AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Golden State Warriors held off the Detroit Pistons 119-113 in the rare Warriors game that gave fans crunch-time suspense. It was a collective effort to close this one out, as the Warriors got contributions from each All-Star down the stretch Friday night.
NBA homecomings are notoriously difficult. There are the pressures of finding tickets for family and friends, combined with the pressures of playing in front of them. For Draymond Green, complications were compounded by a rather wonderful -- if untimely -- event. Green skipped the previous game in New York to fly back to the Bay Area for the birth of his son. Anyone who knew anything about Green assumed he'd be back to play in his native Michigan. Despite Steve Kerr, general manager Bob Myers and Warriors owner Joe Lacob telling him to take time off, missing his one homecoming of the season wasn't an option.
Given the aforementioned distractions, it wasn't a surprise when Green opened the game off target, missing his first seven shots and finishing 1-of-8 from the field.
On whether circumstances affected his night, Green said, "It strained my legs a little bit, couldn't get a shot to fall. But life goes on. Play through it."
Before Green and Golden State's general defense got in gear, the question was who would pick up the slack after two quarters of lackluster Golden State play, fraught with sloppy ballhandling. Beyond the contributions of Stephen Curry (25 points, eight assists) and Kevin Durant (32 points, 18 shots), Golden State got a boost from JaVale McGee. In the third quarter, McGee scored nine of his 15 points in less than four minutes. The other side of the McGee coin is that he committed three personal fouls in that same short burst, but that's a quibble in what has been found money for the Warriors. McGee often subs in and changes the game for the better. Few expected this to happen.
In the fourth quarter, the David West lineup (West, Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson), normally a source of stability, relinquished the lead. Stanley Johnson disrupted plans, picking off two passes for Detroit points. Later, it was Durant who reclaimed order with two double-clutch, midrange jumpers, before swatting Johnson in transition. That might have been a game-defining play were it not called a foul. Durant took a seat with five fouls and more than seven minutes to go.
As Durant sat, it was West who provided an offensive spark with two slick passes to Ian Clark for layups. West's high-to-low passing is an underrated skill and quite useful in an offense that asks for so much movement.
"These guys are great cutters, move without the ball, so just try to see some daylight crack open," West said of his high-to-low passing. "See the back of the defender's head, just to get the pass on target."
Clark, who has made a habit of finishing off such plays, said of West's passing: "It's just something that D-West is good at. He's a great passer, making passes off the high post. For me, it's just being ready to catch it. I've been trying to have more movement on my side when I'm in the game."
As one MVP sat in foul trouble, another checked in and took control. Curry started with a strong drive past Jon Leuer, followed by a high-arcing layup over Andre Drummond's outstretched arms. He followed it with a deflection leading to a steal, and on the next possession a pull-up 3-pointer to put the Warriors up three. The Pistons fought back with a Tobias Harris 3-pointer off slick ball movement, answering Golden State's onslaught until Thompson delivered the dagger.
Key Golden State plays included an Iguodala rebound leading to a Durant 3-pointer. With 1:31 to go, Green finally got his first field goal, an emphatic dunk over the hulking Drummond. The slam came off "Cyclone," a favorite Warriors play that forces the defense to weigh helping off Curry against ceding an easy lane to the rim for Green. It's a difficult action to defend, and Detroit failed the test.
Thompson gained separation for Golden State with an isolation midranger, and he effectively ended the game with a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, set up by a Green screen, fed by Curry. Drummond perhaps should have stepped out to help on Thompson, but such asks can be difficult for a center.
"His instinct is to protect the paint," Green said. "You put him in pick-and-rolls and he struggles a little bit, and pin-downs he's in the paint, so you try exploit that as well."
The beginning might have caused Kerr consternation, but the end fit a coach's vision for how things should be. In crunch time, the Warriors functioned as a total team, everyone locked in, playing defense and moving the ball when it mattered. The Pistons fought hard but could not match Golden State operating as more than the sum of its parts.