OAKLAND – And in the 67th game of what has been a fabulous season for the Warriors, Harrison Barnes shifted his capricious game into overdrive.
When that happens, though not as often as it might someday be, have mercy on the guys in the other jerseys.
After a skittish opening quarter Wednesday night, the Warriors looked nothing less than marvelous in a 114-95 demolition of the Atlanta Hawks before a roaring sellout crowd (19.596) at Oracle Arena.
Knowing that All-Star guard Klay Thompson would miss the game with a sprained ankle, Barnes seemed to take it upon himself to fill the void. He was the team's best player in the first quarter and stayed at a high level the entire game, finishing with a season-high 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting.
"He knew he was going to play a lot," point guard Stephen Curry said. "He knew he was going to have to impact the game when he was out there. From the start of the game, you could tell he had that kind of mentality."
The Warriors, who have the best record in the league (54-13), blew away the team with the second-best record because their defense, behind Andre Iguodala, turned nasty in the second and third quarters – and because "HB the thinker" stepped aside for "HB the crusher."
"He's such a smart guy and sometimes he overthinks things," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Barnes. "Tonight what I liked most was that he just let fly. He understands that with Klay out, we needed to score a little more. He was fantastic."
Barnes entered the game mired in something of a slump. He averaged 8.9 points over the previous nine games, on 37.9 percent shooting. Solid through the first two months of the season, Barnes is in the middle of his fifth consecutive month of declining accuracy.
There was no sign of that guy on Wednesday. The Hawks wisely focused their defensive effort on Curry, forcing someone else to step up. Barnes did, and the Warriors are thankful.
Between Barnes and Iguodala, who finished with a season-high 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting – including 7-of-7 inside the 3-point stripe – the Warriors vanquished the Hawks (53-15) convincingly, negating a 124-116 loss last month in Atlanta.
"This was a game circled on our calendars since the last time we played them," Barnes conceded. "We felt like they got the better of us, obviously, so we were locked in."
No one more than Barnes, who isn't always so visibly focused.
"We tried to all pitch in and compensate," Barnes said, typically understated. "That's 20 points a game that we don't have. We knew everyone had to pitch in. We couldn't be hesitant, had to be aggressive and it worked out."
Iguodala was spectacular on defense, stifling anyone who crossed his path and nabbing three steals.
The Warriors in the middle quarters held Atlanta to 40 points on 10-of-38 shooting (26.3 percent). The numbers were exactly the same in each quarter, 5-of-19.
On 44 baskets, the Warriors recorded an astonishing 39 assists – the most they've had in a game since April 1, 2007, when they had 39 against Memphis. Curry had 12 assists and Shaun Livingston had seven.
Not much to see here, other than the seven turnovers in the first quarter. The Warriors committed 11 more over the final three quarters.
The Warriors moved into front-runner status for the mythical crown of regular-season champion. They have a better overall record than Atlanta and though the teams split their season series, 1-1, the Warriors owned the superior margin of victory.
They know they can’t always expect Barnes to deliver as he did in this game. They also know how good they can be when he's assertive and effective on offense. With all their other weapons, an active Barnes bumps the Warriors up against their offensive ceiling.