The Golden State Warriors finally played a game NOT on national television in Phoenix, playing against a young athletic Suns team who have yet to find their first victory.
The Warriors so far this season had not looked like they were enjoying the game of basketball, and it showed with the Suns outplaying them in the first half. Skill would start to eclipse effort though in the second half with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and crew finding the way to grab the 106-100 victory. Here is how the game played out:
Side note: for myself, it was great to hear Fitz and Barnett back on the call. The ESPN and TNT games are so narrative heavy, good to get back to just talking about the Warriors and the game at hand. The national broadcasts are heavy with all the Warriors ‘talking points” and it is distracting. And another note? New road crossover jersey are FANTASTIC. The Warriors headed into the first timeout up 15-8, lead by Curry’s hot shooting and a fantastic Zaza Pachulia/Durant give-and-go.
The rest of the quarter would be a nightmare. The Warriors would go cold from outside, give up layup after layup and be dominated by the Suns front court on the way to a 25-point swing, low-lighted by a 16-0 run. Golden State is simply missing many shots that they hit last year — wide open threes, layups etc — and would completely lose their mojo to the young home team. When the Warriors are out of their shooting touch, their defense goes right along with it to the tone of ugly passionless basketball. Give credit to T.J. Warren — he had a great shooting night tonight up through the end and punished Golden State in the midrange every chance he got. A Klay Thompson three to end the quarter would help to save face, but the Suns still found themselves with an early 30-22 lead.
The bench would help the Warriors grind it back within four at 32-28. Suns rookie Dragan Bender looks tall and lanky, but as an outside shooter his shot looks flat. He could still be adjusting to the NBA distance. The other Phoenix rookie Marquese Chriss did look aggressive tonight on the floor with his moves to the basket, but would pick up a stupid immature technical in the third showing up Shaun Livingston on a layup. Both rookies have awhile to go, but did show some signs of hope for the future.
It feels like nobody knows their role on this Warriors team yet. The turnovers so far look like a “I thought it was your ball” type of mistakes. The body language — frustration, yelling at refs, retaliation fouls — does not show a Warriors team in their zone. Steph keeps them in the game with his shooting but every time the Warriors made a run, a mistake to the Suns would take back the lead. Every loose ball, every break going to the Suns.
Despite the Suns outplaying the Warriors for most of the quarter, Golden State gritted their way back into the game. The savior? Kevin Durant. KD was the only one hitting open shots, playing great defense, carrying this team on his shoulders at times. His And-One dunk after a huge three was arguably the play of the year so far, and I loved seeing the energy off the bench after he hit it, a great shot in the arm. After a crazy last 10 seconds of the quarter featuring careless fouls on both sides and Eric Bledsoe and KD trading free throws, the Suns lead would dwindle down to 57-55 to the shock of even Warriors fans after an ugly half.
The Warriors finally tie the game again on a Thompson midrange jumper. Pachulia has been watching Andrew Bogut tapes with the pass between the legs leading to a Durant jumper. The theme of the third quarter: great team defense. With the shots not falling and Curry picking up his 4th foul early, the defense would keep the Suns at bay to balance out the pace. Kerr would challenge the team with curry and KD on bench and Warriors respond well — a David West jumper, and great defense by Iguodala leads to Draymond Green dunk. The quarter ends with the Warriors up 81-78.
Kevon Looney would get minutes to start the quarter; Barnett called it well pointing out that Looney is still finding the speed of the NBA game. An impressive sequence though — he was blocked in the paint but gets Alex Len back with the and-one on the smart finish. I’m going to love watching his maturity grow as the season goes.
A turnover on a bad lob leads to an Ian Clark bad foul. He has not looked good at all to start the year. Clark doesn't look confident on either end of the floor. Watching this game helped me realize how much Leandro Barbosa is missed on this team. He was a vet off the bench who always seemed to do the right thing on the floor.
A Durant steal and clear path foul gave the Warriors a six-point lead, but the Warriors miss three chances at wide-open threes to break it wide open. Who came through in the big moments tonight? Draymond Green: though he was not scoring tonight, he had a trademark defensive performance down the stretch to go with some great passes. The dagger in this game: an alley-oop and-one to Durant off a great Kerr play call out of a timeout. What a pass from Iggy. The Suns would get layups to bring it within two, but Curry and KD would ice it at the line to seal the victory at 106-100.
Not a great win, but who cares? Before this game, I was thinking the Warriors should be worried as they are not looking good to start the year. After this game, my thoughts are the league better be worried about stealing victories from this team while they are still figuring things out. Had Golden State made just a few more wide-open threes, this game would have been a laugher. Once you see their “best” performance on the floor, you are still going to respect how dangerous this group could be. Until then, it might be a few more grind-out wins, and a possible loss or two. I did see a glimmer of hope: Durant and Curry getting a laugh in at the end of the game while sealing the win. Let’s hope this team relaxes a bit, takes the pressure off their shoulders, and starts to just “play” basketball while having fun.
The team will have a short flight to Portland and a follow up on Tuesday against the Blazers, who will absolutely be ready with a loud home crowd. Can Golden State build a winning streak from here to end the road trip?