- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
PHOENIX — Stephen Curry knew the answer.
The Golden State Warriors’ star guard knew that after leading his undermanned team to an impressive 116-107 win over the Phoenix Suns on Christmas Day on Saturday in front of a loud, sold-out crowd at Footprint Center, the proud team had just pulled out its best win of the season.
“I think all things considered, yeah,” Curry said after dropping 33 points on the Suns. “Nice to win on Christmas, nice to win on the road against the best record in the league, short-handed. All the other context of the situation — a huge win. Everybody stepped up. It was a great atmosphere. Just toughed it out at the end, and obviously Otto [Porter Jr.] took over down the stretch, so that was huge all the way around.”
With the win, the Warriors jumped a half-game ahead of the Suns, with a league-best 27-6 record. In the process, Curry, who went just 4-for-21 from the field in a loss late last month in Phoenix, built more momentum for the MVP campaign that has been gaining steam as the Warriors pile up win after win.
“Steph was amazing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Facing that defense with so much attention on him, missing three of our best shooters, for him to see that type of defense and find his way to 33 points — he was a plus-24 — so even when he was not making shots, he was still impacting the game just by pulling the defense over towards him. Steph was brilliant, so was Draymond [Green] — I thought [Kevon] Looney did a hell of a job as well, so it was a great team win.”
What made this particular win even more impressive was that the Warriors did it without so many rotation players — against a healthy Suns squad, in the NBA’s marquee showcase on Christmas. With Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and Moses Moody all in health and safety protocols, along with several assistant coaches, Andre Iguodala (knee swelling) still out and Klay Thompson (Achilles/ACL rehab) and James Wiseman (meniscus rehab) still a few weeks from returning, the Warriors used a variety of different lineups to slow down a Suns team that has been riding high for well over a month.
In what has become custom throughout the start of the Warriors’ charmed beginning, they received contributions from up and down the roster. Veteran forward Otto Porter Jr. scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter — hitting several clutch shots in the final moments — to help seal a win that provided the Warriors with even more confidence as they roll into January with Thompson on the way back. Curry said he spoke to Porter a couple times before he signed with the organization over the summer and always believed he could still put together performances like he did against the Suns.
“Of course,” Curry said. “Don’t disrespect him like that. That man can shoot the ball — I know he’s been through a lot of injuries and all that, but he’s been working his butt off since he got here this summer. And you could tell he does look confident — confident and composed with what he was trying to do, getting to his spots and knocking them down so it’s big.”
Aside from Porter’s big shots, the Warriors received an unexpected lift from recent 10-day signee Quinndary Weatherspoon, who went 3-for-3 from the field in 14 minutes while opening up some eyes with his defense. After the game he said that several people in the organization said it was Thompson who was singing his praises to the front office after seeing the way Weatherspoon defended him during several GLeague practices.
“I’ve been working with Klay for three weeks now and he’s been telling the organization how I’ve been hipping him and defending him to get him back better,” Weatherspoon said. “So I kind of figured it was going to happen so I was just trying to stay ready and stay positive.”
Positivity emanated from the Warriors locker room on Saturday — especially as Curry exorcized some of the demons he had in Christmases past. Coming into Saturday’s game, Curry had yet to score 20 points in a Christmas game over eight previous contests. After coming out victorious on Saturday, while going 10-for-27 from the field, Curry knows that his team continues to look like a group that is growing towards the kind of championship contention that many around the league were unsure could happen again when the season began.
“We were here a couple weeks ago, and it didn’t go our way,” Curry said. “But we competed really hard, had a chance the second half to steal the win, so to feel the atmosphere, understand the margins of what wins a game even if you’re so many guys down. Our defensive presence tonight was unreal. Everybody who stepped foot on the floor took that personally, and we just stuck with it. So a step in the right direction looking at the playoffs — which is still four months away.”
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