Warriors finding faith in effective bench as season draws to close

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Monte Poole
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Warriors finding faith in effective bench as season nears end originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Up six with four minutes to go Saturday at Boston, lose by five. Up 11 with five minutes to go Wednesday at Washington, lose by four.

Yet there was nothing from the Warriors to indicate discouragement. Coach Steve Kerr seemed at peace with a 3-2 road trip despite the Warriors coming within minutes of sweeping all five games. Rather than rue the failures, he was quick to move toward an immediate future in which their fate in their hands.

“I feel great about our team,” Kerr said after the 118-114 loss to the Wizards. “I feel great about where we are as we head home. We’ve got a lot of good stuff to look forward to. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t wrap this up because it would have made it a fantastic trip. As it is, still a good, solid trip. We’re in a good spot.”

Yes, they are. The Warriors return to Chase Center this weekend knowing their remaining schedule has 13 games, nine of them at home, where on Friday fans will return for the first time since March 2020.

Eight of those 13 games are against teams with losing records.

Oh, the possibilities. The probabilities.

Any sense of good things to come likely are related to having Stephen Curry and Draymond Green being relatively healthy and believing the second unit has solidified and evolved enough to carry its share of the weight.

Lately, they’ve carried even more.

“They’ve been great,” Green said. “They’ve been playing a little better than the first unit, actually.

“(Wednesday), they erased a big lead. And just about every other game on this trip, they’ve extended the lead or brought us back. It’s great. And it’s coming together at a good time.”

Draymond is, as usual, correct in his assessment.

The second unit on Monday inherited a tie in the second quarter and built a six-point lead in less than six minutes. Two nights earlier, in Boston, they took less than four minutes to raise a nine-point lead to 15 in the second quarter. Last Thursday in Cleveland, they inherited a three-point deficit and in a little more than five minutes built an 11-point lead.

The central figures off the bench have been Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Lee (left great toe soreness) and Toscano-Anderson (concussion protocol) were out on Wednesday. They were missed.

But the reconfigured second unit on Thursday -- Poole joined by Kelly Oubre Jr., Kent Bazemore, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney -- inherited an 18-point deficit to open the second quarter. They cut it to nine in less than three minutes and, to two less than three minutes later.

The second unit opened the fourth quarter, when NBA games are won, with a 93-86 lead and pushed it to 104-93 with 6:58 remaining.

The Warriors, closing mostly with the starters, were outscored 25-10 over the final six minutes.

The blown leads are barriers to the Warriors rising out of lower-tier play-in status. They’ve spent most of April in ninth or 10th place in the Western Conference.

Through the good and bad, the second unit is building an identity. Scrappy defense triggers transition for easy buckets. Poole has been dynamic in the half-court offense. The ills that plagued this bunch early this season, when Kerr was tinkering with rotations, largely have faded with the arrival of consistency and confidence.

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So, yes, even as they struggle to close games against non-contenders, the next four weeks offer an opportunity to exploit factors in their favor.

“I don’t think we want to get too ahead of ourselves,” Curry said. “Let’s win on Friday and take it from there.”

Curry’s outlook is not about a lack of confidence but, rather, an appropriate measure of vigilance. It’s the right attitude for a leader of a team that in each of its last four losses has had fourth-quarter leads, including an 11-point advantage against the Wizards.

Faith comes from knowing the history. If the second unit can do its part -- getting Lee and Toscano-Anderson back is crucial -- there is reason to believe the others, led by Curry and Green will be there when it matters most.

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