OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant drove coast-to-coast just before halftime for a monster two-handed slam.
Klay Thompson swished a turnaround fadeaway as the halftime buzzer sounded and scurried for the tunnel hands raised high in triumph. Stephen Curry, in street clothes, hopped up and down on his injured left knee celebrating wildly with his Splash Brother.
Draymond Green pounded the glass at every chance for another spectacular rebounding night.
The defending champions are back, all right. They are rolling. And Curry could be close to putting on a uniform again.
“I hope, but I’m not going to expect it because I don’t want to get my hopes up and not have them fulfilled,” Thompson said. “If he doesn’t play, we’re prepared. If he does play, hallelujah.”
Golden State has endured barely a blip so far, losing only Game 4 of its first-round series against San Antonio before closing out the Spurs with Tuesday night’s 99-91 victory.
They will open the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals against New Orleans in Saturday’s Game 1 at Oracle Arena. Former Warriors top assistant Alvin Gentry coaches the Pelicans.
“Well, fortunately, Alvin Gentry really doesn’t know what he’s doing,” coach Steve Kerr cracked. “That’s a joke.”
For weeks ahead of the playoffs, the Warriors hardly looked like the super team that dominated through last year’s postseason. Yet Kerr and his players insisted all along they would find another level and groove when the stage got bigger in April — and they were spot on in those sentiments.
The defense has been stellar.
And the Warriors could be at full strength again soon, with Curry ready to lead the show once he’s healthy from a sprained medial collateral ligament.
The three other All-Stars and a cast of reliable role players have handled things beautifully without him.
“We’re a championship team. We know what type of defense we need to play,” Green said. “I think throughout the regular season, you want to get there every night, but it’s just not realistic, especially coming off a championship.”
Sure, Golden State might not make another remarkable, record-setting 16-1 run through the postseason again, but Kerr’s pass-happy bunch sure looks to be back in top form going into the next round.
And Green is leading the way by doing everything on both ends as usual. He grabbed a playoff-career high 19 rebounds in Game 5 after getting 18 his previous outing.
“We expect him to continue to play with this edge because when he does and he’s played with great emotion and passion, that’s when he’s at his best,” Thompson said.
Curry will be re-evaluated later this week as he continues to do more on-court work recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
He got hurt March 23 on the very night he returned from a six-game absence with his latest ankle injury. It was bad luck, too, as center JaVale McGee fell into him.
Soon, Kerr hopes, he will have his starting lineup intact again and his rotations more reliable — no longer having to piece things together as he did late in the regular season while using an astonishing 27 different starting lineups to get through and wind up a No. 2 seed this time.
“Steph has been coming into the gym every day working and he’s doing his thing and we are doing ours,” Kerr said. “We are just hoping for the best. Not making any predictions.”
Golden State has won a franchise-record 12 consecutive postseason home games and 20 of the last 22 in the playoffs overall.
Kerr will push his players to keep the momentum from this series and build off all of the things the Warriors did so well.
“We played hard. We played really hard,” he said. “We played together and stayed with it. We held them to 37 percent shooting tonight which is great. Our defensive effort for the five games was fantastic. It’s obviously going to get more difficult now as we go, so we’ve got to just keep going.”