For all the success the Golden State Warriors have had this season, they have achieved it without being at full strength. That changed Friday night.
The NBA champions celebrated the return of head coach Steve Kerr with a 122-110 wire-to-wire victory over the Indiana Pacers at Oracle Arena. Stephen Curry recorded his seventh career triple-double, and second this season, with 39 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Draymond Green added 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Kerr returned to the bench after missing the first 43 games due to complications from offseason back surgeries. Luke Walton was the interim head coach and led Golden State to the league’s best record at 39-4. Kerr was given a rousing standing ovation when he was introduced prior to the game.
“I felt great,” Kerr said. “Really nice reception at the beginning the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd. It wasn’t our best stuff, but we got the job done.”
“Felt like normal,” Curry said. “It’s great that Oracle gave him a nice standing ovation and welcoming him back in good style. He looked very comfortable and very energetic.”
“It was a special night to have coach Kerr back on the bench with all he’s been through over the last seven months,” Green added. “To see him doing what he loves once again is amazing.”
Curry was “inspired” by the return of his head coach and put on a spectacular show that only he can. In addition to the triple-double and splashing eight 3-pointers, Curry nailed two shots from beyond half-court to end each quarters in the first half. The one at the end of the first quarter came from three-quarters court and left Curry’s hand just after the buzzer. The one at the end of the first half came from half-court and banked in.
“Two fun shots,” Curry said. “I hadn’t hit one in a while in a game since Memphis last year. I don’t think I made one after that. Funny that the first one went in and didn’t count. Felt pretty confident on the second one just because I already did it once. Needed a little glass help, but it went in.”
“Steph hits half-court shots all the time in practice,” Kerr said. “So when he does hit one, the coaches don’t even blink.”
Golden State got off to a great start. The Warriors jumped out to a 25-8 lead and led by 14 at the end of the opening quarter. Green showed in the game’s first 38 seconds why he should be an All-Star when the reserves are announced next Thursday. He came up with a steal, scored on a fast-break layup and pulled down a rebound. Green finished the quarter with 13 points and two steals. Curry was well on his way to a triple-double with seven points, seven rebounds and five assists.
It was an uphill battle for Indiana (23-20) the rest of the game. They never allowed the Warriors to run away with the game, but could never get closer than six points. The Pacers shot 46.3 percent from the field, but missed 14 of 17 3-pointers and eight free throws. Indiana also won the turnover battle 17-13.
“We turned it over 17 times,” Kerr said. “That was part of the problem for us and why we couldn’t break free. Then we fouled too much. They shot 27 free throws. The combination of turnovers and reaching kept us from extending our lead.”
Two rookies came off the bench and shined in the loss for the Pacers, who played without George Hill (personal), Ian Mahinmi (left ankle) and Rodney Stuckey (right ankle). Myles Turner was drafted 11th in the 2015 NBA Draft and scored a career-high 31 points with eight rebounds. Joe Young was drafted 43rd and set career-highs with 16 points and eight assists. The duo combined for 24 points in the first half to keep Indiana within striking distance.
Former Warrior Monta Ellis recovered from a scoreless, foul-plagued first half by scoring 18 points in the second half. All-Star and Fresno State product Paul George had just 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting and three steals.
When the Pacers cut the lead to six early in the fourth quarter, Leandro Barbosa helped swung momentum back to the Warriors by hitting a mid-range jumper and converting a three-point play to take the lead back up to 10. The Brazilian Blur finished with 13 points.
There were no major adjustments for Kerr in his first game back as head coach. He did seemed to tighten the rotation with Brandon Rush and Ian Clark not inserted into the game until the final minute. Marreese Speights entered in the first quarter, but played only five minutes.
“We do what we do,” Kerr said. “The only difference tonight was just me leading the huddle instead of Luke. We played the same way. The messages are the same. It is a group effort and we all contribute.”
Golden State (40-4) can now focus all its attention on Monday’s long-anticipated matchup with the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena. As well as the Warriors have played, the Spurs are just two games behind at 38-6 and riding a 13-game winning streak.
“It’s going to be a fun game,” Curry said. “We can obviously now focus on it. Don’t think anybody was worried about it until now. It’s just another regular season game against a great team that we have to protect the home court against. In order to do that, we have to be at our best.”
“They are a very good team who takes advantage of mistakes,” Green said. “We have to be better than we were tonight defensively and taking care of the ball.”
Kerr retired from the NBA after playing for San Antonio during the 2002-03 season. He marvels at the fact that three players from that team are still playing for the Spurs today and playing at an elite level.
“It’s remarkable,” Kerr said. “I’m 50 years old. I’ve been retired for 13 years and there are still three guys and the same coach who are all on that team. It makes no sense. The continuity and the program they built are amazing.”
1995-96 Chicago Bulls 41-3
2015-16 Golden State Warriors 40-4