OAKLAND – The Warriors after a three-week absence returned home Tuesday and spent most of the night missing shots, as if the rims at Oracle Arena had been replaced with pinky rings.
That is, with one notable exception. Andrew Bogut, the 7-foot center who earns his paycheck on defense, was constantly rolling to the rim and grabbing lob passes and throwing them through.
It was largely because Bogut borrowed the hot hand of Steph Curry, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle, that the Warriors left the arena with a 109-105 overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Oh, there were other forces at play – namely a “Hail Mary” 3-pointer by Draymond Green, a pair of treys by big Marreese Speights and two clutch buckets in OT by Klay Thompson, whose shots had spent most of the night beating up the rim.
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“Ugly, fun,” was the way Thompson described the team’s performance in winning its sixth straight game and 43rd in a row at Oracle. The Warriors, at 54-5, are one game ahead of the pace set by the record-setting Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.
“It just feels great to win,” he added. “Any means necessary, you know?”
Amid the ugly, Bogut was beautiful. Averaging 5.4 points per game, he rang up 19 – his highest total in four years as a Warrior – on 8-of-9 shooting and was 3-of-4 from the line, including 2-of-2 when Atlanta intentionally fouled him hoping to exploit his usually poor foul shooting.
Bogut added seven rebounds, two steals, two assists and a blocked shot. The usual stuff. But it was his offense that solved the problem that comes with not having Andre Iguodala and Curry, who average a combined 38.1 points per game.
“They were so afraid of our three-point shooting that they kind of stretched their defense out,” Bogut said. “So every time I set a good screen and rolled hard to the basket, my teammates did a great job of finding me for lobs and dunks. That got us going in the first half.”
Bogut’s buckets got the Warriors going on several occasions, as he scored nine points in the second half and overtime. The defending champs needed every point to win a game they seemed determined to lose.
The Warriors shot 39.4 percent (41 of 104) from the field, the lowest this season at home. Thompson was 8-of-27 (29.6 percent), the first time this season he missed more than 13 shots in a game. The bench, without Iguodala, was 10-of-31 (32.6 percent), with Brandon Rush 1-of-6 and Ian Clark 0-of-5.
The Warriors scored 16 points in the third quarter. And yet they found ways to overcome their deficiencies, usually by summoning extra grit.
“Just how hard our guys played was so evident throughout the game,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We were competing the entire 53 minutes. We were smart and we only had 13 turnovers in an overtime game. We withstood their runs. They had their run in the fourth quarter when they took the lead and they had another lead in overtime and our guys just stayed with it.”
Nobody stayed with it more tenaciously than Green. His desperation shot, a 3-pointer that expanded the lead to four points with 40.2 seconds left in OT, will be discussed and replayed. So, too, will his near triple-double (15 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists). But Green’s defensive presence was nothing short of massive.
He mostly defended All-Star forward Paul Millsap (5 of 17) but also found time to harass guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, who combined for six turnovers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Hawks shot 38 percent with Green on the court and 77 percent when he was sitting.
“That is what it has to be about,” Green said of his defense. “There are great guards in this league and sometimes your guards are going to get beat. When we get beat, they cover up for us. Everybody is on this chain together.
“When Bogut and I are inside, we have to be the anchors. We have to be the eyes. When you are out on the perimeter you can’t see anything that is behind you but we can. We have to try and control the defensive end for us.”
On a night when the Warriors couldn’t shoot straight and looked like ghosts of themselves, the big men bailed them out at both ends. It’s a nice luxury.