PORTLAND, Ore. — After deeming the season as one for evaluation and development, the Warriors concluded their 82nd and final game, a 122-116 win over Portland on Wednesday, having drawn one concrete conclusion.
They have their point guard in rookie Stephen Curry, who had 42 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Trail Blazers. The last rookie with such a line was Oscar Robertson — who had 43 points, nine rebounds and 20 assists in February 1961.
It was the most points by a Warriors rookie since Mitch Richmond's 47 against Sacramento on March 4, 1989.
"If Stephen Curry isn't rookie of the year, something's wrong," coach Don Nelson said. "What a performance. Co-rookie of the year would be beautiful. That guy is pretty special. His performance tonight won a ballgame when I really only had five guys."
Curry, backcourt mate Monta Ellis, Reggie Williams and Anthony Tolliver each played 48 minutes. The Warriors began with six healthy players, as Anthony Morrow and Ronny Turiaf were ruled unable to play after pregame warm-ups.
Then, 4:25 into the game, Chris Hunter re-aggravated his right knee. He sat until the 4:47 mark of the fourth quarter. That's when chaos began.
Devean George, who logged 42-plus minutes, fouled out. Nelson wanted to keep George in and take the technical foul penalty. But the officials wouldn't allow it. Hunter came back in and managed a minute and 12 seconds before it was clear he couldn't play anymore. But despite Nelson's continued protest, the officials forced Morrow and Turiaf to check into the game before they could be deemed injured. So Turiaf came in and committed an intentional foul and was replaced by Morrow, who played until the next dead ball and checked out.
"To force those guys on the court is a legal issue, I think. That's not right," Nelson said. "You cannot be forced to put an injured player in the game."
George eventually checked back in and the Warriors received a technical foul, which put Portland ahead 110-108 with 3:28 left. But Curry scored nine straight points to start a 14-4 Warriors run to put the game away.
"He's going to be in the league for a long time and is going to be an outstanding player," general manager Larry Riley said of Curry.
With Curry entrenched at point guard, then what happens with Ellis, who a year ago was the starting point guard. Riley, Nelson, Curry and Ellis have said the answer is with Ellis as shooting guard alongside Curry.
Yes, even Ellis — who began the season by saying the two couldn't play together and the Warriors win — said "it worked all year."
"That's really what he's been doing," Nelson said of Ellis at shooting guard. "He has to guard them a different way and they have an advantage of size, usually. He can be effective sometimes. Sometimes he's not. Some nights he's very effective."
If Ellis and Curry are set at guards, the front office needs to fill the front-line holes, because a backcourt of two 6-foot-3 guards will need some support. Whether that comes in the form of the healthy return of injured frontcourt players Andris Biedrins, Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright or some newly acquired inside presence, the Warriors can't roll with small forwards serving as the big men.
"We've gotten to know each other," Curry said of Ellis, "gotten comfortable playing with each other. ... So we've come a long way since that first day."