EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns fall in playoff-like atmosphere to Curry’s last-second 3 for Warriors

Feb 10, 2024, 9:50 PM

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors makes a go-ahead three-point basket late in the four...

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors makes a go-ahead three-point basket late in the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Chase Center on February 10, 2024 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and the All-Star break about to hit, the Phoenix Suns move into the second part of the season, where securing playoff positioning while getting tested for those playoffs is imperative.

Phoenix got that test on Saturday from the Golden State Warriors on the road, and as it goes in the postseason, it truly came down to just one possession in a 113-112 loss.

It was not a highly efficient or elite night from any of the Suns’ Big 3 until Devin Booker scored all 10 of the Suns’ points over a 2:15 stretch in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 1:35 remaining. Bradley Beal and Stephen Curry traded baskets before Booker got another to go, putting Phoenix up two at 35 seconds remaining.

After a clutch Kevin Durant block and empty Suns possession, the Warriors called timeout with three seconds left. Everyone knew where the ball was going, and Beal thought he got a good beat on a loose inbounds pass toward Curry. But he just wasn’t close enough and allowed Curry to not only get the ball but with room to shoot. Curry in one motion spun right to rise and fire from 33 feet for what would be the game winner.

It was an incredible shot by Curry and one Phoenix can absolutely not allow him to take with no defender in front of him, even if he’s tossing it from Jupiter.

Phoenix did have one more chance with 0.7 seconds on the clock. Booker was the target in the key and appeared to be fouled by Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins on two separate occasions before the ball got to him. A whistle did blow but after the ball was touched.

The review upheld that, thus having it be the Warriors’ foul to give instead of free throws.

The next play was an attempted slip for Beal on a switch and that was sniffed out. The bailout pass went to Durant, who was draped by Draymond Green. There’s an argument for a foul call there too. It’s also one of the best defensive players ever getting the whistle he normally does in a situation referees will rarely call a foul.

Booker ended up 11-of-21 for 32 points with six assists and two turnovers while it was 10-of-25 for Durant with 10 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and six turnovers. Beal’s 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals on 7-of-16 shooting was a solid night for him.

Don’t let the Warriors’ 25-25 record fool you. They came in winners of five of their last six and some recent developments over the last month suggest a few things are coming together for them as well.

Saturday was Green’s 11th game back since getting suspended for his Flagrant 2 on Jusuf Nurkic in December earned him a 16-game absence. Across the 10 games coming in, Golden State had been excellent with Green on the floor, outscoring teams by 19.4 points per 100 possessions while using him primarily as a center.

Even in his return, third-year wing Jonathan Kuminga has kept rolling, maintaining his career-best stretch with 23.3 points a night across the 10 fixtures while shooting 58.9%. Oh yeah, and Curry over that stretch was at 32.7 points per game while shooting 47.7% at 3-point range.

And on Saturday, defensive ace Gary Payton II returned from a month-long stint with a hamstring injury and that was after missing a separate month because of a calf issue.

Phoenix (31-22) early on struggled with turnovers and getting a strong stretch from any member of the Big 3 for the first 16 minutes but remained in striking distance. That was when Josh Okogie checked in, playing with the energy of a guy who just saw his team trade for a defensive stopper off the bench, the role he has previously held.

Okogie knocked down a corner 3, ridiculous fallaway jumper, picked up a steal and then grabbed an offensive rebound that led to a Durant and-one. He then hit another 3 to cap off an 11-0 Suns run that was pretty much all him. That jolt of life was why Phoenix was only down one at halftime.

From there, the competitiveness really heightened in a back-and-forth third quarter that resembled a playoff game not so much in the quality of play but with the physicality. More moments between Green and Nurkic rallied this, including Green’s first technical foul since coming back. Mini-spurts from each team followed that also never resulted in much separation for all of the second half.

Curry racked up 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists while Kuminga added 21 points. Green was excellent and led a stretch that was going to win the game before Booker took over. Green finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.

Royce O’Neale made his Suns debut with some good minutes in the first half. He only played 11 overall, though, as head coach Frank Vogel clearly wanted him to get more acclimated to Phoenix’s system before playing the veteran wing for key stretches of crunch time.

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