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Rematch: Warriors get another chance at Phoenix
Damion Lee will be back, but still no Iguodala; Suns without Booker for at least a couple weeks
Stephen Curry scored a season-low 12 points, and the Golden State Warriors turned the ball over way too much but were still in the game until the closing minutes. Instead, the Phoenix Suns came away with a victory, set a new franchise record for regular season win streak, and unleashed a fire storm of hot takes and hand wringing.
Now it’s the Warriors’ turn to host, and they’re welcoming Phoenix to Chase Arena on the tail end of a back-to-back (they beat Detroit at home last night) for the still win-streaking Suns. With more perspective, some time to prepare, and some home cooking, Golden State is hoping to balance the ledger.
On the injury front, new father Damion Lee is back with the team:
The Suns are going to be without Devin Booker for a while because of the hamstring strain he pulled against the Warriors on Tuesday. Though the team has stated that it isn’t a serious long-term injury, they’re going to be cautious with what could
be a nagging injury to their leading scorer.
WHO: Golden State (18-3) vs Phoenix Suns (19-3)
WHEN: Friday, December 3, 2021 // 7:00pm (ish) PDT
Breaking down what went wrong
The cool thing about the regular season is that even though results matter, no matter what happens, you get another shot to fix it soon. So with two consecutive days off, you can bet that the Warriors have been looking hard at the film from Tuesday night’s loss.
And clearly something went wrong. Sure, it took one of the coldest nights (4 of 21 shooting) from Curry (a rare sight) and a generous 22 turnovers, but there were also some telling late game struggles. The Warriors came into the game with the 2nd best offensive rating and are sitting all the way down at 7th at time of writing. The team only managed 19 points in the 2nd quarter, and just 18 in the 4th. My colleagues here at DNHQ already have done a masterful job at looking at the specifics of the loss, so I’m going to focus on some macro concerns.
Suns switch almost everything defense gave Curry fits.
The modern NBA is a switch-heavy world, and the Suns play an aggressive, physical defense that employs a bunch of great wing options. Primary Curry defender Mikal Bridges is a prototype Curry defender, with the athleticism, defensive IQ, and freakishly long seven foot wing span to bother the best shooter on the planet.
Ben Taylor, shows that the Suns run a modified defense of “switch most things” rather than switch everything. The problem with being a standard setter like the Warriors is that everyone not only knows your schemes and priorities, but they’ve had years to build a roster and philosophy to combat your greatest strengths.
As that video shows, Phoenix is pretty well coached. They’re extremely aware of how the Warriors use the threat of Curry’s outside shot to break down a defense, and did an excellent job of navigating screens and communicating. Of course, none of this is possible without the personnel. The Suns’ defenders are good enough at this that they are shown as the least likely to blitz a pick-and-roll. This graphic isn’t targeted at them, but you can see how seldom Phoenix does it.
Because the Suns are so good at getting around screens, it’s also causing a lot of the other action to run aground. And with Chris Paul running around playing free safety, (5 steals) you can easily understand why the Warriors had trouble.
That video above goes on to talk about specific counter measures - Curry running past screens at full speed, using a preliminary cut to shake up the big man help rotation before initiating with Curry. Here’s a timestamped link if you want to see the exact play examples. But for now, it’s mostly adequate to understand that the Warriors do have some solutions that they can implement.
Some systemic solutions will be put in place, and I doubt Curry has another cold night. I want to be sure to credit the very strong Suns defense, but it for sure was “just one of those nights” for Curry as well.
I’m ready for a revenge game.
Green’s reluctant shooting
Another macro aspect that I want to touch on briefly is Draymond Green’s shooting. I’ve written extensively on how much Green helps the team’s offense, but am going to dig at the other side of the wall here for a moment and pick on one of the few areas that he doesn’t do so well in: shooting.
Again, please try and keep in mind that with all of the below being true, the offense is still better with Green on the court. He still has a very positive net effect.
However, according to Cleaning the Glass, Green’s also got the worst on/off per-possession impact of his career. With a quarter of the season completed, this is something worth watching. Again, historical inertia would seem to pull this back into the positive, and much of this is probably associated with the hefty impact of bench “center” Gary Payton II; but still, five points worse per 100 possessions with Green on the court so far this season rather than off of it.
This early in the season these on/off numbers can be pulled easily by big runs so I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in this being any sort of “ah hah!” stat - but nonetheless, it’s interesting to see Green’s impact go from reliably one of the highest, to the bottom third of the league. Someone on Twitter pointed out some net impact numbers that were much more favorable. In other words, he still has a net positive impact overall, but the team has a bigger net positive impact from killing teams when Green isn’t on the court.
Also, because of the Warriors large margins of victory this year, it’s possible that excluding “garbage time” like CtG does may introduce some freakish variance this early in the season.
Bball breakdown did a great analysis and there’s a fair bit towards the end on how Green’s reticence clogs up the offense by allowing the opposition to send a free safety helper off of him. I’ve cut this to the correct time stamp (right around the five minute mark) but the whole video is worth a watch:
From this screen cap, look at how far off Green’s defender is. This is very specifically associated with Green’s shooting woes. In the preseason, he mentioned that it was an area of emphasis, we saw practice floor footage of him working on post moves and floaters. And then, in the third game of the season - a win over the Sacramento Kings - he went 6 of 12 (including 1 of 2 from deep). It was a great start… but also the only game this season that Green took more than 8 shots in a game.
If you know a guy isn’t going to shoot, it’s much more freeing. Even if the ball swings back, you know that there’s ample time to recover. This is the dreaded “Tony Allen treatment” and has been a bit of a rising concern amidst Green’s decline in scoring.
As we saw with the earlier loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors ability to manufacture offense when the game grinds down towards the end of games can be a critical path error for this team.
The problem here isn’t exclusively about Green’s accuracy. He’s scoring approximately 117 points per 100 shot attempts, per CtG, which is about average for his position (52nd percentile), and that’s fine for such a low volume shooter.
It’s the complete lack of a threat of a shot that’s the real detriment to the offense. As Don Nelson famously chanted as a mantra, a shot created must be taken. By not being willing to hoist a shot, it gives the defense a built in inherent lag to catch up to the play.
It was starting to look like a mental thing last season, and based on his shot pattern, it’s starting to look almost like he’s getting a case of the yips as games wind down - particularly tight games. Take a look at his shot volumes by quarter, via Basketball Reference:
Also from Bball Ref, you can see the break down of his shooting. He’s doing a great job of identifying his best opportunities, but looking at his jump shooting percentages it’s easy to see why he’s shy about lofting shots - even when open.
I’ll leave it up to you readers to determine how much any of this matters, but to my eye, these were the two biggest factors in that first loss to the Suns. I know Green and Curry will fix whatever is broken, but the fact that the Suns were able to press the issue on two of these macro concern areas means it’s time to sit up straighter and get a little more intentional about deploying countermeasures.
Here we are again, another lovely Friday with a Dubs game waiting for us all at the end of the work day. I’m still looking for recommendations in the comments, but since no clear favorites emerged, I’m going to share a friendly ska song from Mike Park - and please, check out the big conversation we had!
It’s not punk, but it’s awesome: