EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns’ defense slips up in loss on road to Warriors

May 11, 2021, 10:53 PM | Updated: 11:00 pm

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, right, shoots against Phoenix Suns forward Frank Kaminsk...

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, right, shoots against Phoenix Suns forward Frank Kaminsky, from left, guard Devin Booker and guard Cameron Payne (15) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The Phoenix Suns’ ability to execute gameplans unique to a matchup has won them a handful of games this year, but their failure to do that on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors lost them the game.

The Suns dared the Warriors to beat them without two-time MVP Stephen Curry going off, and the Warriors obliged in a 122-116 Suns loss.

Curry shot 7-of-22 from the field and 1-of-11 from 3, with the Suns sending heavy doubles his way.

The problem was Phoenix’s recoveries out of them. Head coach Monty Williams didn’t like his team’s defense after the first and second actions by the Warriors.

“That plagued us all night long,” Williams said.

The box score shined that through with a spotlight you can see from space. Golden State produced 62 points in the paint, 29 second-chance points and 12 offensive rebounds, all on the second game of a back-to-back.

“We’ve never been a team that’s been outworked and I saw a little bit of that tonight,” Williams said.

On top of execution, the Suns’ sense of desperation to be in the right spot after the job was done on Curry wasn’t there as consistently as it should have been.

Suns point guard Chris Paul was asked about what the key is to that type of defense and talked about the challenges with it.

“You gotta anticipate the next thing,” he said. “It’s tough with them. It’s a lot of movement. Steph doing a lot of running around and it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. Requires a lot of talking and stuff so it’s a good test for us. We gotta get better at it.”

It’s a real high-energy concept and the Suns just didn’t have that juice for most of the night.

The team’s defense, in general, has regressed. The Suns are now 20th in defensive rating since the All-Star break while being second in offensive rating. Going off since the start of April, the defensive rating ranking drops to 25th.

The Suns led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but the Warriors remained close enough, only down eight at the half despite an awful two quarters shooting the ball.

When Curry found a rhythm in the third quarter, so too did Devin Booker, who scored 22 of his 34 points across those 12 minutes. He had the Suns’ last 16 points of the quarter and kept Phoenix’s lead at six heading into the fourth.

But a night of poor defense combined with the Suns looking to push the tempo more often seemed to mess with their offensive rhythm.

“Just taking the ball out of the net playing against a set defense was one thing that hurt us for sure,” Williams said.

Phoenix only scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, a total the Warriors matched alone from beyond the arc, with six three-pointers. None of them were by Curry.

With the Suns up 110-107 and 3:04 left, the Warriors proceeded to score 11 points on five straight possessions.

They closed the game small, spending a good chunk of the game with Draymond Green at the 5.

All five of those Warriors buckets involved Deandre Ayton in some way, whether it was in a ball screen, helping or switching onto a guard.

Teams are going to go small against the Suns in the postseason and the question will be if Ayton punishes that enough to counter how those teams will attack him defensively.

For only Tuesday, it was a resounding no. Ayton had little to no impact on the game. Offensively, the Suns were not looking to establish Ayton in the post, nor was he seen consistently fighting for position.

Williams said he will have to go back and watch the film before assessing Ayton’s play while acknowledging they have to do a better job of getting him the ball.

“It’s tough being put in all those ball screens,” Paul said of Ayton’s night. “We gotta try to find him earlier. It’s tough when you’re playing against teams that sort of know what you’re going to do but everything is building. That’s all we’re doing.”

Ayton on the night had eight points, eight rebounds and two assists. It’s the sixth game in his last nine that he’s recorded single-digit points in. Ditto on rebounds.

The loss came for the Suns despite shooting over 50% from the field and 16-of-37 (43.2%) at three-point range. They had both Paul and Booker doing their thing too. Paul finished with 24 points and 10 assists while Booker had those 34 points. Jae Crowder hit five of his six three-pointers in the first quarter and ended up with 20 points.

Andrew Wiggins led the way for the Warriors with 38 points on 17-of-24 shooting.

The Suns have lost three of their last four games for the first time since late January and the chances of a late grab at the No. 1 seed in the west got even slimmer.

Given the great year Phoenix has had and the grind a season at this level is, it was not surprising to hear Booker’s response when he was asked about the concern level of the team after these last two losses with the playoffs less than two weeks out.

“I’m not concerned at all,” he said.

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