With a roster full of players and staff members in Denver but no opponent to play, the Golden State Warriors were understandably frustrated at the outcome of Thursday night’s postponement. But within the disappointment there was one bright silver lining: Klay Thompson and Steph Curry sharing the court together again.
After the game was called off, Golden State regrouped for a practice inside the Nuggets’ arena, where Thompson, who in the final stages of a long and arduous rehab, teamed up with Curry and the rest of the Warriors’ starting five for a scrimmage, marking the first time the Splash Brothers have played together in two and a half years.
“It was fun to see Steph and Klay back on the court together,” coach Steve Kerr said. “There were possessions where they were feeding off each other. It’s just fun to see.”
in the gym pic.twitter.com/r9LRXkSstY
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 31, 2021
Consider it one more milestone on the path to Thompson’s long-awaited return. At this point, each day marks the closest he has come to NBA action since tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, then rupturing his opposite Achilles while rehabbing from that injury.
When he does return — there is still no official target date, but one of three home games in early January appears to be the likeliest scenario — Thompson will immediately be penciled into the starting five. For the first time, Kerr admitted he’s beginning to think about lineup combinations.
“I’m not going to mess around and bring him off the bench for a period of time,” Kerr said. “I’m not doing any of that. He’s going to start. We’ll see what that means in terms of the rest of the rotation.”
Thompson was cleared to return to full practice just before Thanksgiving and has spent the past month getting his body back into NBA shape. While that work has included scrimmages with the back of the Warriors bench, their coaching staff and G Leaguers, it’s rare for veterans such as Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney or Andre Iguodala to take part.
The only person missing Thursday was Draymond Green, who entered health and safety protocols Monday and didn’t make the trip.
Kerr called it a “great” scrimmage and “really competitive.” Thompson and Curry together again made for a special moment, he said.
“It’s been over two years,” Kerr said. “Those guys have such a history together, so for me it was just fun to sit back and see them smiling and on the court together again. … Obviously it would have been nice to have Draymond here, but that’ll happen soon enough.”
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 31, 2021
Thursday marked a reunion for Thompson and the old guard but also acted as his debut with Wiggins, a combination the Warriors have envisioned since they acquired the 26-year-old wing almost two years ago. Both players are deadly from deep — Wiggins’ 42.5% success rate from 3 this season leads the team — and can lock down the top threat on the opposite end of the floor.
The way Wiggins has adapted to his refined role has resulted in chatter of the first all-star nod for the former first-round pick. Wiggins, who is scoring at the most efficient rate of his career while averaging 18.8 points per game, said recently, “you hear it; you see it … I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully put myself in good position to be in that conversation.”
Integrating Thompson without interrupting the rhythm Wiggins has found will be one of the challenges facing Kerr and the Warriors coaching staff — all good problems to have while sitting atop the Western Conference at 27-7.
The scrimmage served as a reminder of all the difficult rotational decisions about to be made.
With Thompson and the starters teaming up, that left the reserves on the other side, and they held their own, according to Kerr. Moses Moody, returning from his time in health and safety protocols, stole a little of Thompson’s thunder with a barrage of 3-pointers, Kerr said.
“Our white team – the reserve unit – was really good and they executed well,” Kerr said. “It’s a reminder of how deep our team is. It’s really exciting. … Moses shot the lights out in the scrimmage. Knocked down five or six 3s and looked like nothing happened.”
When Thompson returns, Jordan Poole is expected to shift into the second unit, leaving a cascading effect on the rest of the rotations. Poole was set to return from a stint in health and safety protocols but settled for the scrimmage instead. He’s expected to assume his spot in the starting five Saturday at Utah, though after quarantining for 10 days in a Boston hotel room, “he needed the time tonight to get his legs underneath him a bit,” Kerr said.
Jonathan Kuminga, the 19-year-old lottery pick, is vying for more time. There already are hardly enough minutes to go around for Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Gary Payton II, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damion Lee.
That depth has proven all the more valuable as the NBA navigates the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and teams are forced to reach to the ends of their benches and into the G League for emergency replacements.
“I know one thing: we’ve got a whole lot of guys who are capable of playing and being in the rotation and helping us win games,” Kerr said. “It’s not going to be easy, but on the other hand it’s way better than the alternative.”
As for their latest set of pandemic problems, Kerr said, “We turned it into a positive.”