PORTLAND, Ore. -- Because of a devastating knee injury in 2012, Golden State Warriors wing Brandon Rush had been robbed of an NBA career -- or so it seemed. On a night when the Warriors soundly beat the Portland Trail Blazers 128-108, we were reminded of how Rush was resurrected, as he scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
After three seasons in the NBA wilderness, he suddenly has claimed a rotation spot among stars, suddenly joined in on the fun.
Rush stood in the locker room hallway -- for years he often has exited this space sans request for interviews -- and reflected on the grimmer past. "The lowest was getting inactives," he said. "There was a couple games last year I got inactives. A lot of DNPs, so that was pretty much the low of my career."
Last season, Rush played in 33 NBA games and scored only 30 points. After seasons spent as a three-point marksmen, Rush was 3-of-27 from beyond the arc. On Friday night, he made more treys (four) than he did all of last season. So much of what has changed can be credited to a confidence that he was forced to grow. Last season, opportunities were sparse, and rhythm was elusive. This season, after Harrison Barnes went down because of a sprained ankle, Rush got extra time, easing into the easier looks Stephen Curry provides.
Of last season's Rush, interim coach Luke Walton said, "We knew what Brandon was capable of because he had lost confidence in his game, in the real games. In practice, that's what we [saw] from him."
Walton went on, "There's no way to ever know if a player's going to gain his confidence back or not, but we obviously, as a staff and as an organization, they love Brandon. So to see him get this opportunity and to continue to play at such a level and see him have fun out there and gain that confidence back has been great."
After the game, Curry spoke of Rush's progression. "He came in and worked and obviously tried to shake off a rough two years basically. We knew he was going to get an opportunity." The reigning MVP said of Rush's development, "This year he stayed ready. I remember in the summer, seeing him in the gym three weeks after the season."
Last season's Rush couldn't hit a shot but remained a positive force in other ways. He's the originator of Golden State's "Get what you neeeed" slogan, a musically uttered ode to solo training. Rush saw the benefits of lone labor after last season's rocky beginning.
"I just wasn't mentally ready last year," Rush said. "I was out of shape, I was kind of heavy. So I came into training camp in shape, back at my playing weight before the injury. And pretty much worked on my game, and everything's going the right way."
Indeed it is. Rush is shooting 48 percent beyond the arc after shooting 11.1 percent on 3-pointers last season. He's getting plenty of open looks, but still, this is a staggering development considering where he was. Soon, as Walton has indicated, Barnes will reclaim the starting spot. Walton also said Rush is making that process "a lot more difficult." That's a massive shift from last season, where the Warriors struggled to justify time for a popular player.
Of course, Rush's Friday performance was flanked by spectacular play from Golden State's stars. Klay Thompson continued his recent scorched universe shooting, helping to end the game before it began with 19 first-quarter points (36 total, on 22 shots). Draymond Green had yet another triple-double (11 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists), his eighth on the season, and played brilliant defense. Green had six third-quarter assists, and felt as if he was in a passing rhythm similar to Thompson's shooting streaks.
"I just had it going," Green said. "You see somebody cutting and it's not about the decision you make, it's more so you feel like every pass is on point. And I felt like that tonight. Every pass is on point and in a good spot."
Curry "merely" claimed 26 points and nine assists, one of which was a blind over-the-head lob to Andrew Bogut that would have been too absurd for a Harlem Globetrotters game.
The Warriors continue to roll, and while they aren't making opponents look quite like the Washington Generals, victories come with uncommon ease. The victories open opportunities, as players work to be part of the good times. Months ago, Warriors defensive guru and coaching assistant Ron Adams said of this phenomenon, "That's what winning does. It fine-tunes people. It opens possibilities for them. They feed off of that momentum."
Currently, Rush and the Warriors are feeding off the momentum, perpetuating their success. If a man can go from three made 3-pointers in a season to shooting 48 percent beyond the arc, perhaps anything is possible.