As soon as the media entered the Warriors’ locker room at US Airways Center, PG Stephen Curry and PF David Lee issued a warning.
“Don’t come over here. It’s cold over here.”
The two had combined to shoot 4-for-30 from the field. But there they were, smiling and joking. On a night that could’ve gone so differently, and usually would have in the past, the Warriors wound up vindicating themselves by stealing an 87-85 win from Phoenix.
To be sure, it was not the kind of performance you’d expect from a team with so much skill and chemistry. Golden State’s showing Wednesday would’ve made Rick Ross dressed in drag look attractive.
The numbers didn’t quite reveal the ugliness. The Warriors shot 38 percent, turned the ball over 18 times (many of them unforced and sloppy), and made some guy named P.J. Tucker look like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
If the Warriors play like this all season, it will be a long one. But how they played was a matter for another day. The key on Wednesday: despite it all, they won.
MARK JACKSON: “I’d rather not win this way, but it is satisfying. Truth be told, we would have found a way to lose this game last year. We would have panicked. We acquired some key guys and are a better basketball team, and it was a big-time win for us.”
*MVP: No doubt, Carl Landry. He saved the Warriors from a demoralizing defeat by scoring 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. He did all of his work inside before nailing a jumper with 54 seconds left to put the Warriors up for good.
Landry, when the Warriors signed him two years, $8 million this offseason, was expected to bring inside scoring, physicality and experience. He did all of that in the opener.
LANDRY: “My teammates did a good job of finding me in positions to make buckets. Guys are going to have nights like that where shots don’t fall. But that’s where you have a good team like we do. A deep team. We’ve got guys that can make plays.”
*MDP: The Most Disappointing Player award will be shared by Curry and Lee.
Lee was the worst, actually. Not only was he terrible on offense, going 2-for-16. But Luis Scola was schooling him as well.
Curry wasn’t better offensively, but at least he was productive in other areas, grabbing 7 rebounds. And at least he has a plausible excuse: the pressure and distraction of having signed a $44 million contract earlier that day.
JACKSON: “I told him he earned his money. He didn’t have to earn it tonight.”
One player told Curry: “Relax. The ink is dry.”
Lee, however, had no such excuse. He was just bad for no good reason. Still, Curry deserves co-MDP honors. It was an anomaly, for sure, but they earned it.
KEY MOMENT I: Andrew Bogut scored the first basket of the season for the Warriors, inside none the less. He finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes.
BOGUT: “It’s been a long time coming for me; it’s been 9 months since I’ve played basketball competitively. I felt great, body felt great. I felt like after the first three minutes when my wind was down a little bit, I felt great. Early on in the game it was kind of tough. Once I pushed through that and got my second wind I felt great.”
*YEAH, WHAT HE SAID: “As coach Jerry Sloan would say, a lot of games in the NBA aren’t going to be played with a tuxedo on. You have to be able to get down into the grit, grind your teeth and find a way to get the W. I’m happy we dealt with some adversity early. It allows us to start building some of that character we’ve been missing around here.” – PG Jarrett Jack
*SERIOUSLY?: After a rough night, Curry had a chance to come through in the clutch. He couldn’t buy a shot with his new $44 million contract and he was back to making head-scratching turnovers. But he powered through, stayed aggressive and made some winning plays down the stretch.
Then, with the Warriors up two and 3.3 seconds left, Curry went to the free throw line with a chance to win it. But the career 90 percent free throw shooter missed both.
Fortunately for him, the Suns never got off the game-winning attempt and the Warriors won anyway.
CURRY: “That pretty much summed up how my night went.”
*Xs AND Os: It was an up and down night for Mark Jackson and his staff. The head coach looks like a genius for bringing Brandon Rush off the bench. Rush carried the Warriors in the first half, scoring 12 points in the second quarter as they built a 17-point lead.
If Wednesday was any indicator, the Warriors need Rush coming off the bench.
Then, the game got away from Jackson. He had some odd substitution patterns going on as Phoenix took control. He couldn’t figure out the right combination and seemed to have the productive guys on the bench at the wrong time.
And if he knew Bogut was only going to play 20 minutes, why use them all in the first three quarters, especially after Bogut proved effective. It would seem like you’d save about five minutes for the fourth quarter. Bogut agrees.
BOGUT: “If we’d lost, I’d be more pissed. But we won so I feel a bit better. … I almost wrestled with coach to play in the fourth quarter. But they shut me down.”
However, with Curry struggling mightily offensively,Jackson made a key switch. He went with a three-guard rotation of Curry, Jack and Klay Thompson. In this trio, Curry played shooting guard. Immediately, he ran Curry off a screen, got him an in-rhythm shot and drilled it, ending a streak of 10 straight misses.
Jack proved to be the steadying hand at point guard. Curry was able to get a different look, working from the wing. And Klay Thompson hit a timely 3-pointer.
Another smart move by Jackson: sticking with Landry down the stretch. With just over five minutes left, Phoenix brought Gortat back in the game. He’s a big, physical center who gives the Warriors problems. It seemed like the perfect time for Jackson to go with Festus Ezeli to match-up with Gortat. Instead, he stuck with the smaller tandem of Landry and Lee.
Still, Jackson is going to have to get his rotation down soon. The randomized, situational approach just never seems to work.
*DEFINING RUN: When Jackson went with the three guards, at the 9:09 mark, the Warriors trailed 73-66. A defensive 3 seconds violation seconds later had them down by eight.
From that point on, the Warriors outscored Phoenx 21-11. The Suns were 5-for-16 shooting the rest of the way with two turnovers and Golden State outrebounded the Suns 12-8.
*KEY MOMENT II: In the fourth quarter, with the game in the balance, Curry had some words of inspiration for his teammates. During a timeout with about a minute left, the struggling point guard gave a speech about really changing the culture.
JACK: “Steph said we didn’t win games like this last year, and there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that that was changing this year. We were going to find the will to win.”
*BEFORE YOU GO: Must mention rookie Festus Ezeli was quietly good. Obviously, he was overshadowed. But in his NBA debut, he was physical and aggressive. He had 5 rebounds in 14 minutes and you knew when he was on the court.