Warriors get perfect night from Jonathan Kuminga in emotional season-restart win

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SAN FRANCISCO — The sequence that essentially sealed a necessary Warriors’ win, aiding both their emotional state and shaky place in the standings, came from Jonathan Kuminga early in the fourth quarter with Steph Curry on the bench.

Kuminga sized up Atlanta’s Jalen Johnson, another rising young wing in his athletic class, and bullied right through him on a patient and powerful drive. He shouldered Johnson toward the stanchion, dropped an easy layup right over him and then flexed.

As Kuminga trotted back down the court on defense, he flipped his hips as he neared the 3-point line and noticed Patty Mills was about to toss a soft pass over to Johnson, his assignment, as he crossed the logo. This was a pick-6 opportunity. So Kuminga jumped at it, slashing into the passing lane and tipping it ahead to himself for the steal and a perfect chance to make a case for dunk contest inclusion.

“I was tired,” Kuminga said.

Kuminga didn’t get stylish. Judges would’ve given it a 4 out of 10. But it still capped a surge to open the fourth quarter that stretched the lead to 13 and boosted them into a drama-free final nine minutes. Their starters finished the game resting on the bench — a rarity this season — and the Warriors beat the Hawks 134-112.

Kuminga made all 11 of his shots, tying Chris Mullin’s 1990 franchise record for most makes without a miss. He had 25 points in 29 minutes, plus nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.

“Eleven for 11, and I’m guessing eight or nine of those buckets were in the paint,” Steve Kerr said.

Seven of Kuminga’s makes were in the restricted area. Nine were in the paint. The other two were short jumpers. He didn’t take a 3.

“You can’t stop him in there,” Kerr said. “He’s so powerful.”

Kuminga gave partial credit to Draymond Green.

“I’m definitely getting confident from everybody. Mostly Draymond. A couple days ago in practice, I was hesitating a lot. He’s like, ‘That used to happen to me a lot. If you gotta pass, just pass. If you gotta attack, attack. Don’t overthink.’ That’s stuck in my head. Every time I’m about to do something, I remember Draymond told me to, ‘Be who you are. Don’t overthink.’”

Green returned to the Warriors’ lineup nine days ago in Memphis. He played well, but it was masked by a terrible loss to the shorthanded Grizzlies. The next night, assistant coach Dejan Milojević suffered a heart attack at a team dinner in Salt Lake City and died the next morning, halting the season, sending the organization into a week of grieving and hitting the entire basketball world with a dose of perspective.

They emerged to an emotional scene on Wednesday night at home, honoring Milojević in several ways before facing the Hawks. That included a pregame Steve Kerr speech to the crowd, a moment of celebration and the entire Warriors’ roster placing their custom-made Milojević jerseys on his normal seat behind the bench. Milojević’s wife and two children were a few rows back, seated in Mike Dunleavy’s usual location.

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After a subdued start as both sides attempted to shake off the emotions of the pregame tribute, the Warriors took control of the game midway through the second quarter when Green entered. He hit two 3s, spread out a pair of assists and changed the game with his pick-and-roll coverage on Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray. The Warriors were a plus-seven in his first stint.

“You just feel him defensively when he’s out there in the pick-and-roll,” Kerr said. “Murray’s coming off and Draymond, 30 feet out from the hoop, is making Murray have to retreat a step. That alone, so Murray can’t get downhill, is such a boost to the defense. His aggressiveness and knowledge and wisdom on that end is so huge for us.”

In all, the Warriors were plus-19 in Green’s 23 minutes, limited by the Rick Celebrini restriction. Green’s minute total is expected to creep up slowly and likely not reach the 30s until at least next week. But he looks great right now, providing a bit of hope that his return can partially solve the Warriors’ deep defensive troubles and maybe send them on a little run before bigger decisions need to be made at the trade deadline.

Stiffer tests will arrive quickly. The Kings are in Chase Center on Thursday night. The Lakers come in on Saturday. The Sixers come in next Tuesday. The Warriors are currently 19-22, only a game out of ninth, but another bad stretch away from any playoff goals becoming unrealistic.

“We have half the season left and still time to salvage it,” Kerr said.

(Photo of Jonathan Kuminga: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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