OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Perhaps a corny catchphrase to some, those three words really resonate with the Golden State Warriors: “Strength in Numbers.” They are bought into this mantra, all right.
Now more so than ever with Stephen Curry on the sidelines. Poll a few Warriors and they surely will bring up the defending champions’ depth and ability to push forward, no matter who goes down.
Even when it’s the best player not only on the team but in the entire NBA. It has been that way all season.
Golden State rolled right into the second round of the playoffs by embarrassing the Houston Rockets 114-81 on Wednesday night to win the best-of-seven series 4-1 as the league’s leading scorer watched in delight.
Now, the Warriors will wait for their next opponent once the Clippers-Trail Blazers series ends — and wait for Curry’s sprained right knee to heal. He is expected to miss most of this next series.
“I think we proved to ourselves we can play without him,” reserve guard Ian Clark said. “Of course he helps us in so many ways, making easy 3s or getting other guys involved because he’s got so much attention on him. But when we play like this I think it’s hard to beat us.”
Golden State advanced as Curry cheered, celebrated and encouraged from the bench. He even worked the officials.
“He was just joking around and having a lot of fun. It was a game with a lot of joy,” NBA coach of the year Steve Kerr said. “Steph was having a great time.”
The Warriors wear their yellow “Strength in Numbers” T-shirts just like the thousands of fans at rockin’ Oracle Arena.
Golden State sure can win without Curry, just as this group of confident, team-first players insisted all along. The Warriors have been forced to play men down so many times before, including on the way to a record 73 regular-season wins, albeit not without the MVP who accounts for 30.1 points per game.
“Obviously, going into the next series which will be more difficult, it’s good to have a few games under our belts without Steph, so we get a feel for it,” Kerr said. “The rotation is much different, obviously, and the way we play is a little bit different. We just don’t have the fireworks that Steph provides. So we’ve got to make sure we’re more solid, which we have been, the last couple games in particular.”
Klay Thompson was determined to do more. Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, too. And every player on the bench, despite his minutes or role.
Thompson scored 27 points Wednesday with seven 3-pointers, including one from way back — for him, anyway, it was in Curry territory — at 31 feet from the top of the arc.
“I honestly got excited after that. I never really hit a 30-footer before,” Thompson said. “It was nice to kind of channel Steph out there, so it did feel good.”
On Monday, an MRI exam on Curry’s right knee revealed a Grade 1 sprain of the MCL.
The Warriors spoke in the past couple of days about continuing the momentum, and in the aftermath of Curry’s injury and two Clippers stars going down, Kerr reminded his team these moments can be fleeting.
“Who the hell knows what’s going to happen from one game to the next? It’s really sad,” Kerr said before the game.
For the Warriors, seeing Curry emotionally devastated only fueled them to win for him. In the six quarters after he went down in Game 4 on Sunday, Golden State outscored Houston 179-119.
Green didn’t mind making a big statement by embarrassing the cold-shooting Rockets in front of the home crowd — especially after Jason Terry guaranteed a Game 6 back in Houston.
“Beat this team 4-1, pretty much without Steph the entire series — I think we had him for two halves — so it says a lot about this team. So the mood’s good,” Green said. “Just get (him) healthy and we need to continue holding it down without him.”
Golden State moved and shared the ball, following up its 38 assists from Sunday’s win with 30 more. That’s the first time the Warriors have put up 30 assists in back-to-back playoff games.
“It’s good for our guys’ confidence,” Kerr said. “I think what pleases me the most is literally every single guy on our roster contributed during this series.”