The Warriors have nothing tangible to play for. They’ve clinched the Western Conference and the Pacific Division, but it hasn’t stopped them from wanting to stuff the win column.
Golden State’s winning ways continued Thursday with a 107-106 victory over the Phoenix Suns, who are facing almost certain elimination from playoff contention.
But it took nearly 43 minutes for the Warriors to start to play like they wanted to win, needing a late burst from the Splash Brothers and a Harrison Barnes last-second shot to bail out the Warriors from a lackluster performance and save the game.
With less than one minute left, Klay Thompson hit a step-back trey to tie the game for the seventh time at 102-102.
On the other end, PJ Tucker slid past Andrew Bogut for a layup giving Suns a two-point advantage. After a timeout, the Warriors put the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands, but his running floater fell just short and the Warriors swarmed the offensive rebound.
Two missed shots and three offensive boards later, the ball shot out of the pack to an open Thompson, and as the defense closed in on him, Thompson dished the ball to his right where Curry hit a wide-open three for a 105-104 lead with just eight seconds left.
Phoenix struck quickly once more, with Eric Bledsoe scoring his 18th point on a quick reverse layup to retake the lead.
Down by one with just four seconds left, the Warriors inbounded out of a timeout. Barnes fought through traffic for a running 5-footer that saved the day with just four-tenths of a second and no chance for a Phoenix rebuttal.
Barnes said Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr told him in the timeout that he might be getting the ball if pressure cut off the Curry and Thompson options:
“Coach was like, ‘there will probably be a chance for you to be open. So if you get it just be aggressive make a quick move.’ There was four seconds left, so if you miss you want to make sure there’s time to tip it in.”
Kerr told SFBay before Thursday’s contest that from now until the postseason, he wants to get his starters some rest, which means more play for the reserves:
“I really want to play as many people as I can and cut some minutes down from our starters, but we’ll still try and win the game.”
Kerr’s plan worked in the first half with the bench scoring 19 second-quarter points capped off with Festus Ezeli flying in for a dunk and a 55-44 lead at halftime.
But the plan started to deteriorate in the second half.
Kerr said playing so many people might have taken the team out of their normal rhythm and added to the already poor effort:
“We obviously played a lot of different people and tried a lot of different combinations and maybe that got us into some trouble. But more likely it was a natural let-down game … We didn’t look very engaged out there.”
Despite the Warriors’ lead, the Phoenix starting five remained engaged, coming out of intermission slicing away at the score with Brandon Wright notching an early double-double.
Golden State gained the edge again, pushing the lead to eight points in the final frame. But in the blink of an eye, it was tied up at 86-86 and went back and forth until the very last second.
In the end it was Barnes hitting just his second field goal of the night that secured the victory giving the Warriors their 11th-striaght win.
The Warriors, now 62-13, head out for their final road trip of the season kicking off in Dallas Saturday against the 46-30 Mavericks.
Steve Kerr has tied an NBA record for most wins by a first-year head coach, matching the mark of 62 victories set by Paul Westphal of the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns and equaled by Tom Thibodeau of the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls. … All five Phoenix starters scored in double figures, the first time for a Warriors opponent since March 1 at Boston. … Stephen Curry called a game-high 28 point, eight rebound and five assists, hitting a three pointer in his 66th-straight game. Curry went 2-of-2 from the free throw line, extending his career-long free throw streak to 51 straight made without a miss. … Klay Thompson finished with 16 points and a season-high-tying six assists.