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Stephen Curry caught the ball in the corner, launched a 3-pointer and confidently turned to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ bench. Despite his off shooting night, he didn’t need to look to know this one was going down.
After scoring just two points in the first half, Curry uncorked a 12-point quarter during the game’s decisive stretch. Curry’s 3-pointer crested a 13-0 run and a third quarter in which the Warriors took control of Wednesday’s 123-111 win over the Timberwolves at Chase Center.
With help from rookie center James Wiseman (25 points), forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (20 points) and a 60-point effort from the bench, Curry finished with 16 points as the Warriors (10-8) defeated a Timberwolves (4-13) team without D’Angelo Russell (quad) and Karl-Anthony Towns (health and safety protocol) for the second time in this two-game series.
Below, four takeaways from the game.
STEPH CURRY’S SLOW START: This was a night in which Curry’s supporting cast bought him enough time to make the game’s decisive push. Curry didn’t score his first points of the game until he pushed in a floater with 9.0 seconds left in the first half.
He then unloaded 12 points in the third with an array of dribble moves, step-backs and devastating jumpers. Despite his slow start, the Warriors took a seven-point lead into halftime in large part due to Oubre and Wiseman combining for 30 points in the first half. Though Curry finished with a respectable stat line, he only made 35% of his shots while the Warriors shot 52.9% overall.
Curry, the league’s fourth-leading scorer, has carried Golden State for so much of this season. But Curry’s teammates with this performance said — as Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock once told his mother — “Let me carry you now.”
OUBRE WAS UNFAZED: After Oubre became the subject of trade speculation this week, head coach Steve Kerr pulled him aside and told him not to worry — that no move was imminent and to just go play his game.
“It’s unfortunate,” Kerr said regarding The Athletic’s report that the Pelicans had shown interest in trading for Oubre. “A team called us and asked about Kelly, didn’t even make an offer. Next thing you know, it’s online.”
Oubre responded with his best game of the season, but it got off to a rocky start. He was pulled after he picked up two fouls in the first minute of the game.
“I used to do that a lot early in my career. Picking up two early fouls,” Oubre said. “And it would mess up my flow, my rhythm. So, for me, it was just about staying loose on the sideline, keeping my mind in the game, staying focused and being ready for my name to be called again.”
When he re-entered the game, Oubre went on to make his first seven shot attempts and finished with 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting (2-of-3 from 3-point range), nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in 24 minutes. Kerr credited Oubre’s 16-point second quarter for getting Golden State — which assisted on 32 of its 45 made field goals — going offensively.
DUEL OF THE TOP PICKS: Anthony Edwards, who the Timberwolves selected over Wiseman with the No. 1 pick in November’s draft, scored 25 points, including 15 in the first half as he helped Minnesota take a brief five-point lead. But Wiseman matched Edwards point-for-point — scoring 25 on 9-for-14 shooting — made all three of his 3-pointers and helped push the run that retook the lead.
More than the points, however, coaches were impressed with his defense. Specifically, the way he stayed vertical and didn’t foul while defending the rim. Over the last few days, Wiseman has worked to iron out the bad habit of leaving his feet to chase blocks. Zaza Pachulia, now a consultant with the team, told Wiseman that because he’s 7-foot-1, he doesn’t need to jump to be a stout rim protector. Kerr recalled four times in which Wiseman got in position in the paint, kept his arms straight up and didn’t swipe at the opponent. On one particularly impressive series, Wiseman deflected Jake Layman’s shot at the rim, sprinted down the floor and finished the break with a right-handed dunk.
“That’s really the key to his defensive awareness,” Kerr said. “Defending without fouling and using his immense size and athleticism to make it difficult for people to score over the top of him.”
James Wiseman doing it ALL on both ends 🔥 pic.twitter.com/IfF6c9cw6R
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 28, 2021
WISEMAN WILL RETURN TO THE STARTING LINEUP EVENTUALLY: Though the Warriors have now won two games with Kevon Looney at center, Kerr doesn’t expect to bring Wiseman off the bench for long.
“He’ll be back (in the starting lineup) at some point,” Kerr said before Wednesday night’s game. “I don’t know when that will be.”
Kerr replaced Wiseman in the starting lineup with Looney on Monday after watching the Warriors’ starting unit be outscored by 73 points through the season’s first 16 games. But with Looney at center, Golden State outscored Minnesota by 30 points in two games.
In Wiseman’s first two games coming off the bench, he had a total of 38 points on 13-of-19 shooting, 10 rebounds and four blocks in 40 minutes. Teammates praised how he handled the move and Wiseman himself admitted he appreciated being able to study Looney at the start of games from the bench. As Kerr said, everything is part of Wiseman’s development, “including how he handles going to the bench for a game or two, or whatever it’s going to be.”
But Wiseman is still considered the future of the franchise at center, and striking a balance between Wiseman getting enough minutes to grow through his mistakes while Golden State wins enough games to return to the playoffs is proving more difficult than perhaps this coaching staff initially anticipated.
The hope is that by the time Klay Thompson returns next season from a season-ending Achilles tear and Curry and Draymond Green still have years left of their primes, Wiseman will be ready to assume his role as a core piece of a championship contending team.
“A big part of this season for our coaching staff is to navigate the balance between trying to be a playoff team, and trying to win as many games as we can, and not wasting any time developing James,” said Kerr, whose team travels to Phoenix to play the Suns Thursday. “Tomorrow, we’ll assess everything all over again.”
Contributed by local news sources