Suns throw early punch, take lessons in eventual loss to Warriors
PHOENIX — The Golden State Warriors looked disinterested, putting together a backup quarterback’s effort — a kneel-down for a win — to earn a victory against the Phoenix Suns, who were down Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. The Warriors admitted to using Friday night to fine-tune some things.
They also admitted the Suns outplayed them, earning 20 more field goal attempts due to the turnover margin and the offensive glass.
“The only reason we won is because we have a lot more talent, obviously,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
There are no moral victories for the Suns, not with 13 losses in a row.
But as the Warriors with five All-Stars from a year ago in their starting lineup fiddled their way closer to the All-Star break, Phoenix will take a 117-107 loss Friday that included shooting 39 percent and 6-of-31 accuracy from three.
The Suns learned to throw the first punch behind Deandre Ayton’s 12-point first quarter.
They survived thanks to a 25-point, 12-rebound night from Kelly Oubre Jr., the 23-year-old who also pulled a fast one by dunking on a second chance bucket, bobbing his head right in the face of the Warriors’ Draymond Green and sending him a glare. That — or something around that play — provoked Green’s ejection, one of four for the frustrated Warriors.
Suns coach Igor Kokoskov revealed a card in his hand before the game.
Without Devin Booker for the second straight game, he called Cousins a bully and intimidator. To put a freeze on him offensively, the Suns coach said Phoenix would need to make him work on defense.
The Suns did so from the first play.
They repeatedly ran pick-and-rolls at Cousins, and a 26-9 Phoenix lead with five minutes left in the first quarter developed as Ayton went 6-of-7 from the field by the end of the period. The advantage wilted to 31-26 by the end of the first as the Suns’ bench succumbed to a push by a Kevin Durant-led unit.
It was just a few mini-spurts by the Warriors that did Phoenix in. The Suns led 94-88 with 8:35 to play before a 13-0 run put Golden State up by seven with 5:46 to go.
“You got to be in them first,” said Suns point guard Tyler Johnson, who went 1-for-9 off the bench in his debut. “You got to put yourself in position to win those games. Really you have to put yourself in position to be in a close game to learn from it.”
The Suns used the game to build valuable pieces of their foundation. Ayton finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, tying a career-high with 20 attempts as the offense ran through him. He became the fastest Sun to reach his 30th double-double, doing so in 51 games.
“I wouldn’t say they’re bully-ball, but they do what they want. If you’re not standing up for that, you can get blown out,” Ayton said. “I just had to do my work early with Cousins.”
Fellow rookie Mikal Bridges set a career-high with 13 shot attempts, hitting four of the six made threes for Phoenix and finishing with 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Josh Jackson added 19 points, eight boards and five assists.
If anything, seeing how the Warriors felt the pressure and with the flip of a switch tightened up their sets to make runs in the second and fourth quarters was an experience in itself.
As Durant took control at the end of the first to score 21 on the night, Klay Thompson scored 10 in the second. He added 11 in the fourth as Curry scored 10 in the final 12 minutes.
“I think it’s confidence from everybody else off the ball,” Bridges said. “If KD and Steph are making shots, and Klay, when they made their run, (Andre) Iguodala hit that nice corner three. They all play off each other. That’s how you know they’re one of the best teams in the league.”
A 10-point loss against the Warriors might be a possession loss against any other opponent.
Kokoskov set three goals for his team prior to the game: take 30 free throws and 30 three-pointers, then record 30 assists. They hit the free-throw mark on the button and took 31 threes only to hit six thanks to Bridges’ big night. Maybe that’s why the Suns fell well short with just 23 assists.
“Before the game, I mentioned those magic numbers we tried to reach,” Kokoskov said. “From that perspective, if we made one more, the game would’ve been different. But again, one possession … maybe two threes, it would have changed, maybe completely changed this game.”