SACRAMENTO — Over the years, these Golden State Warriors have sent and delivered a lot of messages. Sometimes the coaching staff will splice in a funny video clip with a particular theme, hoping it cuts through and lands. Other times one of the veteran players will speak up, publicly or privately.
There have been so many moments and so many messages and so many speeches since this group got together a decade ago, it all becomes a din after a while.
And yet certain things do cut through.
Back in October, Klay Thompson went on the TNT postgame show and talked about a time back in 2016 when coach Steve Kerr showed the team video of FC Barcelona playing a style it called, “tiki taka,” one that prioritizes pace, ball movement, making the simple pass.
Kerr read the quotes the next day and was stunned. “I was like, Klay remembers that?” Kerr joked in an interview with ESPN this fall. “That was six years ago. I never knew that made any impact at all on Klay. He’s never said one word to me about it, and then here we are six years later and he brings it up and I was like, ‘Oh wow. That registered.’ But that’s the point. It’s in there.”
It’s all in there. And often, messages or lessons learned get simplified down to cliches such as “championship DNA” or “experience.”
Which matters in games like the Warriors’ 123-116 road win against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday that gave Golden State a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
But it also goes to show that important messages can still get through, above the din, after all these years.
“What’s [coach] Steve Kerr been telling me lately?” Thompson told ESPN.
“Just to enjoy it and lead by example.”
Everything you need to know about where Thompson and the Warriors are right now is in that message. There has been a recognition all season that their time together is dwindling, whether that comes after this season or in the next few years.
Thompson and forward Draymond Green are the two pillars who’ve been under the most weight because of their ages and salaries, and because they are not named Stephen Curry.
All season they have been asked about the future.
All season they have tried to stay present.
And in the Warriors’ biggest win of the season, it was Thompson and Green who finally found an answer for the team’s struggles on the road.
“We know how difficult it is to win in this building. It just took a different level of focus than it would’ve in the past,” Thompson said after scoring 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting, including an off-balance, fall-away jumper from the corner to give the Warriors a 115-110 lead with 3:15 remaining in the game. “I think when we know what the stakes are, we’re competitors and we play to that level.”
Over the years, Thompson has had his biggest moments when the Warriors were at their bleakest. Compared to the way he rescued them when they were trailing late in a Game 6 win over Oklahoma City back in 2016, Wednesday’s heroics were rather pedestrian.
“We’ve played in the most pressurized moments,” Thompson said. “Whether it’s the NBA Finals or the first round. So we just rely on our experience during nights like this.”
The Warriors have been so bad on the road this season, however, the significance of taking a game in Sacramento should not be overlooked.
Golden State went an abysmal 11-30 away from home this season, allowing 10.8 more points per game, the largest home-road discrepancy since 2008-09.
They lost the first two games of this series at the Golden 1 Center in much the same way, with shoddy perimeter defense, sloppy turnovers and poor shooting in key moments. At some point, they’d either clean things up, or their championship defense would be over in the first round.
Thompson and Green set the tone early, combining to score 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter, then closing strong with clutch shot-making down the final stretch.
Kerr called Thompson’s fall-away jumper “a moonball” because of how high he had to loft it over the backboard to score from the corner.
Green’s teammates were calling him “Draymond Nowitzki” after he raised his front leg while hitting a fall-away jumper from the elbow to make it 113-110 with 3:54 remaining, a shot for which former Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was famous.
Curry led the Warriors with 31 points in nearly 42 minutes of play, but that’s essentially what he has been averaging in this series (31.4 points in 40 minutes a game).
Getting a combined 46 points from Thompson and Green was not expected, though. Especially the 21 points from Green, who is regarded as a non-shooter and had been removed from the starting lineup to create better spacing after his suspension in Game 3.
“In Game 4, I was extremely aggressive. I just missed layups,” Green said. “I told y’all after the game, ‘I missed like six layups and I’ll make those [next time].'”
On Wednesday, Green made all four of the shots he took off drives to the basket, the most makes he has had without a miss on those shots in the postseason since 2013-14.
That was the season before Kerr arrived and transformed Green into more of a facilitator on offense so he could anchor all those years of championship-level defense.
But in this series, Green has transformed himself into what the Warriors need at the moment — offering to come off the bench in Game 4, then attacking the basket to keep the Kings’ defense honest in Game 5.
It has led to three straight wins, with the opportunity to close out this dangerous, young Kings team Friday in San Francisco (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“I think the day you get tired of winning … I mean, what’s the other side of that, losing? Nobody wants to feel that,” Green said after the game. “To still be riding the same train as the guys you rode in with … there’s no better feeling. That’s a rare, rare thing, and we want to keep that going.”