Warriors pushed to brink by bottom-dwelling Suns

Needing to maintain their winning ways to remain ahead of the San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors continued the march to the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.

Despite the glaring absence of Andre Iguodala and a second-half outburst by Suns guard Brandon Knight, the Warriors (59-6) extinguished the Phoenix Suns (17-49) by a final of 123-116 Saturday.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the locker room at Oracle Arena.

Like so many times prior, when head coach Steve Kerr reached into his magic hat, he found bench big man Marreesse Speights and a red-hot jumper. The man Kerr jokingly calls the biggest shooting guard in the world finished with 25 points in just 18 minutes on 10-for-14 shooting, adding a team-high nine rebounds.

Following the game, Kerr addressed Speights’ contributions:

“He did this five or six times for us last year where he just comes in and saves the day. It’s such a great change of pace for us to be able to play Mo because of his shooting ability … It’s a great weapon to have.”

In a tightly-contested first quarter featuring 13 points from Stephen Curry, including a three-ball with just less than eight minutes left extending his record streak, the Suns used a 13-10 rebounding advantage to stay within reach of the champs. A rare board-less quarter from Draymond Green came in combination with Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes struggling to a combined four points in the opening period.

Speights, whose nine points in just six minutes re-invigorated a seemingly stagnant Warriors offense, led his Dubs to a 60-56 halftime lead.

In the third, though, it became the Knight show. With 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting (5-for-6 on 3s) in the frame, the Phoenix guard not only carried his team to a nine-point lead to end the period, he zapped any emotion that Oracle Arena could attempt to trigger.

Speights spoke after the game, about the lack of “big mo” heading into the final 12 minutes:

“The feeling at the beginning of the fourth quarter wasn’t very good. I knew we had to bring a little energy and hold it together until the starters came back in and we did that.”

Curry was called for his fourth personal foul with 7:55 left in the third, and was forced to watch the Knight eruption from the bench. He did not take long, however, to make his presence felt upon an early return in the fourth, started with tight defense on the scorching Sun guard.

Bodying him into the lane, Curry challenged a usual high percentage Knight floater, forcing a miss with just over 11 left. Just five seconds later the MVP drilled a three from the left elbow, giving the Warriors the first seven points of the quarter. In less than a minute, Phoenix was forced to take a timeout to quiet the suddenly raucous Oracle crowd.

Curry said he was ready to play the entire fourth, which he usually would not enter until the final seven minutes:

“I usually get to play the whole third quarter and I had to mix it up a bit. I wanted to come in and hopefully have an impact in the fourth quarter and use my fresh legs from the extended break.”

Fresh legs led to 15 of his game-high 35 points — his NBA-leading 32nd 30-point performance — in the fourth, accompanied by 11 from Speights. Green, Curry and bench guard Shaun Livingston led the normal swift passing attack with six assists each, while center Andrew Bogut anchored the defense with four blocks.

Knight would add 10 more points in the fourth, en route to a team-high 30. Young forward Alex Len added 26 points along with a game-high 13 rebounds.

Following a much-needed day off after a stretch of five games in seven nights is a Monday night showdown with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans (24-41) in Oakland.