Warriors show signs of who they strive to be in loss to Suns


SAN FRANCISCO -- Draymond Green counts wins the only way a true competitor does: First by the final score, and more importantly, by the three championship rings he has to his name over a decade with the Warriors. 

"We don't do moral victories around here," Green said Wednesday night after the Warriors' 107-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns. "We've won way too much to have moral victories." 

There you have it. This wasn't a moral victory, it was the Warriors' fourth straight loss and seventh in their last eight games. It also was the closest they have resembled their early-season dominance in a long, long time.

And nonetheless, against the best team in basketball. 

"But I think tonight, we found ourselves," Draymond continued. "We found our competitive spirit, we found our defense, and that's something that we can build on. Now, Saturday's going to be a tough game and it's a meaningful game.

"We got to make sure we come out, play our brand of basketball and if we come out and do that -- play the same brand of basketball we did today -- cutdown 21 turnovers, we give ourselves a chance to win." 

The competitive spirit, the defense and having a chance to win all seemed like an afterthought early on for the Warriors. They found themselves down 12-2 in a hurry, which easily could have been a recipe for a blowout loss to a Suns team that won their 62nd game this season, tying the franchise record for regular-season wins. 

With a combination of non-stop pesky defense from Gary Payton II and a red-hot Jordan Poole, the Warriors woke up, had all of Chase Center on its feet and gave everyone a reminder of what this team can and should be. All without Steph Curry. 

Payton entered the game for Klay Thompson with the Warriors down 15-7 and Devin Booker about to make his second of two free throws. He didn't come out the rest of the first quarter and was a plus-12, making his energy and effort felt all over the floor. For how great Payton was on defense, Poole was even better on offense. 

Poole scored 15 points in the first quarter alone. He scored 10 straight as the Warriors came alive, and 12 of their first 20 points belonged to the third-year pro who quickly is turning into a star before our eyes. He went 6-for-7 from the floor in the first quarter and made three of his four 3-point attempts. 

Just like that, the Warriors went from being down by 10 to leading 32-29 after the first frame. 

"Love the competitiveness," Steve Kerr said. "It was a great performance in terms of our defense and our energy and just the fight from start to finish. We just couldn't close the game, couldn't finish it out, but I think the main thing we can come out of that game recognizing our team. That's our team. 

"It's a great sign and that's what it needs to look like from here on out, but with a little better decision making offensively and we go from there and we got a chance to be really good."

There's always a "but,", especially after a loss like that. It's what makes the final result so frustrating and so encouraging at the same time. 

Poole looked like a superstar. He scored a season-high 38 points, which tied his career-high. He also wasn't a one-dimensional player while pulling off a whole lot of Steph-like sequences. Poole's nine rebounds were a new career-high, and GP2 reminded reporters that Poole should be awarded with a 10th rebound later on. Don't forget about his seven assists, too. 

This also was the best Green has looked since returning from a 31-game absence just over two weeks ago. His eight points were his most since his return, as were his 10 rebounds and his seven assists. Plus, his 31 minutes and 28 seconds of time on the court were his highest since Jan. 5. 

Golden State outrebounded Phoenix, had six more assists, had four blocks to the Suns' one, held them to barely over 41 percent shooting and allowed only seven 3-pointers. That tied an opponent season-low for the Warriors. 

The Warriors also committed seven turnovers and seven fouls after only one quarter. They wound up turning the ball over 21 times, and the Suns scored 29 points off them -- tying a Warriors season-high by an opponent. The Warriors finished with 24 fouls to the Suns' 19, and the Suns made four more free throws than them in a game that Golden State lost by four points. 

RELATED: 'Amazing' Poole carried Dubs, through pain, in loss to Suns

Pulling off his best Steph impression, Poole also didn't receive much help when it came to scoring the ball. Andrew Wiggins had 19 points, but went 6-for-16 from the field and 2-for-6 on 3-pointers. Poole's 38 points came on 22 shots. Klay shot the ball 21 times, but only put up 13 points while making only five shots and going 1-for-10 from deep. 

"There are some positive things we can take away from this game, but ultimately, we are still in a rut and we have to dig ourselves out," Green said. 

So much went right for the Warriors. Enough went wrong against the favorites to win it all, and without the one player who changes everything. This isn't a moral vitcory.

It is a big, big step in the right direction with the playoffs now right around the corner.

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