MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Golden State’s most recent homestand included a 33-point loss to Boston and a startling defeat to last-place Phoenix, reminding the Warriors of the work that’s ahead of them to win a fourth NBA championship in five years.
The Warriors passed their first challenge with a 3-1 record on this tough road trip, finishing in Minnesota with a clinic in half-court passing and shooting.
Stephen Curry scored 22 of his 36 points in the third quarter and Klay Thompson pitched in with 28 points, giving the Warriors more than enough production to beat the fading Timberwolves 117-107 on Tuesday and regain first place in the Western Conference.
“If we can do that the rest of the way to the playoffs, we will definitely solidify this number one seed,” Thompson said.
The Warriors had 39 assists on 44 made field goals and finished 19 for 42 from three-point range. They’ve won 20 of their last 25 games away from home.
“Some possessions, it was a lot of overpassing, to be honest,” Curry said, “but against teams that try to put pressure on you and take away that first option, that’s the best way for us to really attack.”
Jonas Jerebko added 18 points, Kevin Durant scored 17 points and Draymond Green had 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Warriors (48-22), who bounced back with little rest from a loss at San Antonio on Monday and moved a half-game ahead of idle Denver (47-22) for the top seed. The Warriors beat Houston and Oklahoma City, currently in the third and sixth spots in the stacked conference race, to start the trip. Falling at home to Phoenix clearly captured their attention.
“I think that loss is probably the biggest lesson for us throughout the season,” Durant said.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 21 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins totalled 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Josh Okogie had 19 points for the Timberwolves, who played again without the injured Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Robert Covington and Luol Deng, and lost their fourth straight game.
“When you’re going against the world champions, you have to really be on your game offensively and defensively,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said, “then just your collective resolve as a group to withstand those runs.”
The Warriors, finishing their ninth set of games on consecutive nights out of 12 back-to-backs on their schedule this season, started rather sleepily and watched the Wolves build a 22-9 lead.
The beauty of the Warriors — or irritation, depending on the rooting interest — is how quickly they can recover. They used a 21-3 run over the next 5:51 to take control, with their long-range shooting simply too much for this undermanned Wolves team that, even at full strength, is vulnerable defensively.
Jerebko, whose playing time has dwindled since DeMarcus Cousins returned, had 14 points in the second quarter alone, including a couple of deep three-pointers from the wing to help the Warriors cruise into halftime with a 59-47 lead.
The Wolves managed to work their way back to tie the game at 61 on Okogie’s three-pointer, but the Warriors needed only 3:18 for a 14-1 spurt that put them right back in charge. Curry had eight of those points.
“We were scoring two. They were scoring threes,” Towns said. “That put them up a little bit. We had some breakdowns, but we played hard.”
The Timberwolves haven’t been above the .500 mark since they were 13-12, entering a four-game trip on December 8 and dropped all four of those. Of their final 15 games in this tumultuous season, 12 of those opponents currently above the cut for the playoffs. The Warriors? They’ll only face a top-eight team in either conference four more times, with 12 games to go.
Curry went eight for 14 from three-point range, pushing him past the 300 mark for the third time in four seasons. Joining Houston’s James Harden, Curry gave the NBA two players with 300-plus three-pointers made for the first time in the same season. Curry, who set the record of 402 three years ago, has five of the top seven single-season totals in league history.