Jeff Hornacek walked out of the Phoenix Suns' locker room, without a frown or line on his face, seemingly unperturbed by the 113-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors. His best player, Goran Dragic, sputtered in the second half after a scintillating first stanza. The Warriors threw repeated doubles at him - who said Mark Jackson can't make coaching adjustments? - forcing other players to carry the offense. The familiar postseason blitz in the third quarter allowed the Dubs to take a 14-point lead going into the last period.
Though the Suns would fight back, and Hornacek made all the standard coaching terms to address the comeback, his words came back to the third quarter, referencing it as the turning point and where the Suns had lost the game.
"If you give up 18 points to a team, that's tough to overcome especially in their own building. They had the momentum going."
A wry smile consumed Hornacek throughout his answers. There was nothing his team could do. And whether he thought it or not, there wasn't anything his team that could do but prolong the inevitable. The Warriors had done this against the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs in the postseason and finally reaching into the mana they'd been - we'd like to think - saving up all season, it was a refreshing flashback to how this team balled under perfect circumstances.
Much of the Warriors' "bad home losses" came when the crowd remained stagnant - and rightfully so - throughout entire quarters. Slow starts by their offense or shaking defense, coupled by awful bench play allowed long stretches where T-shirt tosses and halfcourt contests resulted in the only applause. After another offensively fruitless beginning, Klay Thompson, recovered from a lower back injury, shot the Warriors into the game.
Jackson made another (shocking!) non-Mike Malone aided coaching adjustment where he fitted David Lee at the center position, at once spacing the floor and allowing Draymond Green run at the four position. Even though Green is undersized and susceptible on the boards, he brings an energy and defensive presence only usurped by Bogut and Andre Iguodala, the two resident lockdown artists. Because the Suns play Alex Len, Miles Plumlee, and Channing Frye (mysteriously benched late second quarter), it allowed the Warriors to defend post-ups and run out at will. It oozed into the second half when Lee and Thompson took over on offense and defense (well, Thompson did).
This came down to Lee's ability to drive right by bigger defenders and make interior passes into tight spots versus Thompson's ability to stretch the defense and essentially erase Gerald Green from the game. So Thompson, it is.
Green is really good at making tough fadeaway jumpers. An athletic marvel, his shot is impossible to block when he reaches his apex. He was getting any shot he wanted, albeit fadeaways and step-back jumpers. It was in rhythm and allowed the Suns to loosen the perimeter defense of the Warriors, scoring 61 points in the first half. Green started 6-10 but was held to 3-8 shooting after halftime, with two turnovers and zero assists. Thompson, knowing he couldn't stay in front of the much quicker Green, bodied up and forced Green to dribble (key notion: put basketball on floor multiple times without fumbling it) by him. Not known as a ballhandler, Green struggled in creating space and forced several awkward jumpers. There are only so many fadeaways one can make, no matter how great one may be.
Also, that face.
1. Harrison Barnes' story remained the same, at least on offense. He made a three, wide open, and repeatedly drove to the basket, taking impossibly tough half-floaters, and missing. He's improved his passing but still struggles with shedding the isolaiton mentality.
However, Barnes has markedly improved on the other end. Tagged with guarding the Morris twins after Green fouled out, Barnes came up with a huge stop late and grabbed three rebounds in the final couple minutes. If Jackson is to trust him as the stretch four at times, this was a game where his defense capitalized on the situation.
2. Stephen Curry played 30 minutes, not anything different from the past two close games, where he notched 32 and 32 minutes, against the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers, respectively. He was benched for longer stretches, it seemed, but nothing was noticeably different in his play. The injury does appear minor.
3. Andrew Bogut played 14 minutes and didn't sniff the court in the fourth quarter after being taken out less than five minutes into the third quarter. This isn't new or perhaps even a bad strategy. Jackson's Lee-at-center strategy essentially won the Warriors the game so we won't hear much from Jackson detractors tonight.
Also, after Dragic's earth-consuming end to the first half, Jackson sent two defenders at Dragic the moment his feet passed halfcourt, similar to how the Heat blitz Curry off pick-and-rolls, and this threw the whole Suns offense off kilter. Without Dragic's playmaking and shooting ability opening up the floor, players like Ish Smith (him again!), Green, and the Morrii had to carry the offense. Perfect adjustments at halftime.
4. The same isolation strategies paired with horrible free-throw strategy (2 misses each from Iguodala, Thompson, and Steve Blake) trickled into a shaky end but we'll gloss over that. As long as they keep pulling it out (see: win against Indiana), we aren't complaining. That much.
In all seriousness, Jackson was superb tonight, out-coaching the frontrunner for Coach of the Year. We can complain, but admit that first.