SAN FRANCISCO — The streak Steve Kerr identified as the game of the game on Friday night came with about 2:30 left in the Warriors’ eventual 108-99 victory over the Pelicans. They were leading two. Jordan Poole danced in a step back down the right wing. He missed.
But don’t look at Poole on the right wing. Turn your eyes to the left wing instead. Donte DiVincenzo walks over there. Brandon Ingram is his defender, stationed on the left block in an ideal rebounding position. But when the shot goes up, Ingram’s ball looks up and DiVincenzo begins his sneak attack, rushing behind Ingram for a crucial rebound and a rebound pass to a cutting Jonathan Kuminga, who smashes a dunk to put the Warriors up four.
It’s been a segmented season for the Warriors with so many pivot points and divergent chapters. Perhaps their lowest condition came early, in November, when they stumbled to a 3-7 start, strangling Kerr in urgent action to reorganize the rotation before things got too serious.
At the time, DiVincenzo was nursing a strained hamstring and Kuminga found himself on the outside of a crowded forward rotation, unable to grind past Moses Moody, James Wiseman or JaMychal Green. Neither was a noticeable part of the early ugly picture.
But situations can change drastically during the 82-game marathon. The Warriors are coming off a 5-0 homestand to propel them to a season-high four games above .500, occupying the fifth seed at 34-30. All five wins were without Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins, forcing Kerr to get creative with a shorthanded rotation. DiVincenzo and Kuminga solidified their strengths during the streak that, at least temporarily, saved the Warriors’ season.
Kuminga played 32 minutes off the bench against the Pelicans. He handled part of Ingram’s mission in Wiggins’ absence. He rebounded hard, cut with anticipation and finished with power, posting 19 points, seven rebounds, four steals and one block. He was a plus-13 and closed on Kevon Looney. It came one game after Kuminga had 19 points, seven rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block in 29 minutes off the bench against the Clippers, facing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
“He’s making progress offensively,” Kerr said. “I liked that he goes to the edge and cuts and finds his way there. … The more he can attack and use his athleticism offensively, the better. And I think he does. Then, defensively, he is by far our best option on Ingram.
Here’s an example of Kuminga’s evolving feel as a cutter. He has Herb Jones, a longtime and active defender on him. But Jones turns his back and Kuminga dives to the bucket at the right time, finishing well with the left hand.
It wasn’t one of DiVincenzo’s most productive games. He only took three hits and only got one. But that one was a huge 3 from the top of the key with 3:09 to go to put the Warriors up 98-94. He’s hit a few clutch shots this season, including a wing 3 at the regulation buzzer to send an eventual victory over the Hawks into overtime.
Durability was a question mark for DiVincenzo early in the season. He missed the first half of the previous regular season with a bad ankle injury. He honed his hamstrings in the third game of the season. It was fair to wonder how much they could get from a player they used part of the mid-tier exception to secure.
Here are DiVincenzo’s minutes per game averages in December, January and February: 28.5, 30.2, 28.3. He became a massive part of a backcourt rotation that was supposed to be congested but instead tends to be smaller, pushed Klay Thompson into the frontcourt and used DiVincenzo as a secondary playmaker, shooter at dead eye (42% out of 3 over the season) and harmful on-ball. It turned into one of the biggest deals of the summer and likely played out of the Warriors’ price range, but that’s a conversation for another day.
During Curry’s absence, DiVincenzo has filled a low-use starting backcourt role well alongside Poole and Thompson, setting up the action when needed but also spacing the ground out and getting out of the way most of the time.
During that undefeated homestand, Thompson had more control over the offense and the results were there. He had four assists in each of the past two games and delivered 27 effective points on 10 of 17 shooting to finish off the Pelicans on Friday night, completing an explosive five-game streak that propelled the Warriors up the standings and provided further evidence. . that he essentially came back to himself on the attacking side.
The win takes the Warriors to 27-7 at home this season. But they are 7-23 on the road and are about to start a tough three-game streak away from Chase Center. It starts with one of those infamous afternoon games in Los Angeles on Sunday against the Lakers before trips to Oklahoma City and Memphis next week. When they return home, it’s a tough pair of tests against the Bucks and Suns.
The Warriors expect Curry to return on Sunday. It’s an extra infusion of life. But this stretch has been about increased defensive focus. They gave up 101, 104, 105, 91 and 99 points during this homestand. Can this tusk travel?
“For some reason it didn’t,” Kerr said. “Our defense on the road all year has been bad and it’s been very good at home. But I think these last four or five games have been the best, most consistent defense we’ve played, and hopefully that translates.
(Photo by Jonathan Kuminga after scoring against the Pelicans in the second half Friday night: Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press)