SAN FRANCISCO – With the Warriors beginning the week with the best record in the NBA and promptly losing two of three for the first time this season, let worries run rampant. Brace for panic in the anxious quarters of Dub Nation.
Pump the brakes, though. The great unraveling is not at hand.
Once past the 112-107 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night on the savage half of a back-to-back set and the message in the standings – a 1-2 record for the week – much was learned about the Warriors, and nearly all of it speaks well of them.
Mostly, that they definitely have the hunger that is a baseline for any team aspiring to win the games that matter most.
“Obviously not in it for moral victories, but we came out and fought,” Damion Lee said. “We had a huge deficit early but continued to fight. That’s who we are and what we’re about night in and night out. Good win (Friday), very emotionally high game, but coming out and having to compete today because that’s what the NBA is about. You got 82 games, got a game every day, back-to-back, every other day. It's just about coming out and competing.”
The most extraordinary illustration of this came in the fourth quarter, a 12-minute mud fight, with the Warriors doing most of the slinging. They won the quarter and because of it had a chance to win a game that looked like a built-in loss.
Coming off that Friday victory over the Suns in the most intense game of the season, the Warriors took a 20-hour break before greeting the Spurs and giving them the first quarter, as feared by coach Steve Kerr. Trap game, he said. But then his team summoned what little vitality it had and was the better team over the final three quarters, outscoring the Spurs by 10.
In the fourth quarter, with dead legs and heavy arms and soup flowing through their veins, the Warriors somehow held the Spurs to two points – one field goal – in the first nine minutes, wiping an 11-point deficit and pulling into a 101-101 tie.
This was their “championship DNA,” as Stephen Curry calls it, on full display.
It wasn’t enough to salvage the game, but it was plenty enough to reveal who they are.
“They were just drained,” Kerr said. “The effort was there. How do you question the effort when you're down 22 in the second half and climb all the way back and take the lead and have a chance to win? I mean, there would never be any questioning our effort. Our team is – we got a bunch of competitors, a bunch of gamers and they competed. They gave everything. We just didn't have quite enough.”
The Warriors lost by five on a night when Curry was 1-of-11 from the field at the half and 7-of-28 for the game. The other four starters had ragged plus-minus totals, from minus-14 for Draymond Green to minus-26 for Jordan Poole.
How did the Warriors hang around? Pure pluck and a bench that defended with spirit while outscoring the San Antonio bench 43-30. Golden State’s bench shot 55.9 percent (19-of-34) from the bench, its starters 37.5 percent (21-of-56). Juan Toscano-Anderson and Lee led the way, combining for 27 points and 14 rebounds.
“It's going to be fun to go back and pick out the things we did well and the things we did poorly,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But they really showed their championship mettle by coming back and playing as hard as they did. The bench came off and did a great job for them, starters came back in and did what they did.
“You can see why it's a special program and why they're championship caliber guys, it's not just about talent, it's all the other stuff and they’ve got it in spades.”
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After losing by eight at Phoenix on Tuesday, beating the Suns by 22 at home Friday and dragging into Chase Center on Saturday with more desire than stamina, the Warriors headed home with a week that was at once their worst and probably most impressive.
The three-game results might appear ominous, but it’s not at all. The Warriors won the game they wanted most. With 59 more to play, it’s much too early for anguish.
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