Now this is the Golden State the Jazz know all about. After being destroyed in Game 1, spending three long, hot days in the Valley of the Sun and hearing that they needed all kinds of changes to ever match the Phoenix Suns, the Warriors are back in the Western Conference semifinals in a big way.
Thanks to Tuesday night's 127-122 win in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Warriors and Suns go to Oakland all even for Games 3 and 4 Thursday and Saturday in the best-of-seven series. "All of a sudden, things look a little brighter for us," said Golden State Coach Don Nelson, and why not? This game counts the same as the Suns' 27-point breeze in Game 1.This was what Suns-Warriors '89 was supposed to look like - free-wheeling, high-scoring and exciting. "A terrific basketball game," observed Nelson. "I've got no complaints, except losing the ballgame," said Suns Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.
The Warriors dramatically changed the picture of the series by doing all the things that drove the Jazz crazy, but were curiously missing Saturday. They scraped up offensive rebounds and loose balls, scored from outside and inside and came up with big shots at just the right time that left Phoenix wondering. "For some reason," said the Suns' Tom Chambers, "we weren't there to answer the call."
The Golden State scorers were the same as always: Chris Mullin (37) was on track again, Terry Teagle (29) was delivering his crowd-quieting, behind-the-head jumpers and rookie Mitch Richmond (25) came on in the second half, but nobody came up bigger than point guard Winston Garland.
With the Suns up by four in the last 3:12, Garland drove for a 3-point play and another layup and Golden State was ahead to stay. Afterward, Warriors broadcaster Jim Barnett grabbed Garland in the locker room and exclaimed, "Just like Utah," and he was right.
Remember the play in Game 1 of Jazz-Warriors when the Jazz had cut the lead to two, only to have Garland immediately drive past John Stockton on the right side for a 3-point play? Same thing against the Suns. "I had my mind made up to go to the hole and see if I could draw the foul," said Garland.
Later, Richmond made two free throws for a three-point lead and Mullin added two more with no time left after Kevin Johnson's 3-point try was long, and the Warriors had their split. Maybe they're one game behind their first-round pace, but they have to like their chances. "We feel a lot better about ourselves, going back 1-1," said Garland.
After Saturday, that prospect seemed very unlikely. How did the Warriors spend the three days between games, amid 110-degree heat? "Just thinking about how we got killed," said Richmond. "Anything they wanted to do, they did. Being in Phoenix, you're going to hear that every day."
No doubt, the Suns had dominated Game 1, offering answers for all the Warriors' intentions. Nelson would have to adjust for Game 2, right? Maybe even scrap his ultra-small lineup? Dust off Ralph Sampson? "You guys were putting pressure on me," Nelson told reporters after Game 2, smiling mischievously.
Of course, Nelson stayed the same. Sampson stayed on the bench and Nelson's little guys shot 54 percent, making him look awfully good.
The Warriors were even hotter in the first half but managed only a 65-64 lead. They took a two-point edge into the fourth quarter and were up by as many as five before Chambers scored on a drive. When Chambers came back moments later with a 3-point play, the Suns seemed on their way. Instead, there were Teagle and Garland.
"They made everything they had to make to win," said Fitzsimmons, after Eddie Johnson's 35 points and the Suns' record 28-of-28 free-throw shooting were not enough.
The consolation for the Suns, meanwhile, was that they took Golden State's best shot and almost survived. Of course, the Jazz thought the same thing after Game 1 of their series. In this case, Kevin Johnson added 22 points and 12 assists, but Chambers struggled for his 20 points and the Suns' defense was a step late.
"Right off the bat, they came out and were more aggressive," said Chambers. "I know I was in a little lull out there, thinking everything was just going to come to us . . . I kept thinking I was going to get out of it, and it never really happened."
So this will be a series after all, maybe even a seven-gamer. "A long way to go," said the Suns' Eddie Johnson, and he could blame the Warriors for that.