Chris Paul steadies Warriors in return, keys win off bench

Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul pointed twice during a possession late in the third quarter of Tuesday’s victory over the Washington Wizards, directing his teammates where to go.

In response, Klay Thompson slowly walked to the left side of the 3-point arc while Jonathan Kuminga quickly came in to set a screen. As the defenders came off the screen, they both stuck with Thompson on the perimeter, leaving a wide-open lane for Kuminga.

Paul lobbed the ball up for the third-year forward, who completed the alley-oop.

“That’s what Chris does,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He gets you organized, he gets you good looks. All season long, he’s been such a high performer. All of our best lineups, it seems like he’s in [them].”

In his first game back after missing the past 21 with a left-hand fracture that required surgery to repair, Paul provided the Warriors with more of a steadying presence in their second unit.

It’s not that their bench has been unstable over the past month — quite the different as the Warriors have put together their most cohesive stretch of basketball this season. But his return gives that group a reliable and veteran ball handler and playmaker.

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In his 22 minutes, Paul concluded with 9 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and a plus-17 net rating.

“It just felt really nice to get out there and play again,” Paul said. “It’s tough. It’s been a grind. This is my fifth hand surgery so I’m probably just more grateful to all of the people who helped me get back to the court.”

Kerr pinpointed the way the Warriors closed the third quarter — finishing the last five minutes on a 16-4 run, topped off by Paul’s alley-oop to Kuminga.

“He’s always in control of the game,” Kerr said. “We just handle things better with Chris. Just such a great point guard. He always knows exactly what’s happening in the game and what’s needed from him.”

Before Paul’s injury, the Warriors’ rotation was in disarray. There was no five-man group Kerr could depend on to play solid minutes. Draymond Green’s indefinite suspension, followed by Paul’s fractured hand and Gary Payton II’s two leg injuries, only made it more chaotic.

But since Green’s return, the Warriors have steadied. Adding Payton back had an immediate impact. And now, they hope Paul’s return will be the final piece of the puzzle.

“It’s just one game,” Paul said. “We still got a lot of work to do, as a team and as a unit. We have so much depth and so many different ways we can play, it could take us a little while to figure it out. But obviously, we will, and win at the same time.”

On Wednesday, the Warriors still weren’t whole as they were missing Andrew Wiggins to a personal family matter; Moses Moody started in his place. But Golden State did get a first glimpse of its new second-unit backcourt of Thompson and Paul. This is the first time in Paul’s 19-year career and Thompson’s 12-year career that either player is coming off the bench.

Thompson, who came off the bench for the fifth successive game, scored 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He has scored in double digits in seven of his past eight matches. The Warriors’ bench outscored Washington’s 59-15.

“You’ve got two Hall of Famers in the backcourt coming off of the bench, that is such a rare feat,” Thompson said. “We take pride in that. It just makes our team that much more dangerous and it’s something to build off of. We still have another level to get to and it’s going to take everybody’s best effort.”

In addition to creating a potentially lethal combination with Thompson, the Warriors were hopeful that Paul would be able to play all of the non-Stephen Curry minutes, taking some of the pressure off Curry and perhaps giving him more opportunity to rest. They also wanted to get Curry off the ball more when they shared the court.

Versus the Wizards, Curry concluded with 18 points on 4-of-16 shooting. That’s after he went scoreless in the first half — the first time he failed to register a point in any half this season.

“We’ve got a really good group of guys on this team and you’re going to need different things every night,” Paul said. “One thing about me, though — I know who I am and what I am capable of. There ain’t no question about that. I will always be ready.”

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