Warriors' bench has plenty in reserve 

OAKLAND — Maybe Warriors coach Steve Kerr sensed something brewing ahead of Monday’s 97-87 victory, even if his words suggested otherwise.

“I don’t believe in momentum carrying over from one game to the next,” Kerr said before Game 2. “I think you just go out and play.”

The Warriors did start slowly — a fairly pedestrian 17-point quarter where they shot just 31.8 percent in the field with six turnovers — but it might be the silver lining they need as they push deeper into the Western Conference playoffs. A resurgent and re-energized bench, led by guard Leandro Barbosa (12 points in 15 minutes) and Shaun Livingston (four assists in 13 minutes and a number of integral fourth-quarter defensive stops), made its first appearance of the postseason.

The backcourt pair spearheaded an inspired performance from the entire unit, all the more fitting coming on the day Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights finished third and seventh, respectively, in the Sixth Man of the Year Award voting.

In Game 1, the Warriors reserves certainly didn’t have much to do much, ultimately highlighted by a curiously brief 40-second appearance for Speights, a minus-21 point differential for Livingston and a combined 12-point total output for the entire unit’s 60 minutes of action.

And two nights later, for whatever reason, the Pelicans’ momentum that Kerr sounded unconcerned about ultimately carried over from Saturday’s final quarter, with New Orleans sprinting out to a 28-17 edge (the same 11-point difference as the 33-22 final quarter in Game 1) on the backs of Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, both scoring in double figures and momentarily sending an unusually cold shiver of anxiety across the Oracle faithful.

Only Golden State didn’t have to wait until the fourth to get going, instead catching fire in the second — shooting 76.5 percent from the field — led by 10 surprising and timely first-half points from the 32-year-old Barbosa, and a pair of important jumpers from Speights.

Barbosa’s first layup with less than 30 seconds left cut the lead to 28-17, kicking off 17 consecutive bench points for the Warriors, highlighted by the Brazilian Blur’s hockey-assist skip pass to Speights, who calmly jump-stopped in the paint, and kicked out to a wide-open Iguodala to make it 32-28 with 9:03 left, swinging the momentum pendulum back Golden State’s way.

Suddenly, coach Monty Williams called timeout, a 13-point lead (New Orleans’ biggest of the game) was trimmed to four, and all the gritty defensive work of the Pelicans opening quarter vanished.

“They were fantastic,” Kerr said of the bench. “When we moved the ball, we got good shots and got good flow, and that was really the second unit that got us on the right track. This game was much more indicative of our team than Game 1 was. I didn’t give the bench enough of a chance in Game 1. [Our bench] came out tonight and gave us that lift.”

In the third quarter, it was more of the same subtle yet crucial contributions from the reserves. After Davis’ layup gave the Pelicans the lead back, an acrobatic Barbosa scoop layup put the Warriors back up, 70-69. Speights followed with an enormous block in paint, only to outdo that by drawing a charge on Davis.

“Mo was great,” Kerr said. “The energy he gave us with his field goals, and then his defense, really got the crowd back in it.”

Then Iguodala saved the best for last, throwing down a fastbreak alley-oop from Green for an 81-73 edge, and driving the 19,596 Oakland fans into a frenzy. The perfect cherry atop an indicative Tuesday showing, from a unit the Warriors surely must rely upon if they’re going to challenge for an NBA championship.

“They changed the game,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “They’re the reason we came back. Their energy, their passion and their unselfishness, it was awesome to watch.”

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Jack Ross

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