Mark Jackson made it clear to his players and the media before his Golden State Warriors beat the Phoenix Suns 108-98: “This is the biggest game of our season.” It’s a rare thing for a coach to admit at that particular time, because a loss leaves him or her with no wiggle room. Luckily for Jackson, the Warriors played the way they did against the Suns and not the San Antonio Spurs, or this losing streak would be at seven and counting.
Sorry to get maudlin after what truly was an important victory. Besides, losing streaks like the one the Warriors were mired in are difficult to stop. “You can forget how to win, it’s been so long,” Jackson said.
But before we get too excited about the Warriors keeping a team under 100 points, let’s remember that Phoenix averages fewer than 95 points per game and scored 76 points through three quarters. The Suns also made 9-of-17 three-point attempts and outscored the Warriors in the paint 44-32.
Golden State won because the Suns are a good matchup (mostly because they’re an awful team), and because the Warriors’ guards and Andrew Bogut came to play. Bogut and Klay Thompson came out with chips on their shoulders the size of boulders, and they played extremely well in the first quarter. Bogut was active defensively, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Thompson shot the lights out early, motivated probably by a variety of things — the Warriors’ losing streak was one, his first bobblehead night was another.
However, the “edge” (as Jackson referred to it) seen in Thompson’s game on Wednesday night was probably also because he’s been the subject of trade deadline scuttlebutt. Namely, Thompson possibly getting shipped to New Orleans in a package that would bring Eric Gordon to Golden State.
Here, he spoke about not listening to the rumors (yeah, sure) and wanting to remain with the Warriors.
In this next video, Jackson talked about getting two of those Thompson bobbleheads (signed, for his sons). Then I asked him about Thompson collecting 8 rebounds and if that’s something he’s been emphasizing. Jackson explained how when the Warriors are going well, they’re getting help on the boards from the “small” guys — Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Stephen Curry.
Curry looked an awful lot like the leader of this team offensively, especially late. The Warriors had to feel nervous after their lead shrunk to four points. With 4:17 left, the Warriors called timeout. Jackson said he decided to put the ball in Curry’s hands as opposed to their common late-game strategy of letting Jarrett Jack create.
“Ultimately, I did not want Steph to be a bystander. I did not want him to wait for the action to come to him, I wanted to put him into the action,” Jackson said. “It worked out well.”
It certainly did for Curry, who also had 11 assists. Straight out of the timeout he made a 13-foot runner off the glass, then followed with a three. I asked Jack if he likes playing off the ball, and Ethan Sherwood Strauss followed up with a question about whether Jack prefers to shoot threes off the dribble or off the catch.
Briefly back to Curry … After Ryan Leong reminded Curry that the Warriors’ last win was also against Phoenix, I asked Curry if he was looking forward to wearing the short-sleeved uniforms made by Adidas in a game for the first time on Friday. The interview ended pretty quickly after my question. “Can’t wait,” said Curry, a Nike guy. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Warriors’ perimeter players shoot on Friday, although if they struggle they can always blame the Spurs’ defense.
The Warriors didn’t play a perfect game, but they did win every quarter. But what’ll provide the most optimism fuel heading into Friday was the improved activity and production from Bogut. After a season-high 29 minutes in his first time playing the second game of a back-to-back, Bogut said his ankle was a little stiff but brushed those concerns aside like a Marcin Gortat layup attempt. According to Bogut, the bigger issue is building his confidence. That shakiness showed mostly on the offensive end, where his lack of lift made jumpers and turnaround hooks more difficult than he’s used to. However, his passing was superb at times against the Suns and his defense around the rim was back to what was seen in his first three games after his most recent return from injury.
I wrote last night about how Bogut accumulated 10 blocks over those three games (all Warriors wins), then only 2 blocks in his next four games (all Warriors losses). Bogut had 3 blocks against the Suns, and I asked him how important that was and whether he felt like he defended the rim better against Phoenix than in his last few games.
“Yeah, yesterday I was terrible. Yesterday I got my ass kicked by Al Jefferson and the Jazz outplayed us and killed us,” Bogut said.
“Tonight was a better night for us. Not just me personally, but that team defense was much better. I said from the start of the season, if we can keep teams under 100, I have all the confidence in the world that most nights we’ll score over 100. The issue is when we’re giving up 120, 130. It’s very hard to score 140.”
Bogut talked about affecting shots without necessarily deflecting the ball, and that was noticeable at times. One specific instance came in the fourth quarter, when Luis Scola was about eight feet away from the basket and left his attempt short because he had to shoot higher than normal over Bogut’s outstretched arm.
Jackson also mentioned that Bogut was dealing with an illness of some sort that caused him to feel feverish throughout the day on Wednesday, which makes his day-after comeback performance all the more impressive. You could barely tell at the beginning of this game, as Bogut was jumping rope at halfcourt during warmups and had a grin going before the opening tip. I was wondering if Bogut might be on his way back to wearing street clothes soon, so to me his effort against Phoenix was doubly impressive. Now if the rest of the Warriors could just mimic that type of physical dedication and get back to harassing some 3-point shooters every now and then…