EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns put up a fight against Warriors before taking 1st loss in over a month

Dec 4, 2021, 12:28 AM
Stephen Curry #30 is congratulated by Juan Toscano-Anderson #95 of the Golden State Warriors after ...
Stephen Curry #30 is congratulated by Juan Toscano-Anderson #95 of the Golden State Warriors after he made a three-point basket against the Phoenix Suns in the first half at Chase Center on December 03, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

We often hear the saying of “not going down without a fight,” and boy, is that apt for the Phoenix Suns’ franchise record winning streak.

The Golden State Warriors ended it at 18 games on Friday in a 118-96 final, but on a night where they were better, they really had to earn it.

“It was just a slugfest,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “And the shooting probably was the difference.”

The Warriors shot 19-of-39 (48.7%) from three-point range, nearly making more than the Suns attempted (22).

Williams said the lack of 3s means the 0.5 mentality involving ball movement and touching the paint was off, and the eye test matched that, with Golden State’s defense getting the better of the Suns.

“I thought they did a good job of speeding us up,” Williams said. “We did that to them the other day, that’s part of the chess match.”

That and the Suns’ assist total of 23 marks two games in a row of those numbers being low, areas where the injured Devin Booker (hamstring) really has an impact.

Phoenix battled throughout a first half in which it couldn’t get shots to fall by getting to the free-throw line, recording season highs for a first half in both free throws made (15)  and attempted (20).

While it wasn’t an A+ Warriors half of basketball, it was at least a B-. And the Suns were not playing at that level or getting close to reaching it. The final score suggests blowout, but the Suns hung around way longer than most teams would have in their position, a credit to how battle-tested they are.

“I love what I saw from our guys … We got a program over here, we got a system, we keep trying to build,” point guard Chris Paul said of the fight put up.

They did that all while hitting a moment of adversity in the late first quarter that it would have been easy to get rattled by.

Fourth-year wing Mikal Bridges went to go dive for a loose ball and got in a collision that dislocated his right pinky finger. Bridges stayed in for the next possession before heading to the locker room at a timeout looking visibly upset. Williams said he thought Bridges broke the finger at first based on how he reacted.

It was hard not to fear the worst considering how Bridges has been incredibly durable and played 250 straight regular season games since the Suns acquired him during the 2018 NBA Draft.

“My heart just sunk,” Williams said. “Not because he was hurt but because of what he means to our team, means to me and how hard he works.”

Bridges, however, had the pinky taped to his ring finger and returned later in the half.

“Man, a lot of grit … I definitely didn’t expect to see him come back but just shows you what he’s made of,” Paul said.

The Warriors’ lead grew from two to nine while Bridges was out, and with good reason.

Stephen Curry suddenly had more room to operate, as Bridges’ absence emphasized even further how truly irreplaceable he is. If he’s not there to defend the primary offensive option, who else does it now? And how about the Suns missing one of their best shooters, cutters and scorers off the bounce too?

The difference between how much the Suns outscore teams when Bridges is on the floor as opposed to off was at 15.0 points per 100 possessions prior to Friday, the highest mark on the team.

Bridges played through it, and while he didn’t have the ball much, he did use the right hand to dribble fairly fine and converted on a three-pointer in the second half that also looked OK.

Phoenix trailed by three at halftime but was going to need someone to get going offensively because the Warriors were hitting too many shots.

Deandre Ayton was a reliable offensive piece all night, even though his finishing and physicality around the rim left something to be desired. He was also the main guy getting to the stripe, recording double-digit free throw attempts (11) for the first time in nearly two years.

No one else, though, could help him. Paul was getting picked up full-court by Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins, an easier move for the Warriors to make after Wiggins defended Booker on Tuesday. That affected Paul’s ability to create real estate on the second game of a back-to-back.

He scored only 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, and he was tied with Cam Johnson for the Suns’ second-highest scorer.

This was not for a lack of aggression from Phoenix. No one was hesitating and the effort was there through the final tally of 26-for-35 on free throws.

But Paul and Ayton were the only Suns to record more than three field goals.

Reserve point guard Cam Payne shot 3-of-17, not letting the off night get to him as he continued to stay downhill. But like everyone else, he just couldn’t get a rhythm.

A 16-8 start to the third quarter by Golden State cushioned its lead to 11 and the closest the Suns would get for the rest of the quarter was seven. The Warriors persisted in the final frame, knocking down more 3s, getting the advantage up to 15 points with eight minutes to go.

That’s when the Suns’ legs on a short rotation after playing the night prior in Phoenix showed even more. A few lapses later and a 7-2 Warriors run made it a done deal of a 20-point edge.

Curry and Draymond Green were much better compared to Tuesday.

Curry didn’t set everything ablaze but contributed 23 points while it was back to a more typical Green outing of his presence being felt just about everywhere. He had nine points, rebounds and assists, six steals and three blocks. That’s only the seventh time in NBA history someone has reached at least that in a game, per Stathead.

Wiggins added 19 points for Golden State, which sounds about right, but 19 for Gary Payton II does not. He knocked down a trio of 3s and Juan Toscano-Anderson was not that far behind Payton with 17 of his own points.

That was the extra push in depth stepping up that the Suns did not have.

The Suns have a long way to go in this regular season despite the sense of finality that the end of a winning streak brings. Williams brought up how it has still only been 23 games and Paul laughed when trying to answer a question on what he will remember most from the run.

“I don’t even know, man,” he said. “I’m about to go home and see my wife and kids. That’s all I’m thinking about right now. I’m about to get out of here. I don’t know. I don’t remember too much. I don’t even remember when it started. I know this game over and I’m about to go home.”

They all have said they recognize the moment and how cool it is to experience this many consecutive victories but it was far from entering their minds as anything of real focus beyond that.

“The winning streak was a lot of fun,” Paul said. “Been a long time since we’ve felt a loss, but hell, let’s start a new one.”

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