MIAMI — As he looked up at the video board, Stephen Curry shook his head and smiled.
Dwyane Wade drilled a banked 3-pointer to hand the Warriors a 126-125 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday. The Warriors (43-18) became humbled that their top-heavy talent could not overcome a 24-point deficit and plenty of apathy.
And yet, Curry could still process the historical implication with Wade making this game winner in his final game against the Warriors.
“I’d much rather see him jumping on the scorer’s table when we’re not on the court with him. But those are iconic moments he’s had,” Curry said. “This will be down as cool to see even though we lost.”
Wade only humbled Curry more when they talked afterwards.
“I needed this on my way out,” Wade said. “You all have enough.”
Steph on D-Wade’s game winner, the slow start and KD saying he needs to be more aggressive to open the games pic.twitter.com/dHZ9fOet1L
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 28, 2019
After all, the Warriors have won three NBA championships in the past four years. They might win their fourth one this season. It feels like a distant memory when Wade won an NBA title with Shaquille O’Neal (2006) and two others with LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2012, 2013). It all seemed fitting that Wade made what he called “one of the toughest game winners I have ever hit” in his 16-year NBA career.
Afterwards, Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Wade “a Hall-of-Famer for a reason” after cementing his game winner with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.
“I knew it was going in as soon as it left his hands,” Kerr said. “This kind of game for him to finish the way he did was incredible. Phenomenal basketball game. We couldn’t quite pull it out.”
The Warriors (43-18) experienced their second loss in the past four games since the NBA All-Star break after coming so close into collecting a win to camouflage their poor play.
Kevin Durant, who had 29 points, made three consecutive jumpers to tie the game at 109 with 5:09 left. Klay Thompson, who had 36 points, converted on a 4-point play for a 116 tie at the 3:09 mark. Durant then made a step-back 3 for a 121-118 lead with 1:07 left.
Jordan Bell, who played in crunch time after Draymond Green fouled out with 2:18 left, redeemed himself for a bobbled pass by grabbing a rebound following Kelly Olynuk’s missed 3-pointer and making a pair of foul shots for a 124-120 cushion with 18.1 seconds left.
Wade answered with a 3 to cut to the Warriors’ lead to 124-123 with 15 seconds left. Then, Durant split a pair of foul shots for a 125-123 lead with 13.9 seconds left.
That set up Wade’s game-winning 3 in what Curry called a “wild play” and “a crazy finish.”
First, Durant closed out on Wade at the top of the key, but he waited until Durant was out of sight.
“I got my hand on it,” Durant said. “That’s why he dropped it.”
Bell blocked Wade’s attempt with a second left, but Wade grabbed the ball immediately. Then Wade hoisted the shot for a bank-in.
“I knew it wasn’t over,” said Bell, who recounted having a similar experience his junior season at Long Beach Polly High. “When he caught it, I was like, ‘F–. He’s going to make this [shot].” Then he shot it and it went in.”
The Warriors could not help but smile. After all, the 37-year-old Wade showed a flash of his former self after facing debilitating injuries in 2013-14 (knees), 2014-15 (left hamstring) and 2015-16 (thigh bruise).
“There’s a generation of kids that don’t know how good D-Wade was. That generation would catch him limping out and not understand how good he is. He’s still good,” Green said. “Now everybody is getting a chance to see D-Wade. He’s not the D-Wade of 2006. But he’s still a damn good basketball player. You see him playing well as he is and walking off the game on his own terms and still have something left in the tank and leave as a damn good player.”
Hence, Curry could not help but smile at Wade’s latest moment coming at his expense.
“Moments like tonight reminds you how great he is,” Curry said. “It just sucks it was against us.”
The Warriors remained mindful they did not lose their latest game because of Wade’s heroics. Warriors lost because they looked sluggish, inattentive and irritable. The Warriors simply have nursed a post NBA All-Star break hangover.
In all four their games since the All-Star break, they have labored through the beginning of the game. Against Miami, the Warriors shot a combined 8-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from 3, had two assists and conceded the glass (12-7).
“We just didn’t have the energy and juice that we needed,” Kerr said.
Klay + Dray = adorable pic.twitter.com/3wK9NCwfRC
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) February 28, 2019
The Warriors also did not look connected on offense. During one sequence, Durant repeatedly called for the ball and stood open along the 3-point line. Instead, Green and Thompson kept passing to each other, and the play ended in a turnover. Still, Durant shot only 1-of-6 from the field to open the quarter, so he put all the blame on himself.
“I got to be better at setting the tone, especially scoring the basketball. Not scoring, but being aggressive and creating downhill,” Durant said. “Maybe get to the free-throw line early to slow the game down and feel us out. I need to be aggressive and everybody feeds off of that. I got to be better to start the games.”
Green agreed that Durant “can definitely be more aggressive to start the game.” But neither Green nor anyone else pinned this on Durant. After all, the Warriors almost overcame a 24-point deficit and Durant, Curry and Thompson eventually found a good balance and repeatedly looked for each other. Considering Thompson’s strong shooting night, Durant added, “I wish I got the ‘W’ for him.”
“We’re obviously better when everybody is in attack mode. Sometimes we try to overthink things a little bit early and be a little bit more choreographed if you will in terms of play calls and sets,” Curry said. “That’s just the collective mindset to start out aggressive and start out with the killer instinct early to give us much more momentum than we have as of late.”
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The Warriors entered the game both with a challenge and an opportunity.
The challenge: the Warriors sat DeMarcus Cousins on the first night of a back-to-back for preventative purposes on his left Achilles tendon. The opportunity: Heat center Hassan Whiteside also sat because of a hip pointer.
Regardless, the Warriors did not fill in for Cousins well. After impressing the Warriors all season with his dependability, Kevon Looney started at center and went scoreless while collecting three fouls. Green fouled out in the final 2:18. They became quickly ineffective with Looney and Green both collecting two fouls in the first quarter.
“We started the game off good,” Green said. “Then I got in foul trouble and the lineups weren’t the same.”
Shortly after the NBA All-Star break, Kerr pulled Bell to the side. The Warriors coach remained impressed with how Bell played in the Warriors’ loss to Portland just before the All-Star break, which coincided for another recovery day for Cousins.
“Just play hard like that,” Kerr said, “and you’ll get more minutes on the team.”
Nearly two weeks later, and Bell potentially could have a case for a bigger role. He finished with 10 points while going 2-of-5 from the field, 6-of-10 from the free-throw line along with six rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.
“I’m trying to win,” Bell said. “I don’t care about stats. I just want to win.”
Bell made a few winning plays against Miami.
Bell quickly redeemed himself for bobbling Durant’s pass that led to a turnover. After Olynuk missed a 26-foot 3, Bell leaped toward the basket and grabbed the rebound.
When Bell drew a foul with 18.1 seconds left, Durant and Green gave Bell encouragement about making the foul shots. While replaying a Notorious B.I.G. song in his head that is unsuitable for print, Bell made a pair of foul shots for a 124-123 lead with 15.4 seconds left.
“He’s done a good job in understanding his role and competing and giving the other guys a lift with his energy,” Kerr said. “It’s been great. It’s been a great sign for him.”
What will this mean moving forward? Who knows. Despite Kerr liking how Bell had six points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench in Portland, Bell received a healthy scratch in a win over Sacramento. After finishing with six points and two rebounds in 17 minutes over Houston, Bell sat during Monday’s win in Charlotte.
In other words, Bell’s role will fluctuate depending on matchups and game circumstances. Still, the Warriors have appreciated lately how Bell has prepared amid a second season filled with inconsistent playing time.
“He’s been a true pro about it and worked on his game,” Green said “A lot of people see improvements he’s making. You never know how the hand is going to play out. So credit to him.”