Michigan State coach Tom Izzo mentioned something during his sitdown with Fitz and Barnett tonight that ended up being a fitting way to introduce what transpired on the court in tonight's game between the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons.
Part of being successful in the NBA is being tough, not only tough when going one-on-one with a defender on the court, but also tough enough mentally to get through the inevitable hills and valleys that will occur for just about any non-juggernaut team over the course of an 82-game NBA season.
The Warriors have probably had more valleys than most of us wish to tolerate this season - in no small part due to the anxieties that an extremely competitive Western Conference might create about even making the playoffs - but games like tonight are when that toughness that Izzo was talking about really come to the forefront.
There's no way to get through an 82-game season without an off night. And tonight's game was not merely a night where "shots aren't falling" but a night where for whatever reason you can't stop the Detroit Pistons from scoring 62 points in the first half or outworking you on the boards throughout the second half.
We could dwell on what went wrong, but it's probably more useful in the context of this season to focus on how they responded to turn this game around and escape Auburn Hills with a 104-96 win (boxscore) that they probably stole more than earned.
The Warriors outscored the Pistons 23-13 in the fourth quarter after finishing the first three down 83-81. They held the homestanding Pistons to 5-for-24 shooting, contesting most shots and letting the decision-making of Brandon Jennings (0-for-2 in the fourth) and Josh Smith (2-for-5 in the fourth) do some of the rest. Best of all, as a positive sign in the context of a season with occasionally excruciating sloppiness, the Warriors had just two turnovers in the fourth quarter - 13 for the game - and assisted on four of their eight made field goals.
Warriors turnovers throughout the season. See a trend? pic.twitter.com/ZdNrA5P0VX— EvanZ (@thecity2) February 25, 2014
We could underscore the point about toughness by contrasting that to the first three quarters, but - again - I'd prefer to forget those happened and reiterate Izzo's point through the words of one of his top pupils.
"We didn't have much energy as a team, but our not having much energy now and our not having much energy a month ago, we would've lost by 20," Draymond Green told Jim Barnett in the post-game interview. "You know , one thing we said is some nights it's not going to be there, but if we get it done on the defensive end, shots will eventually fall, and we'll eventually be able to pull away. And we had to grind this one out tonight and we were able to do that.
"It shows signs that this team is growing."
The question of growth is one we can certainly debate if we take this debacle in its entirety, but if the Warriors are going to get into the playoffs and make any noise again this year these are the type of character-revealing wins against teams they should beat that they simply need to secure.
You don't want to have to deal with constantly digging your way out of holes as a team with deep-playoff aspirations, but that they did it without the help of one of their big guns in David Lee and Bogut just getting by on the health front is something that makes it easier to digest this game and let go.
Ultimately, all that really matters is that they didn't allow early adversity hurt them in the long-term. And they won again.
Golden State's 4-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the Western Conference. Next up: at Chicago on Wednesday— GSWStats (@gswstats) February 25, 2014
Nevertheless, my inclination about halfway through the fourth quarter was to simply refuse to give a Warrior Wonder for this nonsense because nobody deserved praise for this one. If they lost, that probably would've been the move.
However, Jermaine O'Neal's steady defensive presence has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season and he brought that again tonight with a 16-point and 10-rebound performance, complemented by three blocks (and two big ones in the second half). The Pistons frontcourt just had way too many offensive rebounds to credit anyone in the frontcourt tonight.
Klay Thompson's dunk over Kyle Singler did actually keep me amused for a considerable amount of time while things were unwatchable, so he was certainly under consideration.
But ultimately the team's All-Star did All-Star things and I just went with the default.
Even when nothing is going right, there's still that feeling that at any moment Stephen Curry will put on his cape and cover things up. In fact, one could argue that he has bailed this team out of a bit too often in the last two seasons. That aside, his eight points, three rebounds (one offensive) and (just?) one assist in the fourth quarter tonight were as much an embodiment of the mental toughness the team demonstrated tonight as O'Neal's rugged double-double was.
Curry was just 3-for-12 in the first three quarters, but didn't seem to play the fourth quarter like a player who was rattled in any way, which is huge for a point guard: he remained calm, patiently stepped into higher percentage shots when he could, and the play he made to battle for an offensive rebound and find Steve Blake in the left corner for a three to put the team up two points with 6:28 left was as big as anything else that happened.
Just for whatever remains of the "not-a-point-guard" crowd, he picked up 8 assists in those first three quarters. That left him just short of a triple-double with 19 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds, a statistical bright spot on an otherwise dreary Michigan night.
Was this the way we'd like to see the Warriors play night-in and night-out? Personally, I wouldn't watch basketball anymore if 82 games of this was all we could hope for. But showing resilience when faced with that bump in the road is good enough to just take the win and move on.
Hopefully, Green gave his old coach something to be proud of tonight.