What the Golden State Warriors Gained During Their Winning Streak

The Golden State Warriors just lost for the first time in 12 games, but the defeat pales in comparison to what they gained during their winning streak.

On Saturday night, the Golden State Warriors ended their 11-game winning streak with a listless effort against the Denver Nuggets. Despite the loss, which included a season-low 81 points and an abysmal 3-for-27 showing from deep, the positives from the streak will far outweigh the negatives of one inexplicably lousy performance at Oracle.

The Warriors are no strangers to double-digit winning streaks. In fact, they’ve had at least one for five straight seasons. Usually, those runs are of overwhelming dominance from a team that seems unbeatable. This one had a different feel. With Steph Curry sidelined for seven games and Draymond Green for five—not to mention injuries to Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala—this wasn’t the juggernaut that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the NBA.

Some of these wins were ugly. The offensive execution wasn’t always on point. But this streak was the best thing that could have happened for Steve Kerr and company. A team that can afford to coast throughout the regular season had to lock in and rely on effort and bench players. On top of that, Golden State’s best all-around player was forced to become even better.

Durant dominates

Remember when Kevin Durant went down last year? Curry, who hadn’t been himself while adjusting to the presence of his new teammate, found his MVP groove again. This year, Curry and Durant did their best Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd impressions, trading places to let Durant shine while Curry's ankle heals.

Without Curry, Durant averaged 32.3 points and 9.6 rebounds over the course of seven straight wins. Factor in Draymond’s injury and Durant had to step up even more. He continued to display DPOY-caliber defense while assuming the role of playmaker. In three of the games Draymond missed, Durant, whose career average is 3.8 assists per game, had totals of 10, 8, and 7. KD even notched a triple-double in the first game that both Curry and Green sat.  

 

Aside from the impressive stats, without the presence of Curry and Green, this was KD’s team for the first time. Sure, he was the best player last year and deserving of Finals MVP, but this was about the psychological aspects of being the unquestioned alpha. It was about being a leader, working with unfamiliar faces like Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell to secure narrow victories.

New faces gaining experience 

Speaking of those unfamiliar faces, that’s what matters most about this recent streak. While the Warriors were able to bring back some important reserves from last year’s championship squad, they also added a few new faces who lack any significant postseason experience. And with so much depth at his disposal, it’s hard for Steve Kerr to ensure that everyone gets meaningful minutes—unless injuries force his hand.

Omri Casspi took full advantage of the unexpected boost in playing time, scoring double figures in five straight games. He also impressed as a rebounder, notching two double-doubles and averaging nearly six rebounds per game in December. Nick Young hit a few timely jumpers. Quinn Cook showed a few promising flashes that made some, like Hashtag Basketball’s own Nick Agar-Johnson, envision the next Ian Clark. Jordan Bell continued to look like a baby Draymond, filling the stat sheet and bringing the energy every night.

Once the Warriors are at full strength, these players will naturally see their minutes reduced. Perhaps none of them will make a significant impact in the postseason. But now, Kerr at least knows what he has throughout his roster. The new faces fit with some of the old ones—especially down the stretch during close games. It is the last thing the rest of the NBA needed.

Everyone knows how unbeatable the Warriors are when their best players are clicking. Sometimes, however, it’s the unheralded guys that make the difference in a playoff series. In 2015, Andre Iguodala won Finals MVP after spending the season as a sixth man. In 2016, Harrison Barnes was reliable enough for the first four games, after which the Warriors infamously led the series 3-1. During the final three losses, Barnes was just 5 for 32 from the field.

Of course, neither one of those series included Kevin Durant, but the point still stands. To beat the Warriors four times in seven games, a lot of things have to go right for the other team. At least some of their best players need to falter, and the bench needs to struggle to pick up the slack. After this recent winning streak, those reserves look stronger than ever. It unclear how Steve Kerr will stagger the minutes once everyone is healthy, but it’s a fantastic problem to have.

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