How Warriors’ bench helped secure a 120-117 win over Wizards

OAKLAND — The nostalgia formed when the Warriors honored Alvin Attles with a video tribute and an on-court ceremony for his various contributions as a player, coach and ambassador. The tension brewed as Draymond Green and Bradley Beal became tangled in a scuffle that ended with Green absorbing a blow to his face, a ripped jersey and an ultimate ejection. The excitement built as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant made late-game baskets.

Once the Warriors secured a 120-117 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday at the Oracle, something even more notable unfolded. So much that Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the development “the story of the game.”

After the Warriors spent the early part of the season experimenting with rotations, they rediscovered their bench identity. After relying more on their All-Star teammates, the Warriors’ bench outscored the Wizards’ reserves, 44-27. And despite their varying career paths, skillsets and circumstances, Warriors reserves David West, Omri Casspi and Devon Looney oversaw a bench unit that helped the Warriors overcome an 18-point deficit.

“We’re winning games because of our talent,” Kerr said. “But tonight we won because of our bench and because we finally started to fight.”

The boxscore might say that Durant (31 points), Curry (20) and Thompson (18) took on the scoring load as usual. But as Durant remarked afterwards, “We’re a team. Three guys can’t win a game.” Yet, West, Looney and Caspi arguably ensured the Warriors (4-2) extended a three-game winning streak.

West posted a bench-leading 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting in 15 minutes, including a a layup that gave the Warriors a 102-101 lead with 6:49 remaining in what marked the team’s first lead of the game and an 18-foot jump shot that cut a Wizards lead to 104-103 at the 5:49 mark. Looney added nine points on 4-of-4 shooting and five rebounds in 12 minutes, including two dunks and a three-point play for a 114-109 cushion with 2:50 left. And Casspi added eight points on 2-of-3 shooting in 13 minutes.

“Without their energy,” Durant said, “we lose this game.”

It appeared the Warriors would lose to the Wizards.

Officials tossed Green and Beal with 19.5 seconds left in the first half as the Warriors trailed, 64-50. It only suggested a bad omen. Green appeared on his way toward filling up the box score as he collected three points, six assists and three rebounds. The Warriors had already lost Green in the fourth quarter of their season-opening loss to Houston because of a left knee injury, an incident that caused the Warriors to unravel as they struggled to fill his defensive intensity and versatile playmaking. The Warriors also ended the first half shooting only 2-of-19 from 3-point range.

So while Durant scored 24 of his 31 points following Green’s ejection, the Warriors turned to various reserves that have endured different career paths and possess different skillsets.

“We tried to do it together,” Durant said. “One person can’t make up for what he brings out on the floor. His IQ and intensity and smarts on both ends of the floor. We did it as a group.”

Kerr told Looney that he experienced “karma” for thriving in a game after experiencing varying degrees of adversity through his first three years of his NBA career. He became saddled with two hip injuries that required surgery. He then inherited a crowded frontcourt this season that made him a healthy scratches for four games. Uncertainty awaits on if the Warriors will make his contract guaranteed by the end of October.

But Looney reported to training camp with high marks on his conditioning level and health. So when Kerr placed rookie Jordan Bell on the inactive list on Friday, Looney became ready.

That prompted Durant to remark, “that’s what true professionals do.” Kerr told Looney after the game, “you work that hard and you put that kind of effort in, you have such a good camp. Things tend to go your way.”

“I worked hard knowing that not everything can keep going bad,” Looney said. “Something good is going to happen to me one day. So I just kept working hard.”

Casspi tried to keep that same mindset.

After signing with the Warriors last summer on a veteran’s minimum deal, Casspi earned reviews for how seamlessly he fit into the Warriors’ system because of his shooting, cutting and basketball IQ. He missed a preseason game and four regular-season games because of overlapping injuries to both of his ankles. But when Casspi entered the floor on Friday, he immediately showcased the skills that impressed the Warriors in the first place.

“It’s fun to play basketball when you get a chance to play with the team,” Casspi said. “I don’t know if I’ll play next game. But it is what it is. When I get a chance, I’ll be happy and bring my energy. I’ll do whatever I need to do to help this team win.”

So did West, who has basically provided that approach for all of his 18-year NBA career. He offered a blend of on-court leadership, dependable mid-range shots and defensive stops. After trailing by 10 points to open the fourth quarter, the Warriors went on a 24-12 run.

“Our focus was on defense,” West said. “I thought we did a good job on getting consecutive stops when you can get consecutive stops, you can give yourself a chance to win.”

And after the Warriors won, Kerr could stop talking about his reserves. Well, almost.

“David was great, but he’s been an All-Star forever. David has had a million great games,” Kerr said. “Omri and Kevon were the story for me.”

Kerr had admitted that may not have been the story if Green had not gotten ejected. After all, that prompted Kerr to jumble his rotation unexpectedly. And yet, Kerr’s coaching prepared for this moment.

He had spent all of training camp and the first week of the season juggling a bench rotation that looked different every game. Kerr did that partly because of the team’s inconsistency. But he mostly did it to develop his team’s depth and make players feel empowered for having a chance. And against the Wizards, the Warriors took advantage of those chances under some unexpected circumstances.

“I didn’t want it to be that way,” Kerr said. “But it worked out well for us in terms of our development and our growth and our ability to give guys an opportunity to play.”

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