Game Story for Tomorrow
PHOENIX — As usual, the ball was in the hands of Monta Ellis with the game on the line. But this time, Ellis was matched up against his nemesis, Phoenix small forward Grant Hill.
Ellis dribbled hard down the right side of the lane, pivoted away from the basket and pulled up for a turn-around fade-away over Hill. Nailed it.
Ellis’ game-winner lifted Golden State to a 106-104 win at Phoenix, saving the Warriors from another heart-breaking defeat as they blew a 21-point lead. Ellis’ game-winner, the most timely of several clutch baskets late, was the highlight of the night. But the Warriors won the game thanks to defense, grit and a stubborn refusal to lose.
Down the stretch, the Warriors were without point guard Stephen Curry, who left the game after playing just 10 minutes thanks to a right foot injury. They also didn’t have big man Ekpe Udoh, who banged his left knee again and was limited enough for coach Mark Jackson to keep him on the bench.
Still, the Warriors hung on. Even after their lead dwindled to nine, to five, to two, and eventually to a 98-96 deficit, the Warriors hung on.
“If I had to design a win,“ Jackson said, “I would have designed it this way. Itw as much better for our future to grind out a win. … We buckled and were disciplined enough on both sides of the basketball to come out of here with a win. It was a great victory, absolutely a great victory.”
The Warriors led 59-45 at the half. They were dominated by the Suns’ frontcourt in the third quarter — Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat combined for 27 points — and the Warriors’ lead was dwindled to 83-79 entering the fourth quarter.
The game was tied at 100 with just over two minutes left. Ellis put the Warriors up by two with a 21-footer. Nate Robinson came up with a steal and drew a foul. His free throws put the Warriors up 104-100.
But a Frye putback dunk, followed by a Warriors turnover and a driving layup by Hill, had the game tied again at 104 with 11.9 seconds left. It appeared as if Golden State was on its way to losing yet another close game. But Ellis broke that cycle.
The Warriors (13-17) not only snapped a 13-game losing streak in Phoenix, but they head into the All-Star break with back-to-back victories. Golden State is still 3.5 games behind the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Warriors return from the break with five straight on the road. Their next 20 games, 11 of which are on the road, are played over 32 days.
Still, after Ellis’s game-winner, the Warriors are feeling pretty good about themselves, having won five of their last eight.
“We played together as a team,” Ellis said. “My teammates, I give them full credit — catching the ball when I was passing it, setting great screens for me, getting me open shots and making big shots down the stretch and getting defensive stops on the other end.”
Ellis traditionally has a tough time against Phoenix, especially in U.S. Airways Center. Suns coach Alvin Gentry likes Hill on Ellis because Hills’ combination of size (6-foot-8), athleticism and smarts makes scoring difficult for Ellis.
In his last four games at Phoenix, Ellis averaged 13.3 points on 33.9 percent shooting.
With Hill all over him again, Wednesday proved to be a struggle at times for Ellis, who missed 13 of his 23 shots. But he scored eight points in the fourth quarter and came through when it mattered most.
“He needed that,” Jackson said, “and we needed that.”
* Curry left the game late in the first quarter after injuring his right foot on a drive to the basket. He said he felt sharp pain on the inside-bottom of his foot. X-rays were negative, but tests showed Curry sprained a tendon in his foot known as the posterior tibialis. It is the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the bone inside the foot.
Curry tried to come back in for the final 18 seconds of the first half. But he could barely move and told Jackson he couldn’t go.
Curry said he’s going to rest and get treatment. He said he hasn’t made a decision yet on whether he will participate in the Skills Challenge on Saturday as part of All-Star Weekend.
He wasn’t the only hobbled Warrior. Udoh banged his left knee again. He sat out the rest of the first half and received treatment at half time. Udoh was able to play in the second half, but was limited to 12 minutes of action.
* Jackson decided to stick with center Andris Biedrins as the starting center despite the emergence of Udoh. Jackson said he likes Biedrins’ post defense and the way he defends the pick-and-roll. He said he also likes Biedrins’ size. But Jackson went small down the stretch, opting not to play Biedrins against the Suns’ frontline.
Biedrins finished with two points, three rebounds and a block in 18 minutes.
“ I think it’s the smart thing to do,” Jackson said. “Ekpe has certainly made a case to start with his play as of late. That would be the easy decision to make. But he gives us a post presence with that second unit. If he plays the way he’s been playing, it won’t matter whether he starts or not. He’s going to play a heck of a lot.”