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Mark Jackson likes to say his Warriors are a "no-excuse'' team, that no matter the circumstances, there always is a path to victory. Their quest is to find it.
The coach said it again after the Warriors' 122-109 loss to the Suns on Saturday night in Phoenix, and I understand his thinking. He wants to instill a willful mentality. He does not want to open the door, even slightly, to the thought of surrender.
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But the Warriors, clearly diminished by the loss of center Andrew Bogut and power forward David Lee, didn't so much surrender as they were overrun. The Suns were bigger, and played to their size. They were deeper, and used that advantage to own the glass and run at every opportunity.
The Warriors (30-21) would have needed an extraordinary effort to beat such odds.
And yet they mimicked their coach with their unwillingness to accept it.
“We have to get it done,'' said forward Harrison Barnes, who scored 23 points in doing his part to replace Lee's offense. "When we go into the postseason there’s injuries that happen, and we can’t say, ‘Oh we don’t have this person, we don’t have that person.’ We just have to find a way to get it done and we didn’t do it tonight.”
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Another reason Phoenix (30-20) was superior: Goran Dragic was the best player on the floor, with 34 points and 10 assists. Jackson tried three different defenders and even resorted to some zone. Nothing worked, as the point guard busted open a tight game with a 3-pointer that gave the Suns a 107-100 lead with 6:56 left, seemingly taking the air out of the Warriors.
"It wasn’t like we played bad defense on any of those shots,'' Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said. "He was shooting like 30-something (percent) from the 3-point line and he made 6 of 7. And I’d say all but two were contested, so it’s tough. They were dagger shots, a big-time player made big-time shots so we’ll tip our cap to him.”
Dragic scored another 10 points after his big 3-pointer, while the Warriors totaled 9. Curry, brilliant so often lately, finished with a team-high 28 points but was scoreless in the final quarter.
"He got it going and he’s a guy that, I talked about before the game, he’s got a case to be made that he should be in the All-Star Game – the way he’s playing,'' Jackson said of Dragic. "He’s making great decisions out there, whether it be scoring for himself or making plays and he made it tough on our defense.”
The Warriors were clobbered on the boards, 45-34, without their two best rebounders. And without Bogut there protecting the paint, they were victimized by numerous Suns attacking the rim, particularly in the second half, when Phoenix shot 62.8 percent.
"Obviously (we were) missing those guys,'' Jackson said of Bogut and Lee. "But we still have more than enough to win ball games. Give (the Suns) credit, they played extremely well. They’re a very good offensive team, they spread you out and they make plays – it’s especially tough when they have it going.''
Without Bogut and Lee, the Suns had it going Saturday, and it was enough to block the Warriors' path to victory. No excuses, just defeat at the hands of a team that was better equipped on this particular night.
THE GOOD: Barnes, at long last, may be back. After spending the better part of the last two months flailing about in search of his game, he was outstanding on offense, scoring 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He was the main reason the Warriors bench outscored that of Phoenix 36-22.
THE BAD: Aside from Iguodala, who snagged a team-high eight, the rebounding was atrocious. The Suns were bigger and longer, but rebounding is as much about desire as it is about size. Phoenix forward P.J. Tucker, at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, grabbed a game-high 15.
The Warriors, who ranked No. 2 in the league in second-half field-goal-percentage defense (41.2 percent), allowed Phoenix to shoot 62.8 percent after halftime.
THE TAKE: This was a game in which the no-excuse Warriors needed spectacular defensive effort and uncommon rebounding to prevail. Neither materialized. They needed a strong game from Draymond Green and didn't get it. They needed a way to stop Dragic, who refused to be stopped. The Warriors didn't blow this one; it was taken from them.