Wins have been tough to come by recently. After they started 15-6, the Suns had gone 5-15 over their last 20 games, including a very recent six-game losing streak.
On Tuesday night, Phoenix played a team-oriented brand of basketball that will serve it well with All-Star guard Devin Booker out for the rest of the month due to a groin injury. The Suns had four of five starters in double figures for scoring: point guard Duane Washington Jr. (21 points); forward Mikal Bridges (26 points); forward Torrey Craig (12 points); and forward Dario Saric (19 points).
Center Bismack Biyombo also had eight points on 4-of-7 shooting and eight rebounds in 17 minutes.
It was a great win for the Suns, who are now 3-0 this season against Golden State, the defending NBA champions. Phoenix still has a long way to go to salvage its season – it previously was first in the Western Conference and now ranks seventh – and must get multiple players healthy and perhaps make a trade to put it back into championship-level contention.
But in the interim, the Suns should be pleased with plenty that occurred in Tuesday’s win.
Here are five things that stood out in Phoenix’s win over the Warriors.
Mikal Bridges’ impact
Bright Side of the Sun wrote previously how Bridges needed to be more of an offensive factor for the Suns to win games this month, and that had not happened over the course of this season.
His pull-up shot percentage had not been good over the last few games but he has stepped up lately. Bridges now has an effective field goal percentage of 41.9 percent on pull-ups, including 41.4 percent from 3-point range.
He had multiple opportunities to create his own shot Tuesday night and was effective while shooting 10-of-18 from the field and getting to the free-throw line seven times (incredibly, backup guard Damion Lee got to the free-throw line 14 times and made all of his attempts to score 22 points off the bench).
In an interview question from TNT’s Chris Haynes that had Booker confused (below), Bridges essentially said the Suns’ championship window has not closed and they have more in store. His game was a sign of that if he can continue it, which is very promising for Phoenix.
What kinda question was that— Book (@DevinBook) January 11, 2023
Multiple backup players contribute
It is a big ask for the Suns to get huge contributions from their bench rotation, especially since it is perceived to be weaker than last season and already has backup guards Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet out with injuries.
However, Phoenix got big outings from players who had huge performances Tuesday. Saric, who missed all of last season due to an ACL injury suffered in the 2021 NBA Finals, had a season-best 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Saric also had nine rebounds and a team-best seven assists.
It reminded Suns fans of his impact in 2020-21, when he hurt defenses with his ability to stretch the floor and make plays for others. He has been used lightly in Phoenix’s rotation this season, but he has more opportunities to make an impact given multiple players are out.
Dario Šarić is DEADEYE off the catch— Suns Nation (@SunsNationCP) January 11, 2023
At this moment, Dario Saric turned into Devin Booker. pic.twitter.com/C5ql3nig2c— Suns Are Better (@SunsAreBetter) January 11, 2023
Lee, who received his championship ring from the 2022 NBA Finals pregame, had a very big night in his return to Golden State. He had a season-best 22 points with seven rebounds and four assists and created multiple opportunities for the Suns with 14 free-throw attempts.
"D. Lee, this is special, man. Your night, with your family, you played well and you won... This is your night. Congratulations."— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 11, 2023
️ Head Coach Monty Williams took time to recognize @Dami0nLee on a memorable evening last night pic.twitter.com/dOwDbnPxfp
From last night:— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) January 11, 2023
"The grind of just making it here made today a special day. I told my family and friends when I woke up. I was nervous. I couldn't even get a pregame nap, but it was like, nothing is going to ruin today."
Damion Lee got ring, 22 points, #Suns win vs. #Warriors. pic.twitter.com/dcK3SPh58i
Washington has stepped up very nicely for the Suns of late and added to that streak with his third 20-point game of the season Tuesday. He is averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 assists and 1.2 rebounds this month and has aided the Suns with his toughness, scoring ability and competitiveness.
Suns stand out offensively
Golden State is not the same team it was last season defensively, when it was able to switch multiple matchups effectively and limit teams from creating separation on cuts and ball movement offensively. The Warriors rank No. 17 in opponent effective field goal percentage (54.0), No. 19 in defensive efficiency and No. 26 in opponent points per game (117.7), but the Suns still had a very effective outing.
There is not one player who can make up for the impact of Booker or usual starting point guard Chris Paul, who is out due to hip soreness. That means the Suns will have to manufacture offense in a way that maximizes ball movement and opportunities for players to use their strengths in a system coach Monty Williams says is designed to expand.
Phoenix had not done that consistently over its recent losing streak but did so against the Warriors. The Suns had 26 assists on 41 shots and saw four different players record at least four assists: Saric (seven); Bridges (five); Washington Jr. (five); and Lee (four).
Phoenix has a coaching staff that is able to execute great things schematically, which has been evident in the team’s success over the previous three seasons. Williams has managed things well considering injuries but fans have called for more opportunities for usual starting center Deandre Ayton, who did not play Tuesday due to an ankle sprain, and an offense that has different players initiating plays to keep defenses off-balance.
The Suns had a great balance Tuesday night, and their staff deserves a lot of credit for putting players in great positions to make plays.
Suns limit Warriors’ playmakers
Phoenix has typically been able to neutralize Golden State superstar guard Stephen Curry in previous matchups, and that was the case again Tuesday night.
Curry had 24 points but was a team-worst minus-19 while he shot 8-of-22 from the field (5-of-15 from 3-point range) and had just three assists with four fouls. Bridges has defended him well in the past and the Suns were able to put him in several disadvantageous situations that forced the ball out of his hands.
The Warriors’ top scorer was All-Star guard Klay Thompson, who had 29 points but did so on 24 shots with 10 makes. Backup guard Jordan Poole seemed to be the Warriors’ best performer with 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting with six assists and five rebounds in 34 minutes played (he was a plus-2).
Golden State has exposed teams in the past with matchup advantages but could not do much against the Suns. The Warriors shot 37-of-96 from the field (half of their shots were from 3-point range, and they only made 18) while their All-Star forward from last season, Andrew Wiggins, was also limited to just 10 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
Suns moving in a positive direction
Suns fans have been so used to the team’s winning ways over the last three seasons that its recent losing streak brought flashbacks to the 2018-19 season, when they lost 17 straight games and finished at the bottom of the Western Conference for the third straight season.
This season has not been close to that but has been more emblematic of the Suns’ 2019-20 season, when they had an eight-game winning streak to close the year but were more up-and-down during the season. Phoenix found a way to get back on a positive trajectory Tuesday and Suns fans should be happy with the performance.
"It speaks to playing with confidence and just playing with force. I think if you play hard and play with confidence, you give yourself a shot."— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 11, 2023
️ Coach Monty Williams speaks on the confidence the team played with in tonight's win. pic.twitter.com/XIkKkfy9ri
The Suns next play the Denver Nuggets, who are tied for first place in the Western Conference, tonight at Ball Arena in Denver. The game will be televised by Bally Sports Arizona.