Phoenix Suns players spoke with plenty of relief in their voices after they beat the previously undefeated Warriors 107-95 on Sunday night.
Who cares that the Warriors were without Klay Thompson and David Lee. They still had one of the league's best players in Stephen Curry and a top-notch defense spearheaded by Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
Who cares that the Warriors were on a back-to-back. No one discounts Suns losses because they were b2b's or we wouldn't be wringing our hands over 2 of the Suns' 3 losses this season.
The Suns second unit of Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Miles Plumlee and Marcus Morris spearheaded a 40-12 run from the last 30 seconds of the third quarter through the last two minutes of the fourth. During the run, the Suns induced 10 personal fouls that turned into 16 free throws, made 5 of 10 threes and defensively held the Warriors to 29% shooting with 3 steals, 2 blocks and 12 rebounds.
"I think the big key was we finally played some defense and stayed active," Hornacek said of the big turnaround in the fourth quarter. "They are on the second game of a back-to-back, they had a tough one last night in Houston. We have had that situation and I told our team with our depth, maybe we can wear them out by the end of the game. That is kind of what happened, they got a little tired at the end and their shots were a little short and a lot of that is because we played good defense."
Two players, Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green, accounted for 35 of the Suns' 40 points (and all 16 free throws) during the 40-12 run as what Randy Hill of FoxSports Arizona dubbed the "Chuck Wagon" rolled right over the Warriors. The run started with Isaiah Thomas making a concerted effort to draw shooting fouls. He shot 13 of the Suns 16 free throws during that stretch.
"I was just making plays," Isaiah Thomas said afterward. "I was trying to be aggressive and I would get in the lane and just make a play. Guys were open and they knocked down shots. It started at the defensive end though, we got stops and got out running."
Thomas (16) and Green (15) are the first two Suns players to score at least 15 points each in the same quarter since Goran Dragic and Channing Frye did it way back in 2010.
Speaking of Goran Dragic, he was perfectly happy watching the second unit close this one out.
Dragic had a great start to the game, making all 3 of his threes and scoring 13 points in the opening quarter. He did not score in the second quarter - a terrible one for the Suns that should have ended in a 20-point deficit but was only 11 - and threw up 6 more in the third.
But he was thrilled to watch the second unit just blow up the Warriors.
"I was just enjoying sitting in the end," he said with a big smile. "The whole five that played they were playing good defense and on offense they were hitting shots. That's the beauty of this sport, everybody can play. We know that their game was back-to-back last night they played in Houston, still they have a great team and I think that we played well."
During the run, P.J. Tucker keyed the defense. He had 2 steals, 2 assists, a block and a rebound during that stretch.
"P.J. (Tucker) is a big part of the defensive intensity," coach Hornacek said. "When he is out there doing it and he's yelling at guys to get up on people, it's contagious. When they see him out there doing it, then the other guys step it up. I thought Isaiah (Thomas) did a nice job of finding the shooters, and then he attacked and got some midrange shots. All the guys coming off the bench were huge."
The first half wasn't as rosy as the final score. The Suns once again struggled to find consistency, and a disastrous second quarter almost ruined the night for the Suns. But they just stuck around, and sometimes that's what you need to do to put yourself in a position to win eventually.
"I thought we lost the game in the second quarter, really, to be honest with you," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. "I mean, we could have been up twenty at the half. But careless turnovers again, so they hang around. I thought we were close to breaking them during that second quarter, but because we kept turning it over and making bad fouls, sending them to the line, they were able to just hang in there. And once they found something they could latch on to, which was that big lineup with Isaiah Thomas at the point and we started to turn it over again and they get a couple three's in transition and we fouled them three times, I think, on three point shots. At that point, you know, they had all the momentum and the emotion. So we were our own worst enemy, we got what we deserved."
Coach Kerr, if you remember, was once the GM and President of the Suns who originally drafted Goran Dragic and signed Channing Frye, who we earlier mentioned were the last Suns teammates to score 15+ in the same quarter. Alvin Gentry, now Kerr's lead assistant, was their coach on the Suns.
Kerr left the Suns in a contract dispute after the WCF run in 2010 to return to broadcasting. Gentry left in early 2013 after the Suns started poorly in what turned out to be their worst season since inception of the franchise.
"My kids were junior-high age and I knew the toll coaching would take family-wise so I chose the TV route," he said. "Now my kids don't care where I'm at everyday so I might as well coach."
Now Kerr gets to take some inspiration from Suns coach Hornacek.
"I looked at Jeff and the job he did last year and the success he had (in Phoenix)," Kerr said, "and I drew inspiration from that. I still watch him and watch his team with a lot of respect. I mean they do a lot of really innovative things offensively and they play hard and they're obviously really well coached."
Also seen around the arena on game night were several other more former Suns staffers, including Rick Welts who used to be the president on the business side (prior to Jason Rowley) and originally orchestrated the Indian Wells preseason game.
At one point, Gentry - who also was the Suns coach when they discovered P.J. Tucker - had a good laugh with his former player when Tucker dove for a ball right at the Warriors bench. After the play was over, he jokingly accosted Gentry while getting up from his tumble.
It's all smiles when the home team wins.