OAKLAND – When Marreese Speights’ basketball persona is in full bloom, there is something irresistibly charming about three particular relationships.
There is his relationship with his generally reliable jump shot, which is gorgeously metronomic and the genesis of his “Mo Buckets” nickname.
There is Speights’ relationship with his Warriors teammates, whose unconditional support of the 6-foot-10 reserve center-forward is felt as much as seen.
And, finally, most gloriously of all, there is the relationship between Speights and the Oracle Arena crowd that, on those nights when his shot is falling, becomes his personal cheering section.
All three were exhibited Saturday night, as Speights came off the bench and ignited a 123-116 comeback win over the Suns with one of those performances that make him so uniquely valuable to the defending champions.
“Mo was terrific,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He did this five or six times last year, where he just comes in and saves the day.”
Speights was superb all evening, but especially so in the fourth quarter, leading the charge as the Warriors overcome a nine-point deficit and lead by as much as 11 before closing it out. He totaled a season-high 25 points, a team-high-tying nine rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot – a night’s work in 18 dynamic minutes.
“He was there tonight,” guard Shaun Livingston said. “And anytime someone is playing like that off the bench, it’s an asset to the team.”
Speights scored nine of the Warriors’ first 14 points in the quarter, a 19-foot jumper forging a tie with 9:49 left and another jumper from 18 feet, giving the Warriors a 100-98 lead with 8:53 left.
With Suns coach Earl Watson pleading for a timeout to stop the onslaught, Speights walked to the bench with a full grin, ups aloft, urging the crowd out of its seats.
“I really can’t describe it,” he said of his connection with the crowd. “It goes through my body every time I make a basket. They know if I hit one, I can hit four or five.
“They never turned their backs on me, even when I was struggling. I’m finally coming around, and every time I shoot the ball they’re there.”
So, too, are his teammates. The rally touched off by Speights was then picked up by Stephen Curry, the point guard scoring 12 of his game-high 35 points in the final nine minutes to seal the proceedings.
“He loves it when he plays well, and the crowd loves it when he plays well just because of that energy that he brings,” Curry said of Speights. “It’s just fun to watch. It’s contagious, the energy that he brings. He gets that smile on his face and gets the crowd into it. We needed a push in the fourth quarter, and he definitely provided it.”
Speights wasn’t alone, even though it sometimes looked as if he was.
Curry was there to offset the brilliant shooting of Phoenix guard Brandon Knight, who finished with 30 points, 17 of which came in a torrid third quarter. Livingston turned in a solid 21 minutes, with seven points, six assists, three rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
All of it was needed on a night when the Warriors’ recent schedule – five games in seven days – appeared to take a physical and mental toll. The Suns (17-49) have been horrible for most of the season, yet they sensed a vulnerable Warriors squad without Andre Iguodala (sprained left ankle) and went for the jugular.
“It would have been nice to have (Iguodala) in that third quarter to give (Knight) a different look,” Curry said.
“It was one of those games where it was an emotional energy game and you have to work your way up when the team is coming out with a lot of energy and gas,” Livingston said. “It’s a 48-minute game, and we are a veteran team that knows that. We found some energy in the fourth quarter.”
The galvanizing force, though, was Speights, the grinning gunslinger. He made 10-of-14 shots from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. And when other Warriors struggled to rebound against a big Suns front line, Speights was on the glass.
“As I’ve said many times, I love Mo’s approach,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t always play, but he always stays ready. He seems to come through whenever we give him an opportunity.”
The opportunity was there, and Speights took it. His jumper was there for him. So were his teammates. So, too, was the crowd, which now lets out an audible gasp each time he pulls up for a 3-pointer, in anticipation of it going in.