SAN FRANCISCO — There were spats and sparks and shouts and shoves aplenty among the Warriors on Saturday at Chase Center, and the intensity put joy in the hearts of those with championship rings.
“Just gets the competitive juices flowing,” said Draymond Green, a three-time champion.
“It’s the highest competition in the world, basketball-wise,” said coach Steve Kerr, who owns three rings as a player and three as a coach. “This happens. Guys get frustrated.”
What was evident in a 141-121 loss to the relentless offense of the Dallas Mavericks is that the Warriors are not accepting their 9-25 record and their status as an NBA cellar-dweller this season as a reason to become indifferent to defeat.
This 4-1 homestand, powered by some inspired defense, put some spirit in their hearts and some steel in their spines.
“Obviously, our best stretch of basketball this season,” Kerr said. “Our defense held up really well the first four and tonight we ran into the best offensive team in the league. We just couldn’t sustain the effort. We seemed to run out of gas in the second half. But a great homestand.
“The big thing now is not let tonight take away from what we’ve done the last couple of weeks. We have to keep building and keep getting better.”
For this team, as constituted, reaching even modest goals requires all the feisty that can be mustered. Green and Dallas star Kristaps Porzingis waged a brief war of harsh words, resulting in both being assessed technical fouls. Marquese Chriss punctuated a brief scuffle with Luka Doncic by shoving the likely All-Star into the seats along the baseline.
“He played great. Protected the rim, was really a force inside,” Green said of Chriss, who had 16 points, five rebounds and two blocks. “And yeah the other part excites me. That was fun, it was good to see. That was great.”
The “other part,” to be sure, is Chriss — who was assessed with a technical — being willing to wade into the paint with hostility.
“He pulled on Marquese’s arm when he was going down, and Marquese didn’t like it,” Kerr said. “At the time, we were down 25 or something (actually 19), so Marquese was frustrated.”
Frustrated in part by generating some momentum with four consecutive wins, and then running into a superior team in the playoff-bound Mavericks, who are 13.5 games ahead of the Warriors in the Western Conference standings as of this writing.
Between the showmanship of Doncic and the curled lip of Porzingis, it was enough to get under some skins.
The most entertaining moment on this semi-flammable evening was the sight of Klay Thompson, in street clothes, coming off the bench, lunging forward and barking at Porzingis for a good 15 seconds during a stoppage in play.
“They are that type of team,” Porzingis said. “[Green] likes to talk and get the crowd into it. They did a good job of that and I should’ve been a little smarter about it even when Klay was talking from the bench. I got into it and I then was like, ‘Alright I gotta shut up now.’
“But it was a fun game, and I’m glad we got a win.”
These Warriors, operating at a relative talent deficit, are destined to lose far more often than they win. But they’ve come to realize a couple of things.
One, that opponents will have no mercy. And, two, that their best — and sometimes only — chance to win is by diving in with gusto.
“Draymond always has a chip on his shoulder,” Kerr said. “Luka is a great player and he’s competitive. It’s one of the things I love about him is that he’s got a lot of tricks for a young guy.”
This rather aggressive approach didn’t lead to victory Saturday, but the pride was evident. Moreover, it was present in the previous four games, all of which were wins anchored by the defense.
It’s what these Warriors have to do to maintain respect and also to have a chance to compete. Anything less, and they could lose both pride and identity.