Despite taking on the top two teams in the NBA's Western Conference on back-to-back nights with just eight healthy players in rotation and Steph struggling, the Warriors' supporting cast came alive to inspire a late fourth quarter comeback at home over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night.
As Jordan Poole walked out of the Warriors media room at Chase Center after his postgame Zoom conference last night, he made a comment to one of the team’s communication’s staff about the duration of his interview.
“Took me a lil longer than usual today, huh,” he said in reference to the time he spent taking questions. “What was I, five minutes?”
“4:44,” she responded.
“Ahhhhhhh,” you could hear emphatically as he ran out hurriedly and his excitement floated out of range of the mic.
The moment for Poole speaks volumes to the enthusiasm surrounding last night’s victory on the second night of a back to back against the NBA’s top two teams, as well as the role he played in both wins.
The Warriors were facing the second-place Phoenix Suns after beating the league-leading Utah Jazz the night prior, and for most of the first quarter, both teams seemed content to trade buckets while the pace of the game was established, with the Warriors leading 21-20 after seven minutes of play.
However, that would be their last lead until 1:43 remained in the entire contest, with Jordan Poole knocking down a buttery 31-foot three-point jumper to bring the score to 116-113 in favor of the home team.
JP for the lead?— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 12, 2021
The Suns let their opponent hang around, as Draymond Green pointed out to his teammates during a time out in the third quarter, and the Warriors were able to punish them for it. Green registered his 30th career triple-double on the night on the way to a 122-116 victory.
This was not the case of a visiting team with nothing to play for, as the Suns have all but clinched the number two seed in the West. The game carried a postseason-like atmosphere throughout, with both teams using the contest as an exercise in preparation for what’s to come. And the Suns were relentless on defense all evening.
“These last two games have been so important for us against the two teams with the best records in the league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Tonight felt like a playoff game. Phoenix was very well prepared, they had the day off yesterday, so they came out with a great game plan to take the ball out of Steph's hands."
“That team was locked in,” Draymond told reporters in his postgame Zoom conference. “And that’s why they’re right up there at the top of the standings… They’re very disciplined and they don’t make many mistakes. They make you beat them, and tonight we had to beat them. They didn’t beat themselves, we had to go take the game and we were able to do that.”
The Warriors played two of the NBA’s best on back-to-back nights with an eight-man rotation, yet played some of their best ball, both on offense and defense, in the fourth quarter of the second game against a rested opponent.
Their process is unfolding, their confidence is building, and it was evident in Kent Bazemore’s postgame interview.
“We knew who we were, it’s just the process of winning," Bazemore said of the team’s journey up to this point, “You gotta go through the ups and the downs, you gotta lose those close games to really figure out what you really need to work on. The ball has to bounce the right way here and there… you take your wins how you can get ‘em, and keep on truckin’.”
While Steph has been splashing his way to a potential scoring title and making a damn-good case for adding a third MVP award to his trophy case, enough cannot be said about how much his supporting cast has been doing of late to chip in.
Poole has begun to materialize into all of the potential he’s flashed the past two seasons, dropping 40 across the past two nights while sprinkling in some of his best Curry impressions, knocking down timely shots from distances few would even fathom, and with confidence.
Andrew Wiggins has been silencing his haters, almost silently, and while his 38 points on 17-of-24 from the field against the Suns boosted his season average to just below 19 PPG, it has been his defensive output, taking to challenge the opponent’s most prolific scorer in every matchup, that has truly helped the Warriors become the team they thought they could be.
Despite his high usage night in and night out, Andrew Wiggins has not missed a single game this season.
“I try to get treatment, take care of my body, eat right,” Wiggins told reporters after the game, “and they have a good staff on this team to help take care of my body, that allows me to play every game.”
“He’s answering the bell,” Draymond said about his teammate.” Defensively, offensively. Tonight, man, he was incredible. And you could see it from the beginning. He was attacking, he was getting offensive rebounds, hitting jump shots, getting into the post, he scored every way you possibly can tonight. He’s continued to grow, and it’s been great to watch.”
Kerr put it all in perspective once the game had ended, and to his credit, his team is right where he said they would be all along, surging at the end of the year when it really starts to matter.
“The thing is, we’ve got several guys that’ve got championship experience,” Kerr said in his postgame presser. “We’ve had the foundation for what you’re seeing now, we’ve had that all year, but we’ve needed the season in order for our young guys to grow.”
“We wouldn’t have won this game a few months ago,” he continued. “We’ve grown quite a bit over the course of the year, and now you’ve got a team that is ready to win a game like this because you’ve got Steph and Draymond and [Kevon Looney], who already know how, and they’ll lead the way, but everyone else has learned how to follow.”
“We’ve said it all year, you could kinda feel it coming, you could feel a run coming, but it just hadn’t happened,” Dray said, echoing his coach. “It seemed like we’d be right there, and take a step or two back. We’ve been able to hold on to it these last few weeks, for the most part, and this team is growing.”
“It’s definitely a character win,” he reiterated. “It says a lot about the growth of this team. A couple months ago, we probably would have lost this game by 40. It’s a lot of growth.”
There are many who have felt strongly at times that this Golden State team could have been competing at this elite level sooner, but that does not distract from the fact that it’s an exciting time to be a Dubs fan once more, with the play-in tournament two games away and another chance to shock the world.
The Warriors, with the way the standings are currently and the layout of remaining matchups across the league, could very well see the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs as the seven seed, which harkens back to the beginning of their championship dynasty when not much was expected of the team come postseason.
However, this return to lowered expectations for winning is making it nearly impossible for some sports writers to not draw comparisons to the famous ‘We Believe’ team of the late 2000’s.
As you could imagine, some players are not having it.
“I love the ‘We Believe’ team,” Draymond said when asked about the parallels, “but they had their thing and we got ours. The ‘We Believe’ days are over, we won three championships. I’m not part of no ‘We Believe’ team, and that’s no disrespect to the OGs that came before me. I love those guys and what they started here is incredible.
Take a deep breath, Warriors fans.
Immediately after beating the NBA’s top two teams on back to back nights, with the franchise’s winning ways still lingering in the not-so-far-off, it would be easy to start feeling feelings or getting heavy handed on Twitter and in Reddit forums.
Yet, the Warriors still have an extremely uphill battle, having to first find a win in the play-in tournament before earning four more against a much tougher opponent. And with the way the flow of games in the playoff is slowed down and teams are able to make adjustments from night to night with added rest, winning four is a completely different story than winning one or two.
But some might like it better that way.
“For a second there we were the hunters, then we were the hunted for five, six years, whatever it was, and now we’re hunting again,” Draymond reminisced postgame. “And that’s always a fun position to be in when you’re huntin’, goin’ after everybody else. Obviously I’ve experienced both, but I love hunting, that’s fun.”
The Warriors will have another chance to 'go hunting' when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at Chase Center Friday night at 6:30 p.m. PT.
Top Image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images