It was Steph Curry’s return after an 11-game absence. It was Klay Thompson’s return after an ominous late-game scratch on Saturday. It was Andrew Wiggins’ second game back after 15 games out. It was Andre Iguodala’s second game of the season.
It was the return of Damion Lee, who got to accept his championship ring in front of the fans he spent four years playing for.
And to top it all off, the Suns gifted the Warriors an easy one, as they were playing without Devin Booker, Chris Paul, or Deandre Ayton, among many others.
Which made what happened next rather inexcusable.
The Dubs came out flatter than a forgotten Solo cup of beer in a frat basement. The shooting was cold, and they compounded it by settling for jump shots rather than attacking the rim. Kevon Looney got worked by Bismack Biyombo, and Steve Kerr turned to a small ball lineup with Iguodala just a few minutes in.
Behind 14 first-quarter points from Thompson, the Warriors started to find a rhythm and built a lead, but the Suns ended the first quarter on a 10-run to take a five-point lead into the second quarter.
And then it was disaster after disaster. The Warriors became completely scattered, seemingly finding good looks only on second-chance opportunities. The ball stagnated. They settled for bad shots. Curry was cold as he tried to work off the rust. The Suns pounced with a second 10-0 run, and built a 17-point lead.
The passivity was deadly for the Dubs, who didn’t shoot their first free throws of the night until 3:47 remained in the half. With a disastrous quarter in the rear view mirror, Golden State trailed 59-45 as the teams headed to the locker rooms.
The third quarter was somehow worse. Much, much worse. The Suns came out of the gate firing, and Thompson was the only Warrior with any response. Nearly halfway into the frame, Thompson had 21 points ... and no other Warrior had more than five.
You could see defeat on the Dubs’ faces, and it showed with their effort and energy on both sides of the court. Before you knew it the highly-injured Suns — who had lost six straight games — led by 27 points.
And then the flip finally switched. Jordan Poole, who had been awful in the first half, started to catch fire. A few shots and a little momentum and the deficit was down to 19 going into the fourth. Still inexcusable, but slightly interesting.
The Dubs came out of the fourth quarter gates on a mission. They made a few buckets to get within screaming distance of single digits, but every time they had a chance for the big shot to get back into it, they missed ... and the Suns usually responded with a made shot of their own.
But they persisted. Poole continued to hit big shots. Curry heated up with some wild and amazing makes of his own, and you could practically see the rust falling off of him. Chase Center, after uttering a few boos earlier, was bouncing. Iguodala got ejected as the team found life and swagger.
In the final minutes, the experience difference started to rear its head. Phoenix’s inexperienced reserves started to wilt, and the Warriors forced turnovers on seemingly every possession, which they repeatedly turned into buckets. A Poole transition three cut the lead to just six with about a minute and a half left. After Phoenix answered, a Wiggins steal lead to a Poole dunk that again cut the lead to six with a minute remaining.
But it was too little, too late. The Warriors had dug an inexcusably deep hole, and perhaps their best and most spirited few minutes of the season weren’t enough to overcome arguably the worst three-quarter stretch of the season.
Lee fittingly showed his championship mettle down the stretch, bringing a calm composure and six clutch free throws to a Suns team in desperate search of a life jacket. It was just enough to keep the suddenly-energized Dubs at bay. A few academic free throws later and the final deficit ballooned up.
Phoenix — again, on a six-game losing streak, missing Booker, Paul, and Ayton — won 125-113, and jumped the Dubs in the standings in the process. The exciting fourth quarter gives the Warriors a little momentum to take on their upcoming five-game road trip, but it’s not nearly enough to mask that any loss was inexcusable ... especially one that was a blowout for about 40 minutes.
Thompson finished with 29 points on 10-for-24 shooting, with Poole contributing 27 points, five rebounds, and six assists, while shooting 8-for-15 from the field. Curry finished with 24 points, but shot just 8-for-22.
Lee was the Suns spark plug, and finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, while shooting a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line. Mikal Bridges led the Suns with 26 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, while Duane Washington Jr., starting in place of Paul, dropped in 21.
The Warriors now get two days off before facing the San Antonio Spurs at the Alamodome. They need those two days off to get some things in order.