Stephen Curry rescued the Golden State Warriors from yet another blown double-digit lead on Saturday, scoring 12 straight fourth quarter points to lead his team to a 124-120 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. He finished with 37 points and six triples on 14-of-22 shooting, beating his chest to a fawning Chase Center crowd as the final buzzer sounded.
It was a classic Curry performance in every sense of the word, one the Dubs will no doubt look back on if Saturday’s much-needed victory marks a turning point in their tumultuous, disappointing season to date. But Curry wouldn’t have even had the chance to put on his cape if not for the standout performance of Brandin Podziemski.
Making his second start as a regular member of Steve Kerr’s new opening lineup, the rookie put his fingerprints all over Golden State’s hard-earned win on both sides of the ball. Podziemski scored 19 points, grabbed five rebounds, doled out five assists and swiped three steals on 7-of-15 shooting, also splashing a career-best four triples. As has grown custom for the pride of Santa Clara, though, his real-time impact extended far beyond the box score.
Brandin Podziemski is quickly becoming Warriors fixture
After the Nets cut Golden State’s 16-point halftime lead to four with 2:41 left in the third quarter, Brandin Podziemski re-entered the game to give Curry his scheduled breather. A golden opportunity for Brooklyn to build on its palpable momentum, however, ended up being wasted.
Why? Podziemski scored on consecutive possessions out of the timeout called by Kerr, saving what should’ve been an empty possession with his patented sweeping hook shot then hitting a wide-open wing triple created by him pitching the ball ahead off a backcourt inbounds pass.
Jacque Vaughn eventually made the prudent decision to run an extra defender at Curry amid his 16-point fourth quarter masterpiece. Draymond Green would typically be Curry’s most frequent release valve in that scenario, a winning proposition for the Warriors given his longstanding prowess attacking 4-on-3.
Podziemski, obviously, doesn’t yet share the ball-screen and hand-off mind-meld with Curry that he and Green have been fine-tuning for a decade. But the 20-year-old is already an elite decision-maker attacking those winning numbers games, as evidenced by him passing up an open three, drawing the defense with an extra dribble then going from good to great for a Klay Thompson splash in crunch-time.
“That’s why he’s out there,” Kerr said after the game of the play above. “One of the reasons we want him out there with Steph (Curry) is to give us another playmaker, another ball-handler. The play you referenced I thought was one of the biggest of the game where Steph got trapped, and kicked it to Brandin, and Brandin found Klay (Thompson) on the wing for that three. Huge play and that’s an example of why he’s out there.”
Podziemski’s innate processing speed and feel as a playmaker was on full display several minutes earlier, too.
Getting the defense in rotation and making the extra pass doesn’t normally produces open shots for teammates. When that offensive approach becomes infectious, though, the original source of such player and ball movement can even be its final beneficiary. This is one of the Dubs’ prettiest possessions of the season, all stemming from Podziemski’s initial back cut.
Rookies, especially mid first-round picks, just aren’t supposed to be making Podziemski’s nightly impact. Still, it’s not entirely surprising he’s thriving as a souped-up connector. Podziemski showed off all these traits during his dominant single-season stint at Santa Clara.
It’s the other side of the ball where his overtly positive influence is something close to shocking. Podziemski has proven a dogged, stout one-on-one defender, but shines most defensively as a helper. He took two more charges—one of which came after an iso step-back three—against Brooklyn, increasing a sky-high rate that ranked fourth in the league entering Saturday’s action, per NBA.com/stats.
Who needs a long wingspan to wreak havoc away from the ball defensively when you’re always reading the game a page ahead?
The Warriors’ current starting lineup isn’t set in stone. Green will no doubt be back on the floor for tipoff either immediately or shortly after he returns from suspension, likely taking Kevon Looney’s place. Jonathan Kuminga played well again on Saturday, but a rejuvenated Andrew Wiggins played over him in crunch-time and there’s always a chance Kerr reverts back to a Green-Looney frontcourt.
Go ahead and write Brandin Podziemski’s name in ink as a starter next to Curry, though. Jarring as it seems on the surface, he’s probably been Golden State’s second-best player on a per-minute basis this season, clearly growing more comfortable the more time he spends on the court.
“He’s just in the mix, he’s one of those guys that’s always in the right spot because he sees the game and he anticipates,” Kerr said. “Brandin is earning his stripes here in his rookie year.”