Less than 30 seconds after Draymond Green had checked in to last night's game against the Washington Wizards, Stephen Curry slipped behind a Kevon Looney screen. It was the Warriors' "patented split-action," and Curry scooted around Looney to grab a pass from Green, then fired a three pointer.
The crowd at Chase Center — who had risen to their feet as the All-Star Green returned from injury after a two-month, 31-game absence — exploded as the two Warriors' veterans fell into a familiar rhythm.
Celebrating his 34th birthday last night, Curry would go on to score 47 points in the Warriors' 126-112 victory over the Wizards. Just like that, after two disappointing seasons of missing the playoffs, as well as injuries among all of Golden State's superstar veterans, the Warriors are another step closer to being whole and in form again. They've won four straight, are tied for the second seed, and seem to be peaking at the right time heading into the last 13 games of the season — and the playoff grind.
The Warriors' roster is still not fully complete, but they continue to take huge leaps forward.
Green's return was a piece of a larger puzzle. With Klay Thompson out for over two years, fans were eager to see Klay, Draymond and Steph together again for the first time since 2019. The Warriors' core stars, who have been teammates for a decade now — a rarity in professional sports — had not shared the court since June 2019. "That's what Steph said, man," Green told NBC Sports Bay Area after the win. "He said, 'It's been 1,005 days since we played together. Let's celebrate. Let's enjoy that.'"
Late in the second quarter, Green hit Thompson breaking to the basket, threading a pass between defenders. Thompson flashed the Warrior's trademark 'goggles' (technically it was a "monocle," noted Warriors' announcer Bob Fitzgerald) for Green's superior offensive vision.
"Draymond changes everything for us," coach Steve Kerr said in a post-game interview.
The severity of Draymond Green's injury seems to have caught fans and analysts by surprise; he was originally supposed to be out for just a few games, according to The Ringer. The Warriors had been tied with the Phoenix Suns for the best record (by far) in the league when Green went out in early January; Golden State went 17-13 during Green's 30-day absence.
"Eleven weeks ago, I could barely walk; I couldn't lift up on my toes," Green said in a post-game interview last night. "About four weeks ago, I had the gimpiest run you've ever seen — it was disgusting. About two and a half weeks ago, I couldn't dunk a basketball." Green paid tribute to Dr. Rick Celebrini, the Warriors' celebrated director of sports medicine and performance. "I felt incredible tonight. I am very thankful for Rick, because he's been incredible. The relationship that we've built over the last several weeks is one that will last for the rest of my life."
After last night's game, Draymond did not mince words about the Warriors' ambitions. "We're gonna make sure we do everything we can to stay healthy coming down the stretch. Obviously, the two seed would be great, but we're not chasing it.
"Whether we're two seed or three seed, we're going to win a championship."
There have been heroes both sung and unsung on the Warriors' roster.
The true and historic core of Golden State will be restored when Andre Iguodala, who has been out with lower-back soreness and missed dozens of games this season, returns. There are no official reports on Iguodala, but it's been widely speculated that he'll return soon, bringing the Warriors' championship lineup as close to its old form as is currently contractually possible.
Golden State has also been without Gary Payton II, aka GP2. An unexpected defensive maestro, Payton has missed the last six games with left-knee soreness. His presence has brought a particular energy and "bounce" to the Warriors' lineup. There's also no word on Payton's return, but there's no reason to believe that he won't be an essential part of the Warriors' playoff composition.
In the Warriors' search for wholeness — and size — one of the coveted pieces is seven-foot center James Wiseman, who has been out the entire season with a knee injury. The number two-overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Wiseman recently began playing in the G League — and he's looked good, averaging around 18 points over two games. The Warriors rank 12th in the league in starting lineups by average height, and their lack of "bigs" has sometimes been apparent.
With the absence of Wiseman, Kevon Looney has been Golden State's de facto center, rebound machine and undisputed work horse. Looney is the only Warrior to play in every game this season. He was tasked with guarding last year's MVP Nikola Jokic in last week's win over the Denver Nuggets. Two nights later, Looney was assigned to superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Warriors' win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
If there is a new face to the Warriors' old guard, it is certainly Jordan Poole, who had 20 points last night, and who has been on a high-scoring tear, averaging 25 points over the last seven games. Poole had been the best free-throw shooter in the NBA, but after missing a few last night, was surpassed by Steph Curry. (Respectively, Curry and Poole are 92.3% and 91.9%.)
Jonathan Kuminga has perhaps been the most explosive Warriors player, and a bright and shinning light for the future of the team. Kuminga had a double double against Milwaukee on Saturday, and unofficially averages at least one soaring slam-dunk highlight per game.
Of Kuminga's defensive play, Draymond Green said last night, "We still have a little teaching to do with JK at screening school before the playoffs, but we'll have him ready."
Top image: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 14: (R-L) Stephen Curry #30, Klay Thompson #11 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors congratulate one another after they beat the Washington Wizards at Chase Center on March 14, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)