Here is a link to my Monday column about the Warriors’ win over the Suns. The full text appears below:
OAKLAND — It was playoff basketball. That’s how the Warriors approached the Phoenix Suns, in beating them 113-107 on Sunday night. The Warriors played serious basketball. Hard. Relentless. Beautiful basketball.
Sure, the Warriors fell behind by 12 points, but it was a mere early phase, like adolescence. The Warriors always were in the game, always were poised to make a move on their division rival, the Suns who started the game one spot behind them in the playoff hunt, the Suns hungry, the Suns good. The Suns not good enough.
So, linger over the turning point, the moment the Warriors took over.
After playing from behind, after walking in mud for 2 quarters, they took the lead, 74-73, with 7:05 left in the third quarter on a Klay Thompson 3-pointer, the stroke perfect, the arc perfect.
After another lead change, the charge began, the Warriors’ charge so familiar by now. Thompson coming off screens and hitting jumpers just like that, David Lee laying in the ball with his right hand no less, Lee driving to the hoop and dishing off to Draymond Green. Dunk. The crowd going nuts. Everything so easy. The world a lovely place.
It’s like at a certain point the Warriors broke through a rigid barrier, a steel barrier, and entered a meadow, free and open, bathed in sunlight, a light breeze kissing their faces.
Why did this happen?
Because the Warriors went small. They pulled big men Andrew Bogut and Jermaine O’Neal, and shoved Lee into the center position and told him to go get the Suns. If the Warriors had stayed big they would have lost. They went small and won.
They did more than win. They cavorted. And the Suns, who had every advantage early, who had owned the game, started to complain, their great point guard Goran Dragic looking like a kid pouting when things weren’t going the his way. The Suns’ jumpers started hitting iron and the sound of clunk filled the arena, the Suns blowing it.
At the end of the third quarter, the kill quarter, the Suns’ Ish Smith drove the hoop as time expired. Thompson slammed his hand on top of the ball and knocked the ball back to Smith, stuffed him. Smith never got off a shot. It’s like Thompson said, “Stay away from here. “You are not welcome.”
The Warriors outscored the Suns 38-17 in the third quarter, although the word “outscored” hardly describes what they did.
And the whole thing felt inevitable. That’s what inspired the awe, the feeling the Warriors couldn’t lose, that a win was fate, or something like that. When the Warriors get started, you can’t hold them back. And even though the game got close at the end, it was desperation close from the Suns’ point of view. They were not going to take the lead. They were not going to win.
You probably know Stephen Curry played hurt. Not dying-on-the-court hurt. Not take-out-your-hankies-and weep hurt. Just a touchy right quad. He injured it in Boston. Before the game, coach Mark Jackson said he would limit Curry’s minutes, not that he did. Curry played 30 minutes. So, Curry being on the court was a key to the win.
Another key: The Warriors’ bench is a good bench. It used to be not a good bench. It was their weakness when the season started.
No depth. But GM Bob Myers brought in two guards, Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake, and they make a difference. Blake takes pressure off Curry because he is a consummate point guard.
Jackson on Blake: “He’s a competitor, knows how to play, great understanding of the game, being in big moments not afraid of bright lights, high character, takes care of the ball, everything you want in a backup point guard, a guy that, if you had to, can defend the one or two position. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
The Warriors also are fortunate to have Green coming off the bench. He has improved immeasurably this season. He shoots the jumper. He drives the hoop. He scored 13 points.
And let’s face it Harrison Barnes seemed dead in the water earlier this season, dazed. It’s like the presence of Andre Iguodala blew his mind. But Barnes is coming back. And the Warriors have depth and this depth will mean everything in the playoffs.
After the game, Jackson talked about the improvement of his backups. “We improved with the changes we made. You add Steve and Jordan. We have guys that know exactly what they’re called to do. They’re making plays for each other and it’s beautiful basketball and it’s allowing guys to relax.”
In the first 56 games of the season, the bench averaged 24 points.
The last eight games it’s averaging 40. Remember that number.
And one other thing. Well, one other person. David Lee. Big game. Just a pleasure to watch. You forget how well he shoots, how soft his hands are. He led all scorers with 26, so many points on layups. Not easy layups either. Driving to the hoop, shrugging off contact, laying in that rock. He’s a lefty but he kept doing it right handed.
Is he as comfortable around the hoop with his right hand as with his left?
“Actually, more comfortable handling the ball and finishing with my right than the left. I broke my left wrist sophomore year in high school and played a whole season with my right hand.”
So, the Warriors beat the Suns in a showdown game, have won four in a row, have gone 9-2 since the All Star break because they overcame a 12-point deficit, because they compensated for Steph Curry’s owee, because they remade their bench and because David Lee once broke his left wrist.
It’s fascinating how history gets written.