NBC Sports

Warriors finding the best of themselves at the right time

NBC Sports
Jordan Poole, Steph Curry

They’ve committed dozens of countless childish fouls, and had a few too many moments of inattentive defense. They’ve been victims of rebounding deficits and those reckless turnovers and that leave professionals using a sheepish tap of the chest to plead guilty.

They’ve also had games when too many open shots go unmade, like Tuesday night.

But give these Warriors their due. The repeated self-immolations have not crushed them but has instead created scar tissue that gives them character. After five months spent seeking an identity and wondering if they’d ever find it, they have discovered it.

It was on full display over the past two nights. The Warriors followed up a dramatic win over the Jazz on Monday with a 122-116 victory over the Suns on Tuesday that was nothing less than a triumph of character.

“We’ve had the foundation for what you’re seeing now. We’ve had that all year,” coach Steve Kerr said, citing three-time champions Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, along with two-time champ Kevon Looney. “But we’ve needed the season for our young guys to grow. We wouldn’t have won this game a few months ago.”

No, they wouldn’t have. The Warriors entered training camp with a roster in flux and once the season began, as Kerr tinkered with rotations, never went more than two weeks without an injury getting in the way of progress.

 

It was three champs surrounded by a group of students, which is why they were more clumsy than graceful, more effort than engagement, more 'uh-oh' than 'wow.' And why they kept losing games they couldn’t have won and why they were run off the court like a bunch of weekend warriors at the Y.

But they kept coming, and at times that persistence -- along with the three champs -- was enough to pull out a few victories.

“It seemed like we’d be right there and then we’d take a step or two back,” Green said. “We’ve been able to hold on to it these last few weeks, for the most part. This team is growing. This team has been a high-character team all year, regardless of how it has gone. Everybody has stuck with it and stayed committed to getting better.

“A couple months ago, we probably would have lost this game by 40.”

Despite getting open looks, the Warriors in the first half were 4-of-22 from deep, with Curry missing all five of his attempts. It seemed buckets were purposely avoiding them.

They couldn’t defend, either. The Suns shot 69.6 percent in the first quarter and were at 57.4 percent through three. Phoenix led by as much as 16 and was up 98-92 entering the fourth quarter.

But the Warriors, as they did at the high points of the season, kept wiping away the dirt and blood and coming back for more.

With Curry surrounded by defenders and limited to 21 points on 7-of-22 shooting, Andrew Wiggins scored 38 points to carry the offense. Jordan Poole delivered 20, in 20 minutes off the bench. Kent Bazemore added 17.

“For us to get that win and Steph to struggle says a lot about the growth of this team,” Green said.

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They stayed in the game with perseverance and they won it with a display of fourth-quarter defense that was stunning in the wake of exerting so much energy to scratch out a win over surging Utah one night earlier. The Suns were held to seven points in the first six minutes of the fourth and shot 33.3 percent for the quarter.

The team that previously could not suddenly could.

“Tonight felt like a playoff game,” Kerr said. “Phoenix was very well prepared; they had the day off yesterday. They come out with a great game plan to take the ball out of Steph’s hands. For us to be able to withstand a great team, playing with a lead and bottling up Steph pretty well, to come back and finish out the win was fantastic.”

The Warriors are in the play-in tournament, two wins away from taking the No. 8 seed. We don’t know yet know the opponent, but indicators point toward a trip to Los Angeles for a showdown with the Lakers.

 

Those same indicators suggest the Warriors, road underdogs against a healthy LA team, will make a quick exit to the offseason. And maybe they will.

But no matter what happens, they’ve done enough this week to etch a place in Warriors lore as a team that showed zero signs of surrender. Getting to a first-round series would be quite the accomplishment for this bunch.

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