Highlights: Defense, bench ignite Warriors past Pistons
The tides of anxiety have receded, and gone is the misplaced panic. No matter the sport, a four-game win streak has a way of sending hysteria on vacation.
After opening their six-game road trip Monday night with a 104-96 win over the Pistons at the Palace at Auburn Hills, the Warriors are 4-0 since the All-Star Game and their 35-22 record has them 13 games above .500 for the first time this season.
The game itself was no masterpiece, not even close. This victory was built on grit and gumption and considerable production from surprising places.
But that's what's needed when the starting power forward (David Lee) is not available, when the starting center (Andrew Bogut) is returning after a 20-day absence and the starting small forward (Andre Iguodala) is uncharacteristically ineffective.
Though the starters eventually closed the deal with a decisive fourth-quarter rally, the Warriors have to thank their bench for making sure the opportunity was there.
"Our bench was the key; they got us back in the ball game," coach Mark Jackson said. "They increased the intensity. I thought offensively, they did a great job of making the right play."
After Detroit used a 20-9 run to take a 24-15 lead in the first quarter, Jackson turned to his bench for help. With Harrison Barnes and Jordan Crawford forcing the action, the Warriors quickly recovered and spent most of the second quarter with a lead.
They hung around from there until the final minutes, when their defense choked the Pistons while Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson finished them off with jump shots. The Warriors closed out the game with an 11-4 run over the final 4:31.
"We did a great job of sticking to the game plan, paying attention, and then realizing that we had to close out possessions by rebounding the basketball," Jackson said.
The Warriors held their own against a great rebounding team, and after allowing the Pistons (23-34) to shoot 50 percent in the first half, limited them to 29.7 afterward.
"I like the way we won it because it's not necessarily going to be flash and fun every night," O'Neal said. "If we're going to have a chance to really compete for a championship, these are the types of games you're going to have to win in the playoffs. We have a fairly young team and these games like this build the character and the image of the team."
O'Neal, once again, was a revelation. Starting in place of Lee at power forward, he finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. His production was crucial.
Bogut, clearly rusty, managed four points and seven rebounds before fouling out. Iguodala never found a rhythm, finishing with 4 points (on 2-of-10 shooting), two rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.
Curry, after a relatively quiet first half, cranked it up and finished with a near triple-double: 19 points, nine assists, eight rebounds. Thompson also put in 19.
The Warriors were not fantastic. They were not dynamic.
They were, however, relentless in pursuit of victory that further squelches the bleating masses. And when you consider their circumstances, there is reason to believe their best is still to come.
THE GOOD: The bench came in and immediately went to work, with Crawford and Barnes leading the way. Blake made a subtle positive impact, as he always seems to.
O'Neal continues to play every minute as if it might be his last. At this rate, the Warriors have to hope he might come back for one more year at $2 million.
And, of course, the suffocating defense, particularly in the fourth quarter.
THE BAD: Though Iguodala usually finds a way to make a multifaceted contribution, on this night he was limited to bothering Josh Smith into a poor (9 for 24) shooting night. Maybe Andre was bothered by all that Detroit size.
THE TAKE: The Warriors started poorly, and maybe it was just a one-night pothole. The first game of an extended road trip poses a mental challenge that's not easy to answer. Though it took longer than they would have liked, the Warriors finally found it through defense and their friends on the bench.