelerant to the fire he started. He led way as Golden State’s defense turned downright prickly, but not until Stephen Curry dropped in a 3-ball with 10.2 seconds remaining were the Blazers put to sleep for good.
Curry’s dagger came immediately after Kuminga’s second steal, 18 seconds earlier. And that followed Kuminga’s crowd-pleasing lob dunk off a feed from Draymond Green with a little more than a minute left.
Kuminga finished with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field and two very timely steals. He was a team-best plus-13 in plus/minus rating over 17 minutes.
“That was huge,” Chris Paul said of Kuminga’s performance. “We’ve just been sort of up and down all season with different guys in and out the lineup. We missed Dray for some games, missed Steph for two games, had everybody in Sacramento. Then me and GP [Gary Payton II] go down.
“So, it’s just been sort of next man up. And JK showed a great deal of professionalism in not playing early and then to come in. He changed the whole game.”
Kuminga was out of the rotation, and it made sense. He has had more bad nights than good, and the inconsistency left him vulnerable to diminished playing time. Then, too, Moses Moody and Brandin Podziemski were productive and playing with more consistency.
But with the Warriors trailing 11 and the third quarter running out of time, Kerr, seeing the game possibly slip away, turned desperate. Kuminga entered for Green and got a steal, a dunk and layup in his first two minutes.
“He stayed ready,” Kerr said. “He was out of the rotation because it’s hard to play 10 guys. And, frankly, Brandin and Moses have earned all the minutes they’re getting.
“We obviously needed him. The game called for JK, with Portland’s youth and athleticism. We needed to be able to match that and be able to score against their switches.”
Golden State owned the second half, outscoring Portland 62-51. Curry shook off a poor first half (1-of-8 shooting, including 1-of-6 from deep, with two turnovers) to pour in 22 second-half points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 beyond the arc.
Curry’s scoring and Kuminga’s all-around impact were enough for the Warriors to erase their horrid play for the better part of three quarters, most notably giving the Blazers 23 points off 15 turnovers.
Curry and Kuminga also did enough to overcome a 3-of-13 shooting night by Klay Thompson, a 3-of-12 game from Andrew Wiggins and a relatively quiet night by Paul, who was returning after a two-game absence due to leg soreness.
Kuminga, Moody and Podziemski continue to push for minutes, and their youth is essential if the Warriors are to raise their level of scrap.
“You see Moses, you see the things that he has been doing lately,” Kuminga said. "You see BP. And, obviously, the things that I just went out there and did for the team. We are the young guys we are supposed to help our team bring energy. I knew somehow it was going to be me, or Moses or anybody that was going out there to lift the team up.
“Obviously I ended up being that person. That is all that matters.”
Kuminga was crucial to saving the night. He allowed fans to walk out with joy. Allowed the Warriors to creep closer to .500. Allowed Kerr the license to get more creative with his rotations from this point on.