SAN FRANCISCO — When Stephen Curry went down with a lower left leg injury in early February, it became the Golden State Warriors’ goal to just stay afloat. After surviving 11 games without him in November, they felt they could do it again.
But now, as they prepare for Curry’s imminent return — possibly as soon as Sunday afternoon — the Warriors have done more than just stay afloat. Closing out a 5-0 homestand with a 108-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night, Golden State has built some momentum and a great deal of confidence.
“It’s been exciting to see our team, I think, turn a corner,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
The Warriors have gone 7-3 since Curry went down on Feb. 4. They’re four games above .500 (34-30) for the first time this season, and sit in the five seed in the Western Conference one game behind the Phoenix Suns and one game up on the Dallas Mavericks.
“Guys have figured out their roles and I think we are in great condition,” Klay Thompson said. “We are having fun, above all. … You realize how important all these games are from here on out. We want to do everything we can to have home court, especially in the first round. So, it’s a great challenge and it’s there for us to take.”
In each of their past four games, the Warriors have overcome a double-digit deficit — the first time they’ve won four consecutive games after trailing by at least 10 in each one over the past 25 seasons.
Two of those four games — against the Portland Trail Blazers and LA Clippers — were won in the third quarter, something that has almost become a signature of the Warriors over the years.
After trailing the Pelicans by 17 points in the first quarter on Friday, the Warriors found a rhythm in the second, outscoring New Orleans by 11 points. Six Warriors finished with double-figure scoring, led by Thompson with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
But even with these big scoring outbursts, the team insists it all starts on defense. It’s their play on that end of the court, they said, that has allowed them to find their rhythm. Kerr said it has been the best, most consistent defense the Warriors have played all year.
“I feel there’s a grit that comes with defense that allows you to shake [slow starts] off and keep playing,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ win over the Clippers on Thursday. “It’s hard to do that when you’re just trading buckets. For most of the season, our defense has been pretty poor. I think that grit goes hand in hand with defense and our defense has been dramatically better.”
Between Thursday and Friday’s back-to-backs, the Warriors have allowed under 100 points in consecutive games after doing so just once all season. The 91 points the Clippers scored against Golden State was a season-low, snapping a streak of 48 games of opponents scoring at least 100 points.
The biggest difference between their defense now and earlier in the season has been the Warriors’ ability to execute their game plan — something that was key in limiting Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Brandon Ingram.
Now the challenge will be taking this on the road, where the Warriors have suffered a noticeable dropoff all season. Golden State has the third-worst defense in the league and allows the second-most points (123.5) when it is away from Chase Center. At home, the Warriors have the third-best defense and allow 111.6 points (14th-fewest).
“I am very confident,” Thompson said of heading on the road. “I just know we have been trusting each other more, we’ve been talking, and our communication has been great. We’ve got some great defenders. So I’m confident we’ll have the same effort on the road.”