Steph Curry's off night doesn't stop Warriors from knocking off Chris Paul's Suns
The Warriors handled their business and knocked off the West's top two seeds on consecutive nights to keep pace in a very tight playoff race.
The Phoenix Suns did not come into San Francisco last night to lose. They’ve had a dominant season, holding the 2nd best record in the NBA, gearing up for their first postseason run since back in 2010 when Steve Nash was throwing lobs to current Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins. Led by fringe MVP candidate and old Golden State nemesis Chris Paul, they were in town to punish a weary and injury riddled Warriors team.
The severely shorthanded Dubs had survived a nailbiter the night before against a physical Utah Jazz team, while Phoenix hadn’t played since an embarrassing Sunday loss to the LeBron James-less Lakers. The Suns were ready to purify themselves of that misstep by crushing the rebuilding Warriors in their fancy shmancy new San Francisco arena.
Phoenix did indeed smack Golden State early on, roaring out to a 38-29 advantage in the first quarter. We’ve seen games where the Warriors got blown out early and never recovered to make it a game. They could have shrugged after seeing that early double-digit deficit and emotionally bowed out with a decently legitimate fatigue excuse.
Phoenix was raining triples early. They nailed 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first frame. As the Dubs wheezed through the beginning of the second quarter things looked bleak. Let’s just say it was definitely looking like the night for fans to bring emotional support bunnies to soothe the pain.
But suddenly, after an errant Draymond Green three-pointer smacked off the rim and into Phoenix’s All-Star guard Devin Booker’s hands, Kent Bazemore had enough.
After Bazemore took the foul and converted the layup, did you see him roar at the fallen Jae Crowder like a UFC fighter? Booker didn’t like that bravado one bit and flared up on journeyman-turned-essential hooper Juan Toscano-Anderson. Somebody tell Booker that Oakland dudes don’t play that.
The vibe in the arena immediately changed. The Warriors ratcheted up their defensive intensity and the limited capacity crowd started generating some Roaracle-esque animosity at the visitors. Booker and Paul wanted to destroy the Dubs, but the weary Warriors decided they weren’t going out like that against the probable Pacific Division champs.
Golden State went on a 12-6 run to enter halftime down 66-58. They then cut the lead down to 98-92 after three quarters. In the end they wrestled away a 122-116 signature win that put the entire league on notice about two facts:
These Warriors are more than just Curry’s sidekicks.
These Dubs are more than capable of beating the elite teams on any given night.
Strength in Numbers is for real
The Warriors got a heavy dose of how playoff defenses will be hounding Curry against Utah and Phoenix. Curry wheezed his way to 21 points on 1-of-11 shooting from downtown but dished out 6 assists. They ran him off the three-point line at all costs, even if took multiple defenders and left other Warriors completely open. Check out how the Suns QUADRUPLE TEAMED the two-time MVP 35 feet from the basket in this next photo:
But that’s why Coach Steve Kerr has been drilling this roster on moving without the basketball and being decisive with passes that force the defense into hellacious conundrums. Last night we saw Kerr’s patience in this ragtag roster pay off in a big way with non-Curry options taking advantage of the openings created by their star guard's gravity.
Draymond Green led the way in that regard, tallying up a triple-double on 11 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and 4 steals. Curry and Green analyzed how Phoenix was selling out to shut down Curry’s trey ball and they began manipulating the defense with dribble handoffs and inverted pick-and-rolls. The Suns would jump those actions to keep Curry from getting loose, leaving huge swaths of space on the court for other Warriors to capitalize.
JTA tallied 7 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and a block in 31 huge minutes. Jordan Poole came through shooting like he was playing Call of Duty, racking up 20 points on 60% shooting. The indomitable antagonist Bazemore scored 17 points of his own on 7-of-12 shooting. Those three guys combined to go 6-of-14 from downtown, enough to punish the defense for ganging up on Steph, especially in crunch time.
Dub Nation’s greatest fear would be relying on a bunch of guys who couldn’t make shots when an exhausted Curry and Green are surrounded by enemy goons. But the role players stepped up when they were most needed last night, a welcome maturation from the growing pains we witnessed in the clutch earlier this season.
Defense wins championships
These Warriors are apparently hella hard to score on when they’re not fouling the heck outta folks. They are are ranked fifth defensively (one spot ahead of the Suns). Last night they put on arguably their most crucial defensive stand of the season in the fourth quarter, outscoring Phoenix 30-18.
Booker went off for 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting, including a 22-point third quarter onslaught that had Bob Fitzgerald comparing his shooting form to Klay Thompson! But Booker was limited to only 3 points in the fourth period. Chris Paul had a 24-point, 10-assist double-double but couldn’t sustain his maddening wizardy through the active limbs of the Warriors.
Golden State’s defense kept the Suns away from the paint and restricted them to contested jumpshots. The Warriors disciplined switching and competitive edge neutered Phoenix’s offense attack; the Suns only got 3 shots around the rim in the 4th…missing all of them.
A lot of credit goes to the Warriors undersized “big men” Green and Kevon Looney for making up for their lack of height with timing and smarts. They’re amazing at mirroring the footwork of guards and knowing right when to contest the shot. Watching those two square off against CP3’s trickery was worth the price of admission.
Welcome to Wiggins Island
With Curry surrounded by defenders and Klay Thompson in street clothes, the Warriors desperately needed somebody to play like a max-contract scoring threat. Last night Wiggins was everything Dub Nation needed him to be in that regard.
My friend Duby Dub Dubs penned an open acknowledgement regarding his acceptance of Wiggins’ development from expensive and underwhelming in Minnesota to a solid piece on a reengineered contender in Golden State.
This is the final chapter in the death of D-Cubed’s anti-Wiggins skepticism and I’m ecstatic to witness it…even though I thought that day would have came last year when me and Grant freakin’ Liffmann tried to tell him “Maple Jordan” was gonna be good!
I know some folks may still gripe over the contract and I don’t begrudge them their right to do so. But sheesh you see how expensive the living is out here in the Bay; Wiggins needs every penny!
Somehow this team is holding on to the 8th seed despite missing half the roster due to injury. This team never quits and I’m glad Dub Nation didn’t quit on them. Let’s all gear up for We Believe 2.0! Whoooo—wait, what’s that Dray?
Oh…oh okay well what if we go with something different and hip like…“Y’all Musta Forgot”? Or “We Back”? Ehhhh those are trash. We’ve got some to time to think of something by the time the play-in tourney hits. Any suggestions?