EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns not building up 16-game win streak, big-time matchup vs. Warriors

Nov 30, 2021, 6:55 AM | Updated: 4:27 pm
Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns drives the ball past Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State...
Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns drives the ball past Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half of the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on January 28, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — “The game? Y’all talking like it’s the Finals, man!”

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker jokingly shared the sentiment of his coach and teammates on Monday while being asked about his team’s matchup on Tuesday with the Golden State Warriors.

The Suns are the hottest team in the NBA, riding a 16-game winning streak to a 17-3 record, and the only reason they don’t have an undisputed claim as the league’s top dog is because of the Warriors at 18-2.

It’s undoubtedly the NBA’s best regular season game so far, and with a primetime appointment on TNT, it’s got the stage that comes with the hype leading up to it.

Even with that hype on the matchup or the Suns’ run of victories, Suns head coach Monty Williams has said multiple times the last few days that the Suns don’t talk about the winning streak.

He’s voiced that same mindset on Tuesday when it comes to the game.

“It’s a natural thing to look at this game,” Williams said Monday. “And I’m not trying to downplay it, I just want to win … I’m sure there’s tons of buildup, and there should be. You look at our records, you look at how they’ve played … I’m ready to go. That’s all I’m thinking. I’m not really caught up in the hoopla of it all.”

While not being willing to admit there’s an extra bit of gusto a matchup like this produces for himself, he did say he likes them.

“But I do enjoy games like this. When you get a chance to play against a team that’s done way more than you have,” Williams said. “They have everything we want. They have championships, they have MVPs, they have Defensive Player of the Years — they have all that. We don’t. So from the standpoint, those are the teams that you want to take down.”

Booker knows the Warriors from his seven years in the league but got to spend more time with forward Draymond Green and head coach Steve Kerr in Tokyo for the Olympics this past summer.

“They’re battle-tested,” Booker said. “They’re champions. They’ve done everything that I’m trying to get to.”

The Warriors come in with a stacked resume as the NBA’s premier defensive and ball-moving team. It’s difficult to argue otherwise.

“They have veteran guys all over the floor and they have young guys who have been in their system now that know what they’re supposed to do,” Williams said of Golden State’s defense that ranks first in the league.

Part of the Warriors’ success on that end has to do with keeping offenses out of the paint, as they also lead the league in opposing points in the paint and the percentage of their opponent’s shots that come at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass.

“The ability to stay in front of the ball, the ability to get back in transition. And when you score like they do, you’re always able to set your defense,” Williams said of that.

Where the Suns can take advantage is with their size.

The Warriors start 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney at center and that’s as big as they’ll go. Phoenix saw a version of this in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, and it serves as a good reference point for Deandre Ayton that he has had success against small-ball lineups that are heavy on perimeter play and switching.

In Saturday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets, Williams liked how Ayton and JaVale McGee played when Brooklyn went small.

“They went smaller and tried to switch and we were able to punish those guys in the paint and we talked about that today,” Williams said. “I think the Clippers series was one that, it wasn’t just those guys scoring, it’s the ability to punish them on the boards and then everybody else playing around them under control but fast.”

McGee won a title with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018 and knows that dynamic well.

“I feel like a couple years ago there was a real emphasis on trying to get the bigs out of there and going small,” McGee said. “And people thought that was the way to beat the Warriors but I definitely think going big can serve some problems also.”

For the Suns’ defense, it obviously starts with checking MVP candidate Stephen Curry, and Williams said the emphasis is to not let it get to them when Curry inevitably knocks down a couple of looks that only he can.

“You have to emotionally be strong and consistent,” Williams said. “If you watch the game yesterday, he ran off a few 3s, and you could see it emotionally got to the Clippers. And that was it.”

McGee, again, has first-hand experience of seeing it over the course of a season.

“It’s definitely demoralizing because they’re doing everything they can to guard [him] and he’s still making impossible shots, but as a defender, I feel like as long as you know you played your best defense and he still made the shot, hey, he did what he did,” McGee said.

There’s also the unique challenge beyond Curry due to how much Golden State moves via cuts and off-ball screening, where their great ball movement amplifies that.

“It’s just constant movement,” Booker said. “I think our ability to switch and guard multiple positions, have different guys to match up with that helps us out a little bit. But just the continuous movement, and we call (it) the head of the snake, obviously Steph creating for a lot of people but everyone else is playing very confident too.

“You have to key in to everybody, it’s not just the Steph show. Obviously, it’s hard to defend.”

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