In a matchup of the NBA’s two best teams, the Phoenix Suns played clampdown defense in a 104-96 win over the Golden State Warriors. Playing most of the game without star Devin Booker, who left in the second quarter with a hamstring strain, Phoenix harassed Steph Curry into 4-21 shooting and forced 22 Warriors turnovers. The ageless Chris Paul scored 15 points and delivered 11 assists to go along with his five steals in Phoenix’s 17th straight win. Jordan Poole had 28 points for the Warriors and Otto Porter Jr. had 16 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a strong, balanced performance by last year’s Western Conference champs.
Phoenix put the game away in the final quarter, after a game that was close throughout - no team led by more than nine until the final minute, and with 5:19 to go, it was a one-point game. But one stretch won the contest for the Suns. In the 4th, Porter’s jumper made it 92-91 Phoenix, and the Warriors forced a shot clock violation. On the subsequent possession, Mikal Bridges (who played excellent defense chasing Curry around all night) stole the ball, and Jae Crowder extended the lead to three with a jumper. And then Draymond Green shot two of the worst layups you’ll ever see outside of a middle school game.
He was likely trying to exploit the Suns sagging off him on defense, but a full-sprint up-and-under layup is tough even for a player with good touch around the basket. When Draymond did it, it looked like someone trying to play cornhole from the window of a speeding car.
Look, Draymond is going to miss some layups, albeit usually not as comically badly as these two. But if he is, he can’t hang back and yell at the refs against a team like the Suns, because they will burn you if you don’t get back on defense. Here, Green is slow to get back, Andrew Wiggins follows Ayton to the rim to prevent a layup, and Jae Crowder cashes the open three as Green half-heartedly contests.
After the play, Monty Williams got a technical foul when, anticipating a timeout from Kerr, he jogged onto the court to congratulate Crowder. When the Warriors tried to push the ball after the bucket, they were facing a 5-on-6 with one of the defenders wearing a zip-up Suns warmup. It could have been a huge play after Curry’s free throw cut the Suns’ lead to five, but Steph missed a three, Chris Paul got a steal and a bucket, and Kerr probably wished he had called that timeout after all.
Golden State came out red-hot in the first quarter, thanks to Jordan Poole’s four three-pointers. Down 22-17 with four minutes left in the quarter, the Warriors’ microwave scorer went on an individual 11-0 run, hitting four baskets in just 81 seconds. He was tough for Phoenix to contain all night, regularly letting defenders fly by him at the arc before calmly burying a triple - he was 6-12 from deep on the night, and probably should have gotten more touches down the stretch.
Big men hurt the Warriors, with DeAndre Ayton and JaVale McGee combining for 15 points on 7-9 shooting to keep the Suns in the game early. Ayton was a force, putting up 24 points and 11 rebounds on the Dubs’ undersized frontcourt. He blocked two shots, altered at least three times that amount, and didn’t commit a single foul while ably guarding out on the perimeter on switches. Usually Steph Curry matched up with a center thirty feet from the basket means he’s feasting. Last night, Ayton hung in there and even blocked a three. Why doesn’t Phoenix think this guy is worth a max deal again?
In the second, the Warriors took a 48-39 lead in spite of four Juan Toscano-Anderson turnovers in the first 3:26. Porter and Curry were scoring and the Suns were turning the ball over themselves. Then Phoenix hit a new level defensively. Ayton and Crowder came back in the game and the Suns held the Warriors without a field goal for nearly five minutes of game action. It was a 14-2 run in which five different Suns scored and the Warriors missed five shots from within four feet of the hoop.
Phoenix stretched their lead to nine points midway through the third when Gary Payton II came in to almost single-handedly keep the game close. He got rebounds, he played harassing defense, and had two dunks and a putback layup during one 53-second stretch. One dunk came after an amazing block and dime from Poole.
Another Poole steal led to a Payton detonation, one which made a neighbor knock on my door to see if I was OK because of the yell I let out watching this dunk.
Payton was a team-high +17 on the night, with eight points, seven rebounds and a steal. If there’s a knock on Steve Kerr’s coaching Tuesday night, it’s that playing Young Glove only 16 minutes seems criminal, especially with Damion Lee out. (Congratulations to D-Lee and Sydel Curry on baby Daxon Wardell-Xavier!) Chris Chiozza was adequate in 12 minutes that felt like 25.
Curry’s rough shooting night was the story, and he credited the Suns’ defense. “They’re a really good team, they’ve got great chemistry, they were flying around. We’ve got to make adjustments to counter that and take care of the basketball,” he said after the game. Bridges in particular stood out, but Phoenix also got excellent contributions from Cam Johnson on both ends (14 points, a steal and a block) and the aforementioned Bridges (four steals).
Overall, the Warriors defense was solid, holding Phoenix to 25 or fewer points each quarter. Phoenix got 19 of their 106 off of Warriors turnovers, which is tough to overcome when they also shoot 40% from deep. Still, in one of Curry’s worst offensive games in recent memory, the team was still in striking distance until the very end.
Part of the struggle could have been the back issues for their forwards: Andrew Wiggins was having back spasms before the game and looked stiff, though he wasn’t terrible. But when Curry has an off night, they need more than ten points from Maple Jordan. Not his fault, just tough when he was moving like late-career Maple Pippen. Draymond was also questionable due to a back injury against the Clippers, and while he played through the discomfort, he also didn’t look right.
Speaking of awkward motion, Kevon Looney got a flagrant foul when he hit Jae Crowder in the head, mainly because his arms were flailing. It was clearly unintentional - Crowder was behind him - but also clearly a flagrant. Essentially, the Suns got two free throws and the ball because Ayton bumped him, and Looney lost his balance. He had a lot of trouble with Ayton on both ends, an area where Kerr might make an adjustment for the rematch Friday night.
Ultimately, this felt like a playoff game, a rarity for November basketball in the NBA. Like a real playoff series, they’ll run it back with two days off and a change of venue for Friday, where Phoenix will be without their rabid home crowd and likely, their All-Star shooting guard. We’ve seen how Steph Curry normally responds after a poor shooting night, like when he lost his streak of 157 consecutive games with a three-pointer in 2016, and followed it up with a record 13 threes in his next game.
And looking ahead, no Christmas present you receive is going to be as exciting as when these two teams return to Phoenix on December 25th.