MIAMI -- The Splash Brothers no longer define the Golden State Warriors, but every now and then, the duo revisits to save them. That was more or less what happened in a fairly artless 118-112 Golden State victory over a Miami Heat team that outplayed its visitor for much of the game.
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward: "That's Steph and Klay. That's what they do. When they both do it on the same night, that's when we're really tough to beat. And it shows you how good Miami was that we needed every point to win the game."
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 75 points on a night in which other parts of the operation were off kilter. The Warriors tried to incorporate newcomer Anderson Varejao, with little to no early success. Draymond Green's hyped, Twitter-stoked standoff with Hassan Whiteside didn't exactly happen. Golden State decided against playing Green at center during Whiteside's minutes, and Whiteside went for 21 points and 13 rebounds, with only three missed shots. Dwyane Wade torched Golden State's defense in a way reminiscent of Miami's time as center of the NBA universe.
In the middle of the Miami Big Three's epoch, Warriors digital marketing coordinator Brian Witt coined a nickname to describe a suddenly frisky squad out West. The "Splash Brothers" established the Warriors' brand right as the team began its ascent. Catchily, succinctly, it conveyed the unusual idea of a backcourt that specialized in 3-pointers. It's how the public came to understand Golden State as something of an entertaining gimmick -- before it became clear this iteration of gimmickry would end teams' seasons.
Quickly, the Warriors grew beyond their nickname, with Green emerging as a star, and other additions proving essential. The Warriors are no longer the "Splash Brothers," but the organization's belief in this backcourt was a part of its foundation. And maintaining that foundation was, at one point, heretical. In 2014, much of the Las Vegas summer league was abuzz over how stupid the Warriors were for balking at a possible Thompson for Kevin Love trade.
Jerry West, who serves on Golden State's executive board, loved Thompson's game, and he believed in the vision of this 3-bombing backcourt. He cited Golden State's meager 2013-14 passing numbers as a reason Thompson might be unleashed in a new offense. Kerr, who took the coaching job that season, also preferred continuity, knowing that, at the very least, the defense would be elite.
In the end, Thompson stayed put and Green proved to be a better power forward than Love. In this way, the Warriors became so much more than the Splash Brothers because they stayed true to the Splash Brothers.
After this particular victory in which he scored 33 points, Thompson said of the dynamic: "We can both get hot. It was a tough game tonight, and when you have scoring lulls and stuff like that. Steph has incredible takeover ability. I try to play at his level, but obviously not as electrifying as him, but I think we can both get hot at the right time if need be."
Note the, "I try to play at his level, but obviously not as electrifying as him," remark. Thompson's acceptance of his role and status is paramount to making this work. Also important is Curry's willingness to fuel Thompson when he's rolling. Golden State preyed on Whiteside's reluctance to leave the paint, repeatedly setting Thompson up for opportunities.
On whether the Warriors were running plays for Thompson, Curry said: "Oh, 100 percent, he was hot. He got us back in the game, got us that lead in the fourth quarter. We don't win tonight without him."
The Warriors certainly don't win without the MVP. En route to 42 points, Curry sank two deep, contested 3s within the last 1 minute, 10 seconds of play. The final flourish was enough to overshadow how he also drained a 40-foot first quarter buzzer beater with as free and easy a stroke as you'd see on a foul line jumper. Those 40-footers are part of the warm-up routine. It's not crazy to expect more of them in the future.
For now, the present is what absorbs these Warriors, especially at a time when every news conference contains a question about 73 wins. "Process" is the focus, "one day at a time" is the clichéd phrase of choice. Whether Golden State reaches that benchmark or not, it has undeniably built something special, a vision to behold in the wake of Miami's run as four-year title favorite. It all started with "Splash," before building into something no one could fathom.
After the game, Thompson spoke of the next game in Orlando, specifically about how he wanted to visit "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park. Thanks to Golden State's refusal to trade him, it's an open question as to whether what's portrayed in the park is any less realistic than the Warriors' charmed stay at the top.