What stood out from Warriors in star’s 11-game absence

Four things that stood out from Warriors in Steph’s absence originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay area

SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors’ 11-game nightmare is over. Steph Curry is officially back for the defending NBA champions after missing the past four weeks with a left shoulder subluxation. Coach Steve Kerr announced before Tuesday’s game that the two-time NBA MVP is good to go and will start against the Phoenix Suns.

In their first full game without Curry following the injury, the Warriors fell to the Philadelphia 76ers by 12 points. They then traveled to Canada to beat the Toronto Raptors before finishing their six-game road trip 1-5, with back-to-back losses to the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets by a combined 68 points. A five-game win streak ensued to start off their current eight-game homestand, followed by their first losing streak at Chase Center after being downed by the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic.

Overall, the Warriors went 6-5 with Curry sidelined for nearly a month. Players stepped up and flaws were revealed. The Warriors treaded water and kept their head afloat with a winning record.

Now that Curry is back for Tuesday night’s contest with the Suns to wrap up the Warriors’ homestand, here are four things that stood out from his absence:

More than anybody else, the attention, the pressure and the opposing defensive game plan was bound to be centered around Jordan Poole with Curry in street clothes. The 23-year-old showcased some of his own Steph-like magic at the end of last season with Curry out. And after signing a four-year contract extension worth up to $140 million, Poole is seen as the heir apparent as the two-time NBA MVP ages. This time around, Poole’s highs and lows with Curry sidelined were mesmerizing.

Poole scored 29 points to start off this stretch where Curry couldn’t play. He followed that up with a career-high 43 points and then another 26. Scoring in bunches never was in question for Poole, with or without Curry. It’s about how he got his points about him.

As the Warriors’ go-to scoring option on many nights, Poole averaged 27.9 points in the 11 games Curry missed with his shoulder injury. His shooting percentages of him, though, weren’t too pretty. Poole shot 42.9 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from deep. He averaged 9.9 3-pointers per game, making only 2.7 while going 30-for-109.

Then there’s the turnovers. A lot of turnovers.

Tasked with being more than a ball-handler, Poole averaged 4.1 assists over the last 11 games. He also handed out 4.8 turnovers per game, including five or more turnovers five times. Poole totaled 43 assists and 53 turnovers.

“I don’t think he’s having bad turnovers,” Draymond Green said of Poole after the Warriors’ double-overtime win vs. the Atlanta Hawks. “Sometimes, he’s getting caught in a crowd. But you have Andrew Wiggins and Steph Curry out, so there’s going to be more of a crowd. He can do a better job than identifying the crowd.

“But at the same time, we need him to play the way the way he is playing.”

Curry’s return should be a sigh of relief for Poole. He’ll have to adjust to his role as the Warriors’ Sixth Man once again, but he should be freed up more often and with much less of a burden on his back than him.

Still Klay

Klay Thompson ended Curry’s stretch of missed games with a bit of a scare. He was a late scratch vs. the Magic with left knee soreness, the same knee where he sustained a torn ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals. That appears to be more of a precaution than anything else, and Thompson put the rest of the league on notice with his fellow Splash Brother out.

Talks of Thompson being washed quickly turned to praise as the one-year anniversary of his return from two brutal leg injuries approached. But that really didn’t happen until the Warriors came home.

Thompson in the three games to end the Warriors’ road trip without Curry scored a total of 40 points, 14 fewer than his 54-point performance at home against the Hawks. In those three games, he shot 34.9 percent (15-for-43) from the field and 31.8 percent (7-for-22) from beyond the arc. Then, appearing in five of the Warriors’ first seven games of their homestand, Thompson averaged 33.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists, shooting 46.6 percent (61-for-131) from the field and 40 percent (28-for-70) on 3-pointers, averaging 14 3-point attempts.

So, is Thompson already the way back?

“He would tell you that we all love to shoot and score and all that, but the rest of it — defending at a high level, being able to be a point guard, hit big shots no matter if it’s for 30 or 50 or whatever it is, have that kind of clutch opportunity,” Curry said Friday at Warriors practice. “All those things matter. And so to see him do that, it’s been really fun to watch and I’m super proud of him and happy for him because he’s been through a lot with the injuries, he’s been through a lot in terms of all the questions being asked around him and all the speculation on what level he can get back to.

“Now, it’s about how can he help us win and that will show itself in a lot of different ways.”

There’s no doubt Thompson will be more than happy to share the floor with Curry again. He also took advantage of his opportunity, especially in front of the home fans, to hush some outside noise.

The scoring onus was destined to fall on Poole and Thompson with Curry cheering from the sidelines. Secondary players also were vital to the Warriors not tumbling too far down the Western Conference standings. That’s where Ty Jerome comes into play.

playing on a two-way contract, Jerome wasn’t only active for the past 11 games — he was needed. Very much so. And he answered the call.

Jerome since Curry’s injury has played 22.4 minutes per game off the bench, averaging 10.3 points, 3.2 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. He also has shot 48.3 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 92.9 percent on free throws. His defense even played a key role in the Warriors’ comeback win against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“He’s just a gamer,” Curry said of Jerome after Friday’s practice. “He’s a guy that demonstrated that in college, he battle tested and you find a way to show that at every level. It’s been awesome to watch.”

While Curry and Poole can wow a crowd with their highlight-reel plays, Jerome knows how to control a game and play it at his own pace. Steve Kerr trusts him, as do his teammates. Jerome might have to be inactive here and there with Curry back, though the franchise certainly took notice to how he performed in a crucial run of games.

Curry Missed In The Clutch

When Curry is needed most is where the Warriors have missed him the most. He averages 7.8 points per fourth quarter, ranking behind only LeBron James (8.8), Giannis Antetokounmpo (8.8) and Kyrie Irving (8.7). However, Curry only has appeared in 23 fourth quarters this season and plays just 6.8 minutes per fourth quarter.

James has played in 31 fourth quarters, averaging 9.7 minutes. Antetokounmpo played 32 fourth quarters, averaging 8.7 minutes. And Irving has played 29 fourth quarters, averaging 10.6 minutes.

Curry is on a different planet in the clutch. That superpower sure has been missed.

RELATED: Kerr makes rare acknowledgment with roster stretched thin

From Dec. 16 (the first game Curry missed) through Jan. 7 (the last game Curry missed), the Warriors rank second-to-last in fourth-quarter points per game. They’ve averaged only 24.6 points in the final 12 minutes. Golden State has been dead last in fourth-quarter field-goal percentage (39.1 percent) and 27th in 3-point percentage (27.3 percent). Though the Warriors have averaged 6.3 assists over their last 11 fourth quarters, which ranks fourth in the NBA, they also have averaged 3.4 turnovers — good for 18th in the league.

Opposing defenses naturally tighten up in the fourth quarter, and not in a good way. If Curry is on the court, they know they have to try and stop an all-time great who just so happens to have the endurance of a cross-country runner. If he’s waiting his turn for him, they know they can’t make any mistakes and let the Warriors be in the positive without him. It’s a head game and physical toll.

Having Curry back on the floor is a gift to Golden State for numerous reasons, none more so than the final quarter for a team looking to stack up wins and get right back in the thick of a wild Western Conference.

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