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NEW YORK CITY — The Warriors return to Madison Square Garden Tuesday a year and some change from when Stephen Curry made history by breaking the league’s all-time 3-point record on the arena’s hallowed hardwood.
Golden State also owned the best record in the league, having lost only five times in 28 games at that point.
But it’s a much different story this time around.
Curry will be on the bench in street clothes as he nurses a shoulder injury. And the Warriors, at 15-16, are seeking to get their season back on track after a lackluster start to their title defense.
Coach Steve Kerr doesn’t like to throw the words “must-win” in front of a regular-season game. He reserves that title for the playoffs when the team is down three losses — something he’s experienced only twice in his Warriors tenure.
But Sunday’s 126-110 triumph in Toronto still felt like it was a much-needed victory for the shorthanded Warriors, whose top two players — Curry and Andrew Wiggins — are out with injuries.
Just ask Kevon Looney.
“We needed it a lot,” he said. “Tough road trip so far.”
Tough might be an understatement.
After winning the getaway game against the Boston Celtics, the Warriors stumbled in their first three attempts to get a win on this six-game trip. They got roasted in Milwaukee and then lost Stephen Curry a day later after he partially dislocated his shoulder in a loss to the Indiana Pacers. Golden State played well at the start in Philadelphia but ran out of gas in the second half to drop to 2-14 on the road this season. Wiggins hasn’t played since Dec. 3 as he continues to deal with a strained thigh muscle.
The Warriors have been dealing with some of the same issues over and over again: They’re fouling too much and not taking care of the ball. It has Kerr sounding like a broken record at this point.
But Golden State was able to break through in Toronto, demolishing the Raptors behind a career night from Jordan Poole. The Warriors took better care of the ball at the start, committing only six turnovers in the first half. That allowed them to establish rhythm on offense. They also moved the ball well, ending the night with 31 assists on 43 field goals.
Good offense led to strong defense as the Warriors held the Raptors to 42.1% shooting from the field and 39.4% from 3-point range.
Looney said the win was a confidence boost for the travel-weary Warriors.
“We just needed a win for our confidence and just for our whole morale,” Looney said. “We’ve been building in the right direction. We just got to turn our momentum into wins.”
The Warriors will get a chance to do just that in New York where they’ll play a back-to-back set to close out this lengthy road trip against two of the hottest teams in the NBA.
Golden State is scheduled to play the Knicks (17-13) on Tuesday with the Nets (19-12) on tap for Wednesday.
Both have rebounded from early season struggles and hit their strides as of late. The Knicks have won an NBA-best seven straight while outscoring opponents by an average of 14 points over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, the Nets are winners of 13 of their last 16 games.
Poole acknowledged the importance of building off Sunday’s success over the next two games before returning home for a Christmas Day matchup against the surging Memphis Grizzlies.
“We have a few more games and if we can use this momentum and kind of roll it over to the next two games we have against some good teams, it’ll be huge for us going back home for our homestand,” Poole said. “We just got to continue to play with the energy we had [Sunday] and keep going.”
Kerr has been preaching to his team about simplifying the game. That’ll especially be important with these two games in New York City.
The Knicks will test Golden State with their physicality and the Nets, led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, enter Wednesday with three days of rest and riding a six-game win streak. The Warriors, meanwhile, could be even more undermanned for that game.
Klay Thompson has not played in both ends of back-to-backs since returning from his injuries last season, though he hopes to do so at some point this season. And Draymond Green has been dealing with a bruised quad that kept him out of Friday’s game. He also has missed the latter part of two back-to-backs this season for injury management reasons.
Depleted Warriors face NBA’s hottest teams in back-to-back after rare road win
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