After blowing out the Denver Nuggets, the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference, and before heading out for a rough road trip, the Warriors had to deal with the small matter of a home game against the Phoenix Suns. With the Warriors being one of the best teams in the league while the Suns are one of the teams very much in play for the first pick in the NBA Draft, at first glance this game didn’t seem like one that would be very difficult for the Dubs.
It certainly didn’t look like it was going to be all that challenging in the first quarter, as the Warriors jumped out to a 16-point lead, ending the quarter up by 13 and continuing to play the great defense that was on display in Friday night’s win over the Nuggets.
Warriors have the look that they want to blow this game out of the water so they can get an early night's rest— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 11, 2019
But the Warriors’ early energy and intensity quickly disappeared as the Suns erased that deficit, clawing back throughout the game to upset the Warriors, 115-111.
The Suns deserve the lion’s share of the credit for this win, especially Devin Booker (a game-high 37 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (22 points while going 4/5 from three-point range). But while the Suns did their part and took this game, the Warriors played a role in offering it up to them, giving an overmatched team playing in the second game in two nights the opportunity to steal a win.
Atrocious three-point shooting
It’s an understatement to say the Warriors struggled from three-point range against the Suns. As a team, they shot 10/43 from long distance, one of their lowest three-point field-goal percentages in any game this season. When the Warriors have shot under 30% from three-point range in a game during the 2018-19 season, they’re 3-13. Obviously it’s not surprising that the Warriors, with a lineup featuring some of the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history, would struggle in games when those shots weren’t falling. But if one wants to know why the Warriors didn’t win this game they easily should have, it’s the best place to start.
Many of the looks the Warriors got against the Suns were good, open ones. Though, on occasion, they did lapse and force up some contested shots, for the most part the Warriors were getting the attempts they want. The shots just weren’t falling. The Suns are also in the bottom five of the league when it comes to opponents’ three-point field-goal percentage, so they’re a team that has been susceptible this season to the long-distance shot.
Part of the credit has to go to an improved Suns defense. The Suns have won 4 of their last 5 games and a big part of that is a stronger defensive effort. In those wins, they’ve done a good job of containing teams from three-point range, holding three teams under 35% from long distance, including in a 114-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in which the Bucks shot 28.6% from three-point range
While the Suns have been a better defensive team of late, better equipped to make things tough for the Warriors, some of this awful game for the defending champs was just... randomness. It was an abnormally poor night for the Warriors, an excellent example of the statistical outlier, particularly for their All-Star backcourt. One need not look further than this stat:
Warriors All-Stars Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combined to miss 22 threes against Phoenix. That's the most missed threes in any game by The Splash Brothers, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) March 11, 2019
Klay Thompson was able to get off to a good start in this game, picking up where he left off in Friday’s game against the Nuggets by scoring 10 points in the first quarter while going 2⁄3 from three-point range. But as the game continued, Thompson started missing those shots from long distance, going 2/12 from three-point range after that hot start. Thompson ended the game with 28 points but those points were much more difficult to come by when compared to the beginning of the game.
Thompson did contribute this highlight from that first quarter when the Warriors jumped out to that big lead, a play that had the entire Warriors bench up and celebrating.
Stephen Curry was off from the start against the Suns, not scoring his first points until late in the second quarter and struggling to make anything (Curry shot 6/20 from the field and 4/15 from three-point range). Curry was able to have a positive impact on the game despite his poor shooting. Curry finished Sunday night’s game with 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals, while also posting a plus/minus of +7, indicative of him playing some good defense early in the game.
Even though both players found ways to make positive contributions in this game while struggling to be efficient, they (and the team) couldn’t overcome their poor luck from long distance and it resulted in an embarrassing home loss.
Durant tried to save the day
The one player who was able to consistently get something done on offense was Kevin Durant. Durant scored 25 points on Sunday night while also contributing 3 assists and 2 rebounds to the cause and posting a team-best plus/minus of +10.
One of those assists was this absolute dime late in the third quarter.
Durant’s midrange game as well as his ability to score at the basket while drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line were all invaluable in this game where the Warriors could not get a three-point shot to drop.
Durant also played stellar defense against the Suns, something that even the most ardent criticizer of Durant’s defensive play had to admit:
I’ve been his harshest defensive critic so let me say this: Kevin Durant is playing truly exceptional defense this game.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) March 11, 2019
However, the Warriors were without Durant for the closing minutes of Sunday night’s game and it likely cost them. Durant rolled his ankle on this play and did not return to action because of the right ankle contusion.
After the game, head coach Steve Kerr didn’t seem overly concerned about the injury, that it seemed like a minor one.
But having Durant, the player who’d been carrying them in this game, only play for nine seconds in the fourth quarter was an enormous factor in the Warriors losing this game. If the Warriors had Durant out there, I truly believe they would have been able to get this win. The issues would have still been there, but at least they would have had the win.
Lack of depth on display
With Curry and Thompson struggling, the Warriors needed their bench to step up and give them something that could put them over the top. Those supporting players were not up to the task and played poorly against the lowly Suns.
One lineup that Kerr has been using at the start of the second and fourth quarters, a lineup that highlights these bench-related woes, features Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston. You still have three starters out on the court but you give Curry and Durant time to rest, replacing them with Livingston and Iguodala. Ideally, it should be able to maintain any lead the Warriors have and, ideally, expand it while Curry and Durant get some time off the court.
Unfortunately, that lineup did not work very well against the Suns just as it didn’t against the Nuggets:
Rough night for the Klay-Livingston-Iguodala-Draymond-Cousins second unit: -7 to start the second quarter, -2 to start this fourth vs the Suns.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 11, 2019
The struggles of that unit in the second quarter allowed the Suns to regain momentum as they erased that large early lead the Warriors held, even holding the lead at one point in the second frame. The Warriors had opportunities to win the game late and were not able to capitalize, missing those shots they would almost always make. But allowing the Suns to get back into this game because their second unit was unable to maintain a double-digit lead was a huge part of this shocking loss.
Iguodala commented on this following the team’s win over the Nuggets that they needed to get more production out of their bench. They assuredly did not get an improved effort on Sunday night.
I take that back. There was one player who had a very good performance coming off the bench. Kevon Looney played well in his 17 minutes. Looney scored 5 points but, more importantly, was a force on the offensive glass as he pulled down 6 offensive rebounds. Usually, if the Warriors are getting offensive rebounding like that, they’re going to win because they almost always knock down the second shot attempt. But on this night when there seemed to be a lid on the basket, it did not matter.
A more natural Boogie
Though it was a game to forget for the Warriors players, coaches, and fans, Cousins did turn in another good game, his second in a row. Cousins scored 13 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked 2 shots against the Suns, all while playing solid defense against the Suns’ rookie big man Deandre Ayton.
Cousins looked spry and agile on this play early in the fourth quarter.
Boogie with the quick feet pic.twitter.com/vIiJUnUAlc— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 11, 2019
What stood out most about Cousins’ performance, especially on offense, was that it all seemed to come naturally. At times, the Warriors have clearly tried to force the action to Cousins, to get him acclimated to playing with this team and touches that would boost his confidence. Even when he’s played well this season, it felt more the result of Cousins’ teammates setting him up than just his own natural ability. That feeling wasn’t there on Sunday night as Cousins’ good play and best moments all seemed to come within the normal flow of the Warriors’ game plan. Hopefully this will continue in the remaining games of the regular season and into the postseason.
Keeping the big picture in mind
While no one should be happy about the Warriors losing a home game to one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, it is worth maintaining a little perspective. To provide that perspective, I’ll turn things over to the Warriors’ two-time MVP:
Steph Curry: “Last year was way worse than this. Way worse.” pic.twitter.com/7xmt56xAuu— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 11, 2019
There were quite a few bad moments at the end of last season. Bad losses, long-term injuries, things that made a few people question whether or not the Warriors would repeat
Whether any of them were as bad as this loss to the Suns, that’s up for debate. But what’s not up for debate is that this is still a team with a championship pedigree and one of the most talented rosters in the NBA. While a result like this against a team like the Suns is something no one wants, given the potential cocktail of bad luck and waning focus on regular-season matters no one should start to think that the Warriors are not the favorites to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy this summer. This is a team that learned the hard way that the regular season isn’t what they’ll be remembered for, that it’s the postseason that’s most important, and I have no reason to believe they won’t be more than ready to go when the playoffs start.
The Warriors will get a chance to wash the bad taste of this game out of their mouths on Wednesday, when they travel to Texas to face off against the Houston Rockets.