For a full four seasons and much of a fifth, the Warriors have been winning games with remarkable 3-point shooting or beautiful passing or with suffocating defense triggering their transition game.
They’ve won games because Draymond Green snatched the will of the opponent.
On Saturday night in Boston, in winning their 10th consecutive game, the Warriors discovered another path to victory. One that if used often enough is bound to drive opponents mad.
They won with free throws, getting off 34 shots from the line in a 115-111 victory over the Celtics at TD Garden. In the second half, the Warriors outshot Boston 23-5 from the line. It was 16-2 in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics had more field-goal attempts (99-83), made more field goals (41-37), took more 3-pointers (40-33) and made more 3-pointers (15-12). These numbers usually add up to defeat for the Warriors.
But on this night, the foul line was there to help.
“They missed some open looks down the stretch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Boston. “But our guys fought and defended and made big free throws down the stretch; Klay (Thompson) made two down the stretch and Kevin (Durant) made a bunch of them. It was a great effort.”
Golden State Warriors
A free-throw advantage for the Warriors is rare and would be a very welcome ally. Through 48 games, they took 173 fewer free throws than their opponents. There have been nights when Houston’s James Harden got to the line more often than the entire Warriors team.
The Warriors came in averaging 21.5 free throws per game, tying them with the Kings for 23rd in the NBA. They were 22nd last season, 17th the year before that, 23rd in their 73-win season and 26th while winning their first championship in 2014-15.
Though Durant can be a foul magnet -- he has shot nearly twice as many free throws as any other Warrior -- the addition of DeMarcus Cousins provides yet another guy who can draw fouls and get to the line.
Durant was 12-of-13 against Boston and Cousins was 6-of-7. The Celtics, as a team, were 14-of-15.
Never was the free throw discrepancy more to prevalent than in the fourth quarter, when there were six lead changes and eight ties. The Warriors were outrebounded (14-12), outshot (44 percent to a ghastly 29.4), had fewer assists (4-3) and still managed to hang on for the win.
They totaled 11 points on five – five – field goals, 14 on free throws.
“Well, you got five guys that legitimately know the game very, very well,” Celtics star Kyrie Irving said. “You know with their tendencies, they have been championship winners for a while. So closing games against them is always going to be tough.”
Extraordinarily tough when two guys, Durant and Cousins, combine to shoot 10 free throws in the fourth quarter. Between the two of them, there will be many more nights when they combine to shoot more than 20 free throws. Durant has shot as many as 26 in a game, Cousins as many as 22.
The Warriors are now 18-3 this season when they shoot more free throws than their opponent. They are 17-11 when they don’t.
Kerr obtained his 300th win in the oddest of ways. He’ll take it, for being on the wrong side of the discrepancy from the foul line has been the root or his team’s undoing in many a game in recent years.
It was there for them in this game, and it was needed to overcome so many other areas where the Celtics were as good, if not better.
Is this a trend? Too soon to know. It can be, though, and the mighty Warriors getting easy money from the line is the last thing the rest of the league wants to see.