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Revisiting Game 8: Warriors Get Their First Must-Win of the Season

OK. Maybe, it’s too early to call it a must-win. So we’ll call it a need-this-badly game. And the Warriors did exactly what they were supposed to do — beat a short-handed team on their own floor.

MARK JACKSON: “This was a home game where they were missing two of their top seven players. We expected to win. … If we’re talking about having a successful year, you have to win this game before going on the road because we will be playing some good teams.”

Wednesday’s game was so critical because the Warriors are headed for a three-game road trip (at Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Dallas). Two of those games would be an upset if they pull it out. The Warriors need to get all the wins they can while they wait for center Andrew Bogut to return. It would be ideal if they are at .500 whenever that happens.

Such requires winning games they should win.

The best part about Wednesday’s game was they had to actually win it. It wasn’t a blow out. They had to hold on. They had to make plays. That’s valuable experience for a young team.

More on Wednesday’s victory …

WRITER’S RANT: This is a completely Twitter-induced rant. So for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, I’m sorry.

Speed and athleticism does not make you a point guard. If it did, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose would be among the all-time greats. It is a misnomer to say because Stephen Curry can shoot and he’s not the most athletic that he’s better as a shooting guard is crazy. If there is any position in the NBA where athleticism and speed is needed, it’s shooting guard. To put Curry at shooting guard would not only make you a losing team, having such a small off guard, but it would completely waste his other talents. Can you imagine if Curry was exclusively a shooting guard and teams could just gear up to stop him from scoring? Ask Ben Gordon if that works. It would only put him in a position to fail.

Stephen Curry is a point guard. And he’s a pretty good one with potential to be really good. It’s something executives around the league know, but somehow Warrior fans (on Twitter) don’t seem to get. No, he does not blow by defenders. Yes, he makes careless turnovers far too often. But that doesn’t make him not a point guard. It makes him a point guard who needs to improve.

I did not think Curry could be an NBA point guard when he came into the league. But he has proven he has the tools. He can handle. He has underrated vision. He can pass. He works hard. And with a shot like his, anyone with some basketball sense would jump at the chance to work with those traits in developing a PG. He won’t ever be a Chris Paul or a Kyrie Irving. But so few guys are.

If you don’t have one of the league’s elite point guards, all you’re doing is choosing which flaws you want to overcome. Curry doesn’t have the speed, but others with speed can’t shoot. Some can score but others can’t pass. Some are terrible on offense but great on defense, and vice versa. Pick your poison.

Curry has the stuff there. He makes passes you haven’t seen since Baron left. He has gotten tremendously better on defense. He leads by example. He’s improved at getting into the lane, though he’s got a ways to go. What he needs is experience, not a position change.

One of the things I appreciated about Monta, watching him from his first training camp until he was traded, was he kept adding to his game. When he first was drafted, he was an undersized shooting guard who only drove left when he was in a car. Mike Montgomery wouldn’t even put him in the game because he didn’t feel comfortable with him having the ball in his hands.

Monta started off as a ball-hawk, but not until the season was all but lost. He added a mid-range jumper, improved his ball-handling, developed a 3-pointer, improved his passing. He developed himself into a beast. But he was afforded the time to grow, gain the experience.

Curry comes in with more developed skills and a similar work ethic. That’s why he’s a coveted young player. That’s why the Warriors believe in him. He’s in his fourth year, but he’s played just over two seasons worth of games, and many of those he was PG in name only. It’s unreasonable to presume he won’t improve. He may never get to the level of a Deron Williams or Steve Nash, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be really good.

So enough of the silliness about Curry playing shooting guard. Warriors fans should already know where an undersized SG will lead you.

MVP: Harrison Barnes — The rookie had the best game of his young career. He finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes, all career-highs. He was aggressive getting to the basket. He looked for his shot, he made things happen.

JACKSON: “I had a conversation with him and let him know what I was going to need from him. I told him I was going to play him some more minutes but he had to earn them. I’m not going to just hand them to him.”

But his biggest And he was diligent about using his athleticism and 6-foot-8 frame for purposes of rebounding.

Barnes had just 17 rebounds the first seven games. After Wednesday’s performance, his average is up to 3.8 per game.

BARNES: “I’m trying to learn how to rebound in the NBA. In college you just turnaround and there’s only 1 or 2 guys who are as athletic you. In the pros, everybody’s athletic. You actually have to block out.”

MDP: Festus Ezeli — He’s really been a ghost on the court lately. He played nearly 18 minutes on Wednesday and managed just 2 rebounds. He didn’t block a shot or even commit a hard foul. The Warriors need him to be a physical presence out there. He doesn’t have to score, but he needs to leave a mark on the game. Not doing so only justifies the small ball.

KEY MOMENT: Hawks coach Larry Drew put Lou Williams at point guard down the stretch and he got hot. He knocked down three straight, putting a scare into the Warriors. It looked as if Atlanta was going to have an opening to steal it after Curry missed his step-back 3-pointer. But there was Harrison Barnes to save the day. He hustled up the rebound to get the Warriors the ball back.

YEAH, WHAT HE SAID: “I thought our guys did a great job of responding to being embarrassed on the boards the other night. . . . We’ve got to be committed to it, because we don’t have the luxury of having one guy that’s going to go get us 20 [rebounds] every night. We’ve got to do it as a committee.” — Mark Jackson

COACH’S CORNER: Mark Jackson deserves some praise for easing up on the small ball buffet. Granted, his two best healthy big men are David Lee and Carl Landry. But that pairing is not his best for defense and rebounding. After those two got destroyed inside by Denver, Jackson virtually patted himself on the chest and said my bad.

When it was time to go to the bench, he went to Biedrins and Landry for stretches instead of exclusively leaning on Lee and Landry. Andris Biedrins and Festus Ezeli combined for 34 of the 48 minutes at center. They only totaled six rebounds, but they were a big reason Atlanta managed just 20 points in the paint.

He also played Draymond Green more, which he’s serious about being a better defensive and rebounding team.

The gameplan, which apparently was to back off Josh Smith and let him give into his urge to shoot jumpers, was It was a good thing to put the ball in Curry’s hands down the stretch. Curry played very well with the ball in his hands against Denver. He is the best passer on the team and his shot — even though he’s not making it — is such a threat that he just forces the defense to react. And if he doesn’t go through these situations, Jackson wouldn’t be able to teach him about NOT settling for a step-back dagger 3-pointer when a switch leaves you with a hacking power forward named Ivan Johnson. About eliminating one-hand passes once you hit the fourth quarter.

I even like him leaving Curry on Lou Williams down the stretch. Curry had done an excellent job contesting and being a presence on defense while defending Jeff Teague and Lou Williams. I was thinking, especially since Lou Williams was hot, why not bring in somebody like Draymond Green or even Kent Bazemore, who can better contest his shot. Williams hit that step-back 3-pointer all in Curry’s grill because Curry simply didn’t have the length to stop it. But any end-of-game situation Curry can experience is a good thing. He needs all that.

Also, it should be pointed out, Golden State is so much better on inbounds. They actually run effective set pieces now and get something out of them. I remember a time where they couldn’t even get the ball in with regularity.

TELLING STAT: The Atlanta Hawks — who were playing without center Al Horford — had just five offensive rebounds on Wednesday. And those five only led to four second-chance points. That’s important because the last game,Denver had 23 offensive rebounds, several critical ones down the stretch that helped the Nuggets escape Oracle with a double-overtime victory.

BEFORE YOU GO: What happened to Josh Smith? I know his stat line looks nice. But he looked downright uninspired. What happened to the whirlwind he used to be? He used to make sure he would impact a game, even negatively. I used to champion the Warriors to acquire him. Now, I’m not sure I’d give up Biedrins for him. … Joke

Marcus Thompson