One thing that’s remained true through highs and lows for this Suns squad is that when Dario Saric is confident and hitting shots, the offense is really hard to stop. So when Saric scored 9 points early, starting 3-4 from the field, it was an encouraging sign.
Encouraging enough to offset the frustration of Kelly Oubre Jr. picking up his second foul less than three minutes into the game. Cam Johnson replaced him, and the extra spacing with Saric and Johnson at the forward spots allowed Devin Booker to get hot early, making three of his first five shots and dish two assists before the first break in play.
For those keeping track at home, Monty Williams finally opted for some consistency at backup guard, going to Jevon Carter as the first backcourt sub of the game. That bench unit, with Frank Kaminsky and Mikal Bridges joining Johnson, Carter and Booker, was used fairly often early in the year and was a plus-15.8, per Cleaning the Glass.
Then came the debut of the Warriors’ second-round pick, Alen Smailagic, whose fascinating journey to this point was document by Connor Letourneau here as well as me, right over here! Smailagic looks like he’s going to be a solid-to-great NBA player, so get used to his name.
Smailagic scored on a dish from former Sun Marquese Chriss, then went vertical to contest a shot by Booker at the rim. Later on, he confidently pulled up for a corner three. The young Serbian big man played with more poise than anyone debuting in the NBA should. Great to see.
Greater to see was Booker’s hot start. At the end of one, Booker had 8 points and three assists, a huge step up from his lackadaisical last three games.
Oubre checked back in to start the second but sat after about a minute, then came back in another minute or so later. Bizarre.
The Suns just couldn’t build a lead over Golden State. The Warriors controlled the pace of the game and that allowed their guards to create. The Suns didn’t do enough damage when Draymond Green was out of the game. When Golden State’s starters retook the court, the Suns’ lead was only a few.
I couldn’t help but monitor the rotation against the Warriors, after Williams said following another close loss Monday to the Nuggets that guys were only going to play if they executed the game plan and brought energy.
With three days off to get healthy, practice and recuperate, Williams went to Tyler Johnson as the final man off the bench in a lineup with Booker in the middle of the second period.
Oubre picked up a third foul and thus played just five minutes in the first half. Booker’s hot scoring continued, and the Warriors could not put together a string of successful offensive possessions.
Golden State shot just 37 percent from the field in the first half and went into halftime down 8.
Booker scored 5 quick points right out of the break, including his first triple of the game that went RIGHT through the net. Those two buckets gave Booker 22 points with about 23 minutes left in the contest.
Again, Saric helped the Suns build their lead. This time it was on the defensive end, however, as Saric successfully switched onto D’Angelo Russell and Damion Lee time after time and forcing them into contested mid-range jumpers. The Suns were able to keep their lead in double digits.
In addition, the Suns dominated the rebounding battle and got to the line repeatedly. These Warriors are rounding into form, and it took a focused, energized effort to stay up on them. This was one of Booker’s highest-turnover games of the year, but his scoring balanced it out.
When Booker went to the bench in the fourth, Williams went with the three-wing lineup, with Rubio and Aron Baynes bookmarking those guys. That required Rubio to be more aggressive as a scorer, and he knocked down a key midrange jumper to keep the Warriors’ run from getting out of hand.
Offensive rebounding truly was the difference in tonight’s game in key moments. With about 7:30 left, Tyler Johnson scored right at the rim after a back-tap to keep the Suns up 10. Golden State’s defense was strong but they allowed the Suns too many extra possessions.
A Russell three-pointer with about 6:15 to go pulled the Warriors within 2. Booker responded with a quick two to go back up 4. Moments later, Kaminsky got to the line and went 1-2 to keep the Suns’ lead at 2. An Alec Burks layup followed by a Glenn Robinson III putback dunk with 4:14 remaining gave the Warriors their first lead since the first quarter.
With the Warriors getting to the bucket at will, many began to wonder why Saric — one of the bright spots of the night — was not in the game to bring size to the Suns’ lineup.
PUT DARIO IN THE GAME, COACH.— David Kevin (@theIVpointplay) December 28, 2019
After a Suns timeout, Saric checked in, having played just 21 minutes all night. Soon after, Baynes hit his hand on Lee’s leg and laid on the ground in pain for a while. Kaminsky had to come in to spot Baynes. Warriors up 4.
Another Burks layup. Then Booker got to the line for two. Next, Lee did the same. All with Russell on the bench. Anyone who doubted this Warriors coaching staff should refrain from basketball opinions for a couple weeks.
Plus, while the Suns fumbled the ball left and right, the occasionally clumsy Warriors took care of the ball. Golden State turned the ball over just 10 times.
Baynes, fingers apparently fine after the collision with Lee, checked back in with 2:58 to go as Rubio nailed his second free-throw.
A huge three from Green sealed the win for the Warriors a moment later. The Suns’ defense in the fourth quarter allowed everyone to get to the rim with ease. The second-worst offense in the NBA put up 39 points in the fourth quarter on Phoenix. They don’t deserve to win when they defend like that in the clutch.