SALT LAKE CITY — The Golden State Warriors are finding some momentum.
They are above .500 (26-25) for the first time since Dec. 23. They have won five games in a row, matching their longest streak of the season. They’ve also won three straight road games by at least 20 points for the second time in franchise history.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry is the first to admit that the team hasn’t “done anything yet,” as it’s just 1½ games above the Utah Jazz — whom the Warriors beat 129-107 on Monday night — for the 10th seed in the Western Conference. However, pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.
The Warriors have remained optimistic through their turbulent three-quarters of the season, but this is the first time since their 6-1 start that there is something for Golden State to show for it.
Has there been a tangible inflection point for the Warriors?
“I think me getting suspended helped in a weird way,” forward Draymond Green said after Monday’s game. “… Not that I wanted to get suspended, but I do think that helped us find different things we can go to and explore.”
Green served an indefinite suspension that ended up costing him 16 games for striking Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic in the head just weeks after serving a five-game suspension for putting Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert in a chokehold.
“We have been doing it a certain way for so long, there’s a lot of comfort in our patterns and rotations. When you get shocked a little, it’s how you respond,” Curry said. “[Draymond’s suspension] did force us to try new things and get extremely uncomfortable at times, and still not lose confidence.”
Green’s suspension thrust third-year forward Jonathan Kuminga into the starting lineup, a position that he hasn’t relinquished since. That, according to Green, has been the biggest game-changer.
“Since then, JK has taken off and that has set the stage for this team,” Green said. “Bona fide No. 2 option on our team. Now you are able to figure out different things that we can go to.”
He continued: “Our offense doesn’t look the same as it used to look. We have different things that we’re wanting to do. You’re able to find different combinations that work. And then it’s just been plug and play.”
After posting 14 points against the Jazz on Monday, Kuminga has scored in double figures for a career-high 31 consecutive games. He was one of eight Warriors to finish in double-digit scoring, tied for their most in a game this season.
Kuminga isn’t the only new wrinkle in the fabric of this Warriors team, as rookies Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis have also cracked the rotation. Recently, Golden State has felt comfortable throwing a two-way player and its 15th roster spot into the mix.
Meanwhile, Curry has averaged nine 3-pointers over a three-game stretch for the fifth time in his career. Only one other player has done that even once in NBA history (Damian Lillard in 2020), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
As for Green, he has helped boost the Warriors’ defense to fourth after it ranked 28th during his suspension.
“You fold me back into the fray … and now you have all of these pieces that you can rely on,” Green said.
When asked if it’s as simple as one guy changing everything, Warriors acting head coach Kenny Atkinson simply said, “Yes.”
“It’s not only his play, but it’s his influence on other people on the court,” said Atkinson said. “Put him in the right positions, he just cleans up all of our mistakes, and we make a fair amount of them … and then offensively, he’s really helped us.”
Atkinson doesn’t have one moment to pinpoint the exact moment the fuse was lit for the Warriors, wanting to believe that it’s been an accumulation of the work his team has done this season.
But one big part of that, he pointed out, is the emergence of young players, such as Kuminga, giving Golden State something new.
“We have these younger guys that are starting to break through that development ceiling, punch through it,” Atkinson said. “… We’re in a good space 1-17 … We’re a deep team. We’re healthier and we’re feeling comfortable throwing all of those guys out there.”