PHOENIX — The Warriors were without star guard Monta Ellis, who is recovering from a sprained right ankle. They had two guys on 10-day contracts in the starting lineup. And they were playing in an Arena where they hadn't won since March 2005.
Under those conditions, you would think the Warriors would be happy about barely losing to the host Phoenix Suns, 112-103 Saturday. But that at-least-we-hung-close mantra no longer is effective in the Warriors locker room.
Warriors coach Don Nelson was clearly frustrated after the game, though he praised his team for competing. Forward Corey Maggette — who finished with 27 points, six rebounds and four assists — was nothing short of somber after the loss. Even NBA Development League call-up Cartier Martin shook his head and smirked in frustration.
"We've felt that too many times already to feel any kind of consolation after these kind of losses," Warriors rookie guard Stephen Curry said after 25 points and five rebounds in 40 minutes. "It's 'either win or feel bad about the game' kind of thing for me. I know my teammates feel the same way."
The Warriors lost their 10th straight at Phoenix, thanks largely to 23 points and six assists from point guard Steve Nash, and his backup, Goran Dragic, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.
But, certainly, some positives came out of Saturday's defeat. The most notable being forward Anthony Tolliver, who was called up from the NBA Development League a week ago.
Tolliver had 19 points on 9-for-15 shooting and a game-high 11 rebounds. He also helped hold Suns' big man Amare Stoudemire to 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting with five rebounds.
"He was terrific," Nelson said of Tolliver.
Also, the Warriors got back C.J. Watson, who had missed four games with a laceration on his right hand. Still, the sting from another missed opportunity took precedence over the positives that came out of pushing a playoff-caliber team to the brink.
The Warriors have lost five of seven. In all five defeats, they had a chance to win down the stretch. The Warriors (13-29) are now 6-14 in games decided by 10 points or less.
"We're grown-ups," Nelson said. "We don't need lollipops."
The Warriors left the fans at US Airways Center stunned with a 60-55 halftime lead.
When Golden State held Phoenix to 9-for-24 shooting in the first quarter, that was easy to explain away as the Suns getting out of the gates slow.
But a 12-4 Warriors run midway through the second quarter proved it wasn't a lucky start. Martin knocked down two 3-pointers during the spurt, the latter giving the Warriors a 54-44 lead with 2:54 left in the first half.
After three quarters, the Warriors' clung to an 80-79 lead. But Phoenix opened the fourth quarter with a run, capped by a Dragic 3-pointer, to take an 89-84 advantage. The Suns led by 91-85 with eight minutes left, but a 3-pointer by Tolliver and a put-back by Maggette pulled the Warriors to within 91-90.
The momentum shifted completely to the Suns after an intense sequence inside of four minutes. Watson stole a pass by Nash and was headed for a fast-break layup. It was blocked by Dragic at the rim, much to the dismay of the Warriors bench. Nelson went ballistic, and the moment a runner by Phoenix's Channing Frye's dropped, Nelson was slapped with a technical foul.
After the free throw by Nash, Golden State trailed 101-95 with 3:12 remaining. They never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
"Guys are banged up," Maggette said, "our star player is down with a bad ankle. We fought, but it was a winnable game."
NEXT GAME: Tuesday, at Kings, 7 p.m.