Warriors' bench flying high right in time for playoff push


Five different times Wednesday night in Dallas, Jonathan Kuminga unloaded his springs and threw down a dunk. Most of them served as a reminder of his superstar potential, that's becoming more of a reality. Two were samples of why Kuminga could be the Warriors' biggest X-factor in repeating as champions or running out of gas.

With a little under four minutes in the first quarter of the Warriors' 127-125 win over the Dallas Mavericks and the Dubs down by five on the road, Kuminga picked up Mavs star Luka Dončić at full court the moment he touched the ball. Chasing him from behind and forcing him into a corner, Kuminga swiped the ball away from Luka, dribble down the other side and softly finish a two-hander with ease.

His next steal-and-slam came wasn't so subtle. It was silky. It was loud. It was picturesque.

Hounding Dončić off the ball midway through the second quarter and the Warriors down by three, Kuminga tipped a pass and dribbled to the hole with a wide-open lane where he took two steps after the free-throw line and gave fans the jam of the night.

Kuminga scored a game-high 22 points in 31 minutes off the bench in the win. He had three rebounds, those two steals and his one assist led to an Anthony Lamb corner 3-pointer after the defense collapsed on Kuminga backing his way into the paint. His biggest contribution was following Dončić all over the floor. 

Dončić scored 30 points in his return from a five-game absence, but more than passed one of the tougher tests in the NBA. The 20-year-old gave Dončić, who shot 2 of 10 from deep, fits at times and helped wear him out. 

"Probably the best five-game stretch of his career," Steve Kerr said to reporters in Dallas after the Warriors' win. "The game is looking like it's becoming simpler for him, and easier somehow. He's more at ease with himself on the floor, at both ends. It's fun to watch. 

"It's hard for young guys to come into this league and pick up everything that's being thrown at them. But he's done that. And here we are near the end of his second year, and he's just dramatically better than he was when he first arrived. It's a testament to him and his work ethic and his resilience in the face of a lot of adversity, a lot of difficult ups and downs."

The game doesn't merely look like it's slowing down for Kuminga. It's more of a feeling. Really, it's the truth. 

That's in his own words, too. 

"Basically, yes," Kuminga said when asked that question. "It's not as easy as it looks like. Them running, flying all around, dribbling and passing the ball. It's just not that easy. 

"Just watching film every day, and just getting better every day and just working hard." 

Over the Warriors' 2-3 five-game road trip, Kuminga scored 8, 10, 24, 17 and 22 points while shooting 4 of 5, 5 of 12, 8 of 16, 7 of 9 and 9 of 11 from the field. For the most part, he made averaging 16.2 points on 62.3-percent shooting looking. In the final three games, he shot 58.3 percent (7 of 12) on 3-point attempts. 

Of all the players in the Warriors' second unit, Kuminga has the highest ceiling. This past offseason, the Warriors gambled on Jordan Poole's ceiling after his breakout season. He averaged only 14.6 points and still searched for his shot at times during this road trip. The last two games, AKA the Warriors' two wins, highlighted Poole's importance down the stretch run. 

Poole's plus/minus was an average of minus-6.3 in the Warriors' three straight losses to open. It was then an average of plus-6 in the Warriors' first set of back-to-back wins on the road this season. He scored only five points Monday night in Houston, was 1 of 8 from the field and 1 of 6 on threes. Poole also was a plus-13 and dished six assists in the fourth quarter. 

In Dallas, Poole missed all four of his 3-pointers but utilized his speed with three layups, a dunk and went 4 of 5 at the free-throw line. He scored 16 points and had six assists, one game after totaling eight. Wednesday night was the fourth time all season Poole didn't have any turnovers.

The expectation is for Poole and Kuminga to lead the Warriors' bench at this point. More and more often, they're not alone. Golden State's second straight win was its third outscoring the opponent's bench. 

This time it was 58-51 in favor of the Warriors. Against the Rockets on Monday, they outscored them 38-20. And though the Warriors lost to the Grizzlies on Saturday night in Memphis, their bench won the battle 65-31. 

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Anthony Lamb shot 3-of-3 beyond the arc in the second half on Monday night, and was a perfect 3 of 3 as a 3-point shooter in the Warriors' two wins. JaMychal Green continues to play more freely as a tough big man down low who can also stretch the floor, and Moses Moody continues to play earlier in games and on a more consistent basis. 

Moody missed one of his eight shot attempts, was a plus-3 twice on the trip and finished it as a plus-7. 

This is a bench that's going to get Gary Payton II back. Donte DiVincenzo will slide down into the second unit if Andrew Wiggins returns. Right when the Warriors are going to lean on their stars the hardest in the final seven games of the regular season with a chance to climb the standings as the current No. 6 seed in the West, the bench is giving them a much bigger shoulder to lean on.

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