Warriors 122, Nuggets 79: Rejuvenated Livingston at the center of deepest bench onslaught yet

On a day where every Warrior who took the floor had something good to write home about in a 122-79 waxing of Denver, Sean Livingston might have been able to craft the deepest list of laurels.

The Warriors’ backup point guard was on the floor running the show Monday for all but a few seconds of the 22-2 second-quarter run that turned a 7-point lead into a 27-point bulge and made the 16th straight Oracle Arena victory a total laugher by halftime.

Livingston was also on the floor for the entire fourth quarter as the guiding hand for a patchwork lineup of reserves that shot 70.6 percent and outscored the Nuggets 33-19 when things just as easily could have gotten totally out of control.

Livingston’s own stat line for the day was pretty sweet, too – 6 for 6 from the field for 12 points, plus three assists, three steals and zero turnovers in 23 minutes. It was his first double-figure line in the last 14 Warriors games after a mid-December stretch when he played a very high level and it seemed almost criminal he had to come off the bench.

Of all the things he did Monday, Livingston was most proud of being the floor leader during those 12 minutes of fourth quarter garbage time with a lineup that included primarily Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush, Justin Holiday and a guy making his NBA debut, James Michael McAdoo. That was a novel lineup even for coach Steve Kerr, who was tried just about every roster permutation over the first 39 games.

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Warriors 116, Cavaliers 94: Too much in the tank at the finish for other teams to cope

Mark Jackson got his due, but he’s part of the past now, as the Warriors have moved on to bigger and better things.

One look at the final score and one might assume, “OK, another blowout win.” But it really wasn’t, and a lot of the Warriors’ double-digit victories haven’t been. This was grind-out game, against a Cleveland team that’s not bad even without LeBron James hanging within six points with five minutes to go.

But here’s what happens when you can play 10 guys and given them at least 13 minutes apiece as Steve Kerr did Friday night — you have a finishing kick. While the opposition is sucking wind just to stay in the game, the Warriors’ best players are fresh to finish the job.

The fourth quarter margins in the last five games: 30-23, 29-21, 33-26, 33-25 again and Friday night 28-18. The only exception on this 6-0 homestand was the first game against Minnesota in which Golden State finished the job in the third quarter then played a quarter of garbage time.

The Warriors are simply wearing down teams with their depth over the first 40 or so minutes then bludgeoning them with their defense and 3-point shooting at the finish. Moreover, you’ve got several players, notably Steph Curry and Draymond Green, who sense the kill and know how to finish. Curry and Green were both dynamite down the stretch, as usual, and Green, despite having an awful shooting night, still nearly wound up with a triple double — 10 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocks.

“That’s the beauty of Draymond is that he doesn’t need to make his shots to make a huge impact on the game,” said Steve Kerr. “His energy in the second half, I thought, really took over. It changed the game. His rebounding is incredible.”

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Warriors 117, Pacers 102: With Bogut back, Kerr has a new problem: too many performing players, too little time to give them

Klay Thompson goes for two of what seemed like an easy 40.

Draymond Green said it best: “Coach has some problems now. We don’t.”

Indeed, Steve Kerr has a pleasant problem of trying to find enough time for all the players who are playing well and want time and need time to continue being effective. It’s not going to be easy keeping everybody happy with a roster that got deeper with Andrew Bogut’s Wednesday night return, and one that will be ridiculous once Festus Ezeli returns soon from a sprained ankle.

“We have a lot of guys that can play and a lot of guys that are playing at a high level, but only so many minutes to go around,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ hard-fought win that was closer for a good long while than the final result indicated. “I told our players the sacrifice that they are going to have to make will not be easy. But they have to make it if we are going to be good. From one night to the next, it might be your night and it might not be. They have to accept that.”

With a 28-5 record, everybody’s saying the right thing right now. But egos are bound to be bruised as Kerr tries to juggle this deep roster. Rusty Simmons of the Chronicle offered a terrific Twitter post, noting that the Warriors might have had one of the highest-paid reserve front lines in history on this night with Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala all coming off the bench. Indeed, that was quite a sight to see.

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Warriors 117, Thunder 96: Harrison Barnes Unmasked! Plus more quick hits on another marvelous Warriors win

A good photo illustrating how the Warriors are compensating for Bogut’s absence in the paint — swarming, switching, double-teaming and just laying out the effort.

It took Harrison Barnes getting clobbered under the basket early in the game to realize, `Hey, he’s not wearing that god-awful mask tonight.” We can only guess-timate how much it has affected his play since he’s had to wear it, but what he brought Monday night against Oklahoma City was a clear sign of good riddance.

Barnes led the Warriors with 23 points, hit all five of his 3-point attempts, and was one of the rotating defenders on Kevin Durant on a night when he shot 3 for 16, playing him tough and tight — particularly early, when the Warriors raced out to a 17-6 lead.

So what happened to the mask? Barnes was wearing it Sunday during practice, but as he explained, he got into a post-practice shooting contest with Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Andre Iguodola and was in fourth place among the four. “I just took it off and sort of threw it, and it never came back.”

And so how did it feel Monday night to be facially unencumbered?

“It felt great,” Barnes said with his typical tight grin. “I’m definitely not a big fan of the mask.”

Going mask-less couldn’t have come at a better time, considering Barnes generally plays so well against Oklahoma City. And this was one of his best two-way efforts against the Thunder, just another sign of his maturation as a third-year player.

“Harrison’s a very good shooter,” said coach Steve Kerr. “I think the thing with him is rhythm and confidence. He’s still very young. The last couple of weeks he hasn’t scored and shot as well as he has all season and I think a big part of that was the mask and the comfort level wasn’t there.

“He understands, too, that’s important that Kevin Durant has to guard us, too,” Kerr added. “We have to deal with Durant, so we have to make sure Kevin has to expend some energy guarding Harrison. Harrison was really aggressive tonight, and obviously, making all five 3’s was huge.”

Good thing, too, when such a good-looking guy ditches the Phantom of the Opera look.

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Warriors 126, Raptors 105: So many good numbers and story lines, you could write a book

“Mo Buckets” went for 26 on 12 of 19 shooting. He continues to astound.

Take it from a grizzled, greying sportswriter. You could write 100 inches on a performance like the Warriors gave Friday night against Toronto and still not cover everything sufficiently. There are just too many things happening, too many numerical achievements that boggle the mind, too many highlights to detail in a 20-25 inch game story like this one.

I won’t attempt it on the blog, either, because there’s still a lot of season to play and I don’t want to wear you out. But heavens, the Warriors are 26-5 and they have yet to play a game at full roster strength. So we’ll go with some quick-hit thoughts from this latest chapter of Warriors wonder.

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Warriors 105, Rockets 93: A final five minutes of hurricane defensive fury

Harrison Barnes, all man on both ends in a stellar performance against the Rockets.

So about this big storm that’s supposed to hit. Will it be anymore fierce and devastating than the Warriors were down the stretch Wednesday night against the Houston Hardens?

Man, that was a hurricane of hellacious defense when it mattered most, and without Andrew Bogut, it almost made you forget what had gone on the first 3 1/2 quarters, when Golden State struggled to find any kind of consistent rhythm at either end.

But in the NBA, it’s all about how you finish, and that was a finish of convincing force — a total knockout — by a lineup that didn’t have anyone over 6-foot-8 on the floor. Don Nelson would have been proud, if he ever had a team play defense like these current Warriors.

Steve Kerr said he saw a glimpse of small ball defensive dynamism in the second quarter and noted that the undersized lineup he had on the floor then might have put the game away earlier if not for some turnovers and missed shots. But in the final five minutes, everything clicked, with Draymond Green manning the center spot and Harrison Barnes the four, and the two young studs flying around and switching like mad to absolutely smother the Rockets inside. The burst of defense also included Klay Thompson completely shutting down James Harden, who had terrorized Golden State all night with 34 points, over the final 4:45. For good measure, he went off on the other end in his team-leading 21-point effort.

“They attacked us off the dribble, and when they went small, it bothered us,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale. “We just had trouble getting the ball into the post.”

Early on — actually, for much of the game — it didn’t like the Warriors had the defensive wherewithal to beat a 16-4 opponent without Bogut. The Rockets got 50 points in the paint for the game, so they did some real damage without Golden State’s ace rim protector to slow them down. But the Warriors solved it with sheer tenaciousness.

“We just had to make up for (Bogut’s absence) by being quick and scrappy,” said Barnes, who played an electric game at both ends of the floor — 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting, seven rebounds and stellar defense. That dangerous offensive game where he can slash to the rim and also bury the 3-pointer is back to where it was as a rookie, perhaps more so. And Harrison has added more defensive dimension to his game.

“He was fantastic tonight,” said Kerr. “He’s so quick and strong, and again, like Draymond, the defensive versatility gives us a lot of flexibility and a lot of coaches have to decide whether to go big or small. Our wings are big enough to guard post players and when we switch everything, like we did tonight, it’s hard to punish us for it because of that versatility. I think Harrison represents that versatility that we possess.”

A few other random thoughts:

–Mo Buckets, aka Marreese Speights, scored 15 off the bench and was particularly good in the third quarter when the Rockets were trying to break the game open. He didn’t get a sniff of attention in the postgame, though. That’s how significant those final five minutes were.

–Shaun Livingston is really starting to take hold in these rotations, and he was even on the floor during the club’s late-game run in place of Andre Iguodala. He played more than 28 minutes and while his stats don’t leap off the page, he’s showing himself to be very solid in so many areas — shooting, passing, defending, running the show or playing off the ball. Before this season is out, Livingston may go down as Bob Myers’ best off-season move. He might already be there.

–Then there’s the move Myers and the Warriors didn’t make — trading Thompson and Barnes to Minnesota for Kevin Love. Those two combined for 41 and played the kind of D Love has never played. They have to laugh that they even considered that swap now.

–Stephen Curry had a quiet 20, other than that incredible 9-point rush at the second quarter. But he had seven rebounds and seven assists, and like the rest of the Warriors down the stretch, played fabulous defense.

–The Warriors are stoked for this upcoming three-game trip to Dallas, New Orleans and Memphis. They know the rest of the league will be watching and looking for a bubble burst, and Green verbalized the stakes — and the goals. “This is a road trip where you can go 0-3 easily,” he said. “But this is one where we look to go 3-0 and really make a stand.”

Getting Bogut back would be an immense help — and indications are he’ll be ready for Saturday in Dallas — but this team is showing it is deep and versatile enough to weather his absences as long as they aren’t protracted.

19-2. Fourteen in a row. It’s almost unfathomable if you’re a longtime Warriors fan who has endured so much misery. But this group is the real deal. They showed it against a good Rockets team with that finishing kick.

That big, bad incoming storm has a tough act to follow.

Warriors 98, Magic 97: Way too early for MVP chants, but Curry making it hard to scold

With 1:38 to go in Tuesday night’s crazy, unlikely game, Stephen Curry went to the line for two free throws to tie the game — which, of course, he made. But while he was shooting, the “MVP, MVP” chant unexpectedly went up at Oracle Arena.

One’s first thought was, “Wow, this is way to early to be starting this. The Warriors are 17 games into an 82-game season.” But then Curry took it and put an exclamation point on the chant. He knocked home a game-winning 3-pointer (replete with a shake-and-bake move on Orlando’s Tobias Harris) with 2.2 seconds left to give the Warriors a miraculous 98-97 victory in a game in which they trailed the Magic by 9 with less than four minutes to go.

OK, go ahead, chant until we advise otherwise. Hey, if they stopped the season today, it’d probably would be pretty close to unanimous. Curry WOULD be the MVP. He’s the best long-range shooter in the game. He comes up big when it matters. He’s leading a team that’s 15-2 and won 10 straight. He’s averaging nearly 24 points and eight assists, he’s playing the best defense of his life, he’s shooting over 92 percent from the line, and to boot, he’s one of the league’s most model citizens. What more could anyone want?

Coach Steve Kerr showed some good rookie coaching chops by deciding not to call timeout when Draymond Green rebounded the ball with eight seconds to go and the Warriors down by two.

“I’ve always believed if you have individual brilliance, a guy like Steph Curry in the open floor, you let him go,” Kerr said. “I don’t particularly like to call timeouts, allow the other team to make substitutions and get their defense set. Everybody scouts every play you run these days. You come out, and they recognize it, the coaches are yelling right in front of their bench what’s happening. You get Steph Curry in the open floor … it’s a way better option.”

From Curry’s perspective, it was only right to make the final shot considering he missed two easier 3-point attempts in the final two minutes that might have salted the game away earlier.

“You don’t want to miss your last shot on the court,” he said. “The first two were kind of rushed, but I felt like I had enough space and I had my legs under me. You’re frustrated after that, but still, you want to see what the next opportunity might be. It definitely feels good to redeem yourself after missing two missing two chippies I wish I’d made.”

Curry said he wasn’t bothered at all by the sprained left ankle he suffered in Detroit on Sunday, even though he had his foot doused in a bucket of ice afterward. That was good news for a player who was listed as questionable going into the game. He wound up scoring 22 points, and Klay Thompson, who was also questionable with a quad contusion, also made big shots down the stretch and scored 20.

It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means for Golden State, but excusable after a grueling road trip. As Green said afterward, it was a bit of a trap game considering how easily the Warriors handled Orlando last week in Florida. The Magic came into Oakland emboldened by a win at Phoenix, and probably played their best game of the year. The Warriors might have played their worst, or at least one of their worst, but still mustered enough down the stretch to pull it out.

Hence, on Thursday, the Warriors can go for their 11th straight win on Thursday against New Orleans, which would tie the franchise record. These are heady times for an organization and a fan base that has suffered so much over the years. If they want to chant for their MVP, go for it.

Here’s the final game story.