- Editor's note: This was published before it was reported that Steph Curry and Draymond Green will not play Thursday vs. the Phoenix Suns.
The Warriors' 108-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night was an absolute gut punch.
It was a great game for 46 minutes, deadlocked at 103 heading into the final two minutes. But then it fell apart.
The Warriors failed to get a layup despite having four second-chance opportunities with just 60 seconds to go. And that led to Dame Time -- also known as Damian Lillard pulling up from the hash mark and knocking a 29-foot jumper to give the Blazers a two-point lead with 14 seconds left. Add in a questionable charge call on Draymond Green on the Warriors' next and final offensive possession, and boom. Gut punch loss.
And to make it even harder to breathe: this loss comes on the heels of the Warriors getting blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers two nights prior.
Wednesday night was a chance for the Warriors to get it right and get back on track before their final game before the All-Star break: a game against the Phoenix Suns on the second night of a back-to-back.
Facing the Lakers, Blazers and Suns is a brutal way to end the first half of the season. After getting pummeled by the Lakers, it became important for the Warriors to at least split their last two games. Now, any chance of heading into the All-Star break on a positive note lands on the Suns game.
"It's huge," Damion Lee said about needing to close the first half of the season on a high. "I feel like this game was one of the biggest games of the year going into the All-Star break, and now once again (against Phoenix) is going to be an even bigger test. Everyone just has to come out aggressive, ready, go out there and compete. Phoenix is rolling, you have to tip your hat to that ... It's just a matter of taking small steps and trying to learn and grow, but also know that after the break, that's when everything is really starting to count. It counts now, but that's when you're jockeying for a position in the playoff race."
Lee's correct in saying the games after the All-Star break are more important than the ones prior. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees with him.
"We can't go into (Phoenix) feeling like, oh my god we have to do this," Kerr said. "Got half the season ahead of us."
That's true. But the problem is, the Warriors start the second half of a brutal stretch against the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz and Lakers. That's three games off the bat the Warriors could very well lose in.
So, if Lee is correct in that the second half of the season is more important because of playoff seeding, winning just one of these final three games would give the Warriors a little bit of cushion during that initial second-half push instead of making themselves dig out of a deep hole.
Now, the only chance for that is against the Suns. And it couldn't be under worse circumstances.
The Suns are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, sitting in the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. To make matters worse for the Warriors, they will be playing on the tail end of a back-to-back, and won't arrive in Phoenix until around 3 a.m.
So the cards are stacked against the Warriors for Thursday night's game.
And that circles us back to why beating the Trail Blazers was so important. And they had a really good shot at it.
Despite barely getting any scoring from players not named Steph Curry, Golden State did a good job of keeping Lillard quiet almost all night. They had the lead and the ball entering the final 60 seconds.
Then, gut punch after gut punch.
The Warriors might be exuding a cool demeanor heading into their final game before the break, but there is some heat on them. They may not be saying this is a must-win game, but for many reasons it is. The Warriors need to end the first half of the season on some sort of positive note, and now they only have one chance to do so.