Phoenix Suns embrace chippy affair, stay level to take down Warriors
PHOENIX — If you were treating Tuesday night’s showdown between the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors as a nearly meaningless affair due to it taking place in October four games into the season, the amount of electricity it offered probably surprised you.
While the quality of basketball put on wasn’t up to par with where both teams will be in a few months or even weeks, the tone of the basketball is what we should absolutely expect if we get a playoff series between the two teams that we oh-so richly deserve as fans.
Phoenix for the third straight game established physicality from the opening whistle and it was the defining aspect of a 134-105 win over the Warriors.
That attribute mattered so much because this is what I would describe as excellent average basketball. Both teams were making constant mistakes that you will rarely see in the postseason but the offensive output and tremendous work rates made for a great game. And the Suns were the team working harder and embracing the contact more, so they were the victors. They outrebounded the Warriors 48-40 and had four players with at least two offensive rebounds.
Center Deandre Ayton referred to it as a Game 1 of a playoff series, where both top teams were feeling each other out.
“We didn’t have no downfall in our energy today,” he said. “And the defensive end, we was talking. We actually set the tone of the legal physical limit in that game and I don’t want to really say we did it to get on their nerves but it got to them. And teams don’t like that when you keep hitting them over and over, especially to the legal limit.”
Ayton held his hand up when saying the Suns “stayed here” to portray a group that kept their emotions level through parts of the game Ayton called “junky.”
“I was really proud of that,” Ayton said. “That shows a lot of growth because last year I think we would have kept going back and forth throughout that game right there.”
When asked if that composure and poise is something they’ve improved on in the last two years, Ayton laughed and smiled while stating “way better.”
Head coach Monty Williams had to double check that was the question before saying “absolutely” for everyone on the team. Williams joked that his players likely get sick of how many times he has mentioned “poise.”
“It’s an emotional game,” Ayton said. “At the same time, we still got back to playing Suns basketball. Calls didn’t go our way, we didn’t care. We made it our game in a way. We made it our game and we closed it out the right way.”
Suns guard Devin Booker is right at home in games like this, so it was no surprise for him to drop a quiet 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting with seven assists, three steals and three turnovers. His scoring never dominated the game, nor felt like it was truly impacting it. And yet, as all great scorers do, he had the type of production you’d be caught off-guard by when checking the box score.
“Probably the most complete player in the league right now,” Williams said of Booker. “There’s no weaknesses in his game.”
Booker was 11-of-14 from the line and continues to start the year in MVP form. He has recorded point totals of 28, 33, 35 and 34 in four games and is shooting 53%.
Booker was square in the middle of the swing point of the game when the chippiness boiled over.
In the third quarter with the Suns up six, the officials cashed in on some coupons they had been stockpiling for some good deals on technical fouls.
Two for each side were handed out in under five minutes before it all came to a head in a kerfuffle started by Klay Thompson, who bumped Booker when Booker was walking in his direction. The two had been jawing for a handful of possessions at that point, as Booker is prone to do, and Thompson broke.
The two were given techs and separated before Thompson pushed Mikal Bridges out of the way to get to the Warriors huddle. When a referee came over toward Thompson, that angered him even more before being handed tech No. 2 to eject him.
Booker said he loves Thompson and has always admired his game and that his four championships speak for themselves. Those rings, in fact, were what Thompson repeated to Booker over and over again, according to Booker.
“They’re gonna use that in all the trash talk, rightfully so, respectfully,” Booker said. “But that don’t have nothing to do with competing.”
Thompson was 1-of-8 from the field and Booker noted he thinks that played a part in the Warriors guard losing his cool. Booker added been there with that frustration, too.
At that point, it was 83-77 Suns and the technical free throws for Phoenix were the start of a 22-9 run to end the quarter and put the Suns at 105 points — a lead of 19.
The Suns got there by prioritizing Ayton from the get-go in a favorable size matchup for him. While the finished product was hit and miss, the mindset of getting into the Warriors’ jerseys on both ends and feeding the big man lent them the momentum they rode all the way.
Phoenix had a dozen free throw attempts in the first quarter, making it only the second time that’s happened since the start of the 2020-21 season.
The Suns’ bench found a rhythm early as well, contributing 14 points to the season-high 37 for Phoenix in the first quarter to lead by eight.
Golden State’s Jordan Poole got hot in the next frame with 12 points in under eight minutes but the Suns’ balance brought on another 30-point quarter. Phoenix’s high scorer in the second quarter had six, but eight Suns players recorded a field goal.
Poole’s hot streak in the second quarter was the only spark we saw from the Warriors offense all night. Stephen Curry hit some of the ridiculous shots he normally does but never truly took over the game, something Golden State was going to need across the last 18 minutes of the game to get back in it. Curry was the team’s leading scorer with 21 points, and that’s not going to get it done while giving up quarter point totals of 37, 35, 33 and 29.
As you’d expect, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr kept the minutes manageable in these situations and didn’t rush Curry back off the bench and into the game to play the whole fourth quarter. Curry would return but alongside second-year players Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, plus two-way signing and former Sun Ty Jerome.
Phoenix stayed poised after a quick 7-0 Warriors run with 7:32 remaining cut it down to 12 and quickly got its advantage padded back up to cruise from there.
Ayton had five of his 14 rebounds on the offensive glass to go with 16 points and four assists. Backup center Jock Landale scored 17 points off the bench and added seven rebounds.
The Warriors’ starting center Kevon Looney is undersized, and they will roll with forward Draymond Green at the 5, too, so the Suns made their centers a focus all night.
“I thought DA and Jock, if you look at their combined numbers, that was something we talked about at the end,” Williams said. “That was an area we feel like we have to grow. When teams switch onto DA and Jock and Dario and Biz, we gotta make them pay for that.”
Bridges had a very him performance with terrific denial of Curry and a line of 17 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks on 7-of-8 shooting that accurately represented how good he was.
Chris Paul, believe or not, can still shoot the basketball really well. After a 1-of-11 start from 3-point range in three games, Paul was 4-for-5 at range on Tuesday for 12 of his 16 points. He also had seven rebounds and nine assists.
Williams pregame said the Suns need Paul to not turn down as many shots in the point guard’s current role when he’s off the ball more. Paul’s career 44% mark as a catch-and-shoot 3-point marksman gives him more than enough reason to let it fly whenever he gets space.
Despite that, Paul was passive in the first three games. He noted after the game how he’s primarily been a playmaker but the Suns collectively agreed they want to be harder to guard by creating more threats in the offense.
That means less of Paul on the ball in the regular season, something he acknowledged he will have to get used to.
“Imma shoot,” Paul said. “I promise. Imma shoot.”