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Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Three keys for the Suns to beat the league-leading Warriors

The 17-3 Phoenix Suns host the 18-2 Golden State Warriors in a battle of the league’s best teams so far this season.

On Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns play the Golden State Warriors in a battle of the two best and hottest teams in the league this young season.

The Suns are 17-3 and riding a 16-game winning streak — longest streak of any team in the last two years — while the Warriors are 18-2 on a 6-game streak of their own.

The Warriors have the league’s best winning percentage, best defense, 2nd best offense, best points margin, and best advanced shooting stats.

The Suns have the league’s 2nd best winning percentage, 3rd best defense, 7th best offense, 3rd best points margin, and top-4 ranks on the advanced shooting stats.

Both teams have soundly beaten the league’s 3rd best early-season team — the Brooklyn Nets — in recent days, but neither team has played a difficult schedule. Both teams’ ‘strength of schedule’ ranks in the bottom five of the league.

The Warriors are the class of the league and the Suns are clearly the second-best team. So why not have them play a game on the Suns home court to virtually balance the odds, and put the game on TNT for all to see?

Even better, why not have them play twice this week (Tuesday and Friday) while they are their hottest, and then again as the marquee game on Christmas Day when the Warriors might even have Klay Thompson back?

Let’s do it!

In this article, we will explore three areas of differentiation between the teams that could spell the difference in a Suns win or loss.

First, let’s break down the most relevant comparative stats.

As you can see, the Warriors edge the Suns on just about every stat I’ve used in game previews for the past few years. You might think the Suns look bad in this light, but remember the Suns are top-5 in nearly every one of those categories among the 30-team league.

Keys to beating the Warriors

Don’t let them go off on threes

The Warriors make more threes per game than any other team at 15.2, while giving up only 12.2 makes per game. That’s a +9 from behind the line every game.

The Suns, average only 11.4 makes per game, while on the other end they give the opponent 11.9, for a net negative point differential of minus-1.5. Still a deficit for the season, but not nearly what it was in October.

So how do the Suns score only 2.2 fewer points per 100 possessions (balanced for pace) — 113 points versus 110.8? Because there’s that thing called a two-point shot the Suns use when not shooting threes. And the Suns make those at a high enough clip to almost match the Warriors second-leading scoring output for a game.

Yet, a three IS more valuable than a two. If the Warriors go three-crazy, they can overcome the Suns superior inside-the-arc shooting enough to win the game.

Watch the threes — the Suns will have a hard time winning if the Warriors make 15 or more threes.

Limit the turnovers

The Warriors turn defense into offense even more than the Suns. They have the top defense in the league, score the most points on fast breaks (17.3 per game) and are second overall in creating points off turnovers (20.3 per game)

They really start getting a head of steam when they force live-ball turnovers in bunches, resulting in back-breaking transition scores.

Golden State leads the league with 10.1 steals per game while also leading the league in defensive rebound rate, which is another kind of ‘live ball turnover’ because the Warriors turn those opponent misses into transition opportunities more than most teams. Even scarier, they are 3rd in the league in total defensive rebounds because they (a) force tough shots and (b) grab the rebound on the first miss.

To control the game, the Suns will need to protect the ball in the back-court (a Chris Paul specialty) and grab some offensive rebounds (a Deandre Ayton specialty).

Win the points-in-the-paint battle

The Suns are 6th in the league in scoring in the paint, with 48.5 points per game (almost half their offense) created in the painted area. Between Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee, as well as cuts by Mikal Bridges, the Suns use their length to score in very high efficiency when they get to the rim.

On the other side, Golden State is no slouch either. They are 12th in the league at 46.6 points per game there.

The Suns will need to win that paint battle if they can’t win the ‘threes’ battle. At least one of these battles has to go the Suns way.

If you’re dying for more breakdown of how great the Suns are in their Suns 16-game win streak, listen to this Solar Panel pod:

Or get it in your favorite pod app, including: Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher

Sure, there are other keys to the game, like ‘hope Curry has a bad night’ and ‘bludgeon them with Ayton paint touches’, but the keys above are good targets for the Suns heading into the game.

What are your keys to beating the Warriors?

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