Suns’ strong defensive effort comes up short against Warriors
PHOENIX — In order to beat a team as talented as the Golden State Warriors, the Phoenix Suns must have an ample amount of things go right on the court.
The Suns showed tremendous effort and improvement defensively against a juggernaut offensive lineup Sunday, but 41 percent shooting plagued them in a 106-100 loss that still leaves them winless with a 0-3 record this season.
It’s the second straight game the Suns have played at this level defensively in a close losing effort, something head coach Earl Watson noted after the game.
“I think we’re right there (for) winning big games,” Watson said.
“Have a chance to beat OKC on the road, have a chance to beat Golden State at home, I think we’re right where we need to be.”
Even in the game Phoenix showed so much fight in, Golden State’s star power shined through. Kevin Durant had 37 points on 10-of-16 shooting for the Warriors and Stephen Curry finished with 28 points.
In the first half, most of those required positives for Phoenix to beat an elite team were happening.
The Suns defense was alert and engaged, making defensive rotations one couldn’t dream of them doing last season, resulting in the Suns scoring 18 points off 10 Golden State turnovers. They were working very hard fighting through screens, establishing position and attacking the glass, forcing Golden State to commit several uncharacteristic fouls.
The leaders of that effort were starting forwards Jared Dudley and T.J. Warren, who had severely different box scores, but had the same positive influence on the floor. Dudley finished with nine points, two rebounds, three assists and three steals while Warren, following up a 30-point game in Oklahoma City Friday night, had 26 points and six rebounds while being guarded by either Draymond Green or Durant most of the night.
“We’re just trying to give a 100 percent effort out there, just go out there and compete and give high energy,” Warren said after the game. ‘The wins will come this season so we’re not worried, we just got to continue to play hard.”
The Warriors never appeared to shift out of second or third gear, not showing the Suns’ defense enough respect on passes and other offensive sets while also giving up six dunks or layups in the first quarter.
When the opposition is talented enough, though, sometimes it doesn’t matter if they cruise through a portion of the game.
Curry had 18 points in the half, and a brief spurt to close out the half from Durant — including a highlight-reel dunk — somehow had Golden State only down two in a half they were severely outplayed and outworked in.
The same story would unfold in the second half. Phoenix continued to make great plays defensively and kept the game within reach, even after the Warriors yielded a four-point advantage while Curry was on the bench due to foul trouble in the third quarter.
The Suns continued to hang around, never being down by more than five points. As one would predict, the Warriors pulled away late, with their four All-Stars carrying the team in crunch time. Durant, Curry and Thompson scored the team’s last 19 points in the game and Green made some stellar defensive plays. Phoenix’s offensive woes particularly showed in this period, when they scored just one point over a 3:33 stretch late in the quarter.
Dudley noted that’s the area where the team can grow next.
“Probably the last step you have with a young team is learning how to win the fourth quarter and usually veteran teams, that’s when you execute your offense,” Dudley said.
Watson shut down the notion that the team is in a state where they are competitive against some of the best teams, but come up short.
“No, play (and) we will win these games soon,” Watson said.
Devin Booker was listed on the injury notes before the game with a right great toe sprain. He missed some time at the end of the first half and went to the locker room, but played in and started the second half.
“He’s been playing through the injury,” Watson said. “Devin’s tough. If you watch him, he’s been limping around a lot.”
Booker said it was fine after he warmed up, calling it a work in progress.
“In the morning I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play, it was tough to walk, but we have the best training staff in the NBA,” Booker said.
The now 20-year-old — it was Booker’s birthday Sunday — said it was an injury that came up two weeks ago before it went away, and then in the mid-first quarter in Oklahoma City on Friday he started feeling it again.