EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Splash Brothers tidal wave overwhelms Suns early in loss to Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are not regular season juggernauts anymore but occasionally like to remind everyone who they are. The Phoenix Suns were the victims of this on Monday.
An outstanding first-quarter haymaker that would have knocked any team off its feet kept the Suns down on the mat for the 10 count in a 123-112 loss.
It was a Splash Brothers tidal wave led by Klay Thompson. In the first 8:10 of the game, Thompson scored 18 points on nine shots with four 3s and Stephen Curry added a dozen in the quarter with three triples of his own. Golden State was up 15 points a little over seven minutes in and won the opening quarter 43-21.
Golden State’s process, especially offensively, was sublime and at a championship level. Curry and Thompson were absolutely zooming around screens off the ball, challenging Phoenix even more if it wanted to continue switching those movements. If it left any openings, that ball was moving.
The Suns’ process was far worse, a plodding pace hunting mismatches off of switches that resulted in a few turnovers. Phoenix messed up a couple of rotations on defense too and lacked multiple efforts. While it was a bad beginning for Phoenix, it was not worthy of a 22-point deficit through a quarter, but let that serve as a reminder of what good teams can do if the execution is lacking.
The start was reminiscent of the first quarter of Phoenix’s loss on Christmas at home last year, the last time the Warriors won in this matchup. Draymond Green played one of the best quarters I’ve seen live, setting the tempo on both ends by seemingly impacting every possession with his energy.
The Splash Brothers took on that role in the most recent meeting. Golden State assisted 12 of its 16 buckets in the first quarter and drained eight 3s.
Late in the second quarter, Phoenix went from down 25 to 14. But the Suns were unable to stop the Warriors from scoring once they got started. They outscored them 37-32 but Thompson contributed 15 more in the period. Thompson’s eight 3s at the half with his team up 17 more than doubled the Suns’ three.
With all this said, the Suns had windows to get back in it. An 8-0 in under two minutes early in the third quarter got Phoenix within eight. Curry also picked up his fourth foul during it, as did Devin Booker, who was phenomenal in the quarter to lead his team back.
But even when it was a three-point game a few minutes later, the Suns scored only four points in the last 3:56 of the third quarter to allow a 11-4 Warriors run to trail by 10 going into the final frame.
Golden State deployed a box-and-one on Booker like they had earlier in the game, a.k.a. using a four-man zone (in the shape of a box) behind Booker and the defender guarding him. That is a lot easier to do when it doesn’t stop scoring and can use a set defense. Phoenix held the Warriors to 23 points in the third quarter so Booker didn’t have to see as much of that earlier in the quarter, or he could more methodically break down simple traps.
The Suns were unable to close in while Booker rested and once he came back in there weren’t enough stops, even though he continued to score. Golden State was back up 16 with 4:26 to go.
While the Suns are without Kevin Durant (left ankle sprain) and Landry Shamet (right foot soreness), the Warriors are dealing with their own shortcomings.
On top of Andrew Wiggins (personal reasons), Gary Payton II (right adductor soreness) and Jonathan Kuminga (right ankle sprain) being out, both of Golden State’s two-way players in guard Ty Jerome and wing Anthony Lamb were ineligible, leaving the Warriors with 10 active players.
Wiggins has proven to be incredibly important to the matchup given his ability to defend both Chris Paul and Booker, plus his proficiency on the offensive glass. He would likely get a crack at Durant as well if a playoff series comes, so his situation is one to keep monitoring. Wiggins has not played since Feb. 13 and head coach Steve Kerr couldn’t speak with certainty on Saturday if Wiggins will be back this season.
At the same time, it’s still obviously not a direct trade-off and the Suns missing their best player right now holds more weight.
That’s also because Phoenix just hasn’t been getting enough from its supporting cast the last few games. No one outside of Booker or Deandre Ayton made an impact contribution on either side of the ball Monday. Booker produced 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting and Ayton added 27 points on 13-of-19 shooting with 12 rebounds.
The Suns need Paul’s offense in games like this and he was 5-of-13 for 11 points with 11 assists.
Thompson ended up at 38 points while Curry’s total was 23.
The last two games have been important in regards to the standings.
Saturday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings was a notable hit to Phoenix’s chances of catching them in second or third. Monday’s defeat was its last opportunity to further shut the door on Golden State’s ability to potentially catch the Suns in fourth. The Warriors are now two games back of the Suns in the loss column while Phoenix is now four back of Sacramento and five behind Memphis.
That’s even tougher to take in with Tuesday’s third game in four nights taking place against the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat Sacramento on Monday via 46 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.