Entering the fourth game between the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors this season, something had to give.
The Suns had won four straight games against the Warriors dating back to last season while Golden State had won seven straight games at home. Phoenix already won the season series with three wins in four meetings but there was still plenty to play for, as Golden State entered the game just 2 ½ games back of Phoenix for the No. 4 seed.
In the end, the Warriors had an offensive onslaught that was too much for the Suns to overcome. Phoenix lost to Golden State, 123-112, at Chase Center in Oakland Monday night in front of 18,064 fans behind a 54.2 percent shooting effort from the Warriors that included 19 made 3-pointers.
The Suns fell to 37-31 while the Warriors improved to 36-33.
Golden State won by double digits, but the game had swings in which each team took control. The Warriors got off to a blistering start by scoring 43 points in the first quarter compared to Phoenix’s 21.
In that period, the Warriors’ All-Star guards, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, combined for 30 points and seven 3-pointers. Thompson had 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was very aggressive looking for his shot.
Klay Thompson is doing that thing early in the Bay....— NBA (@NBA) March 14, 2023
He's got 18 points in Q1 on ESPN pic.twitter.com/KkzVLeVLBP
“Much of it was in the first quarter,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Their shot-making in general in the first quarter put us in a whole. There were a few breakdowns because of their pace, but I didn’t think it was a failing grade. We were just a step behind.”
Golden State’s offensive prowess continued in the second quarter. Led by Thompson’s 15 points in the period, the Warriors had 75 points by halftime, which is the most the Suns have allowed an opponent to score in a half this season.
Thompson had 33 points in the first half, which is the fifth time he has done so in his career. He finished with 38 points to lead the Warriors.
“Some of the shots that Klay made in the first half, they were just typical Klay,” Williams said. “He was due for a game like that against us.”
Phoenix faced a 17-point deficit at halftime but did not lose control of the game. The Suns went on an 8-0 run to cut Golden State’s lead to 77-69 with 8:27 left in the third quarter. Phoenix drew as close as three points on two separate occasions, including a tip shot from guard Josh Okogie that cut its deficit to 87-84 with 3:57 left.
But the Suns never came closer. Golden State responded with an 11-2 spurt that gave it a 98-86 lead with 1:18 left in the third quarter.
The Suns never grew within single digits for the rest of the game.
“To start out like that in the first quarter put us in a hole,” Williams said.
This poor defensive performance came two days after allowing the Sacramento Kings to hang 128 points on them in Phoenix. The Kings also play an unorthodox offense with a ton of three point shooting in it. Together, the Warriors and Kings made 46% of their threes against the Suns in the last two games.
These games are indicative of the defensive struggles the Suns may have without Kevin Durant, who is out for what could be the next two-and-a-half weeks, according to the Suns’ update last week.
Golden State has a smaller lineup with 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney at center. It could give Suns starting center Deandre Ayton a chance to impose his height and physicality, but that did not happen early enough.
Williams elected to play Bismack Biyombo (10 minutes) over Jock Landale (three minutes) as the team’s backup center, hoping to make up for what he said the team was looking for.
“Just thinking that Biz can cover up defensively, some of the deficiencies we may have,” Williams said, “guarding their quicker guys at the rim. His rim protection, his rebounding.
“It didn’t work out as soundly as we would like. I didn’t think he played poorly, we just needed more of an offensive boost from our bench tonight.”
Ayton finished with 27 points on 13-of-19 shooting with 12 rebounds, but Golden State exploited him and other Suns players in curl actions and other sets in their motion. The Warriors also had 19 fastbreak points compared to Phoenix’s nine.
Durant’s return could see the Suns go smaller with him at the five. It could allow Phoenix to better execute its switches and find ways to neutralize Golden State, which won the NBA championship last season but has struggled with 26 road losses and a defense that ranks in the bottom half in the NBA in efficiency.
The Suns could very well face the Warriors in the playoffs. Golden State could move up in the Western Conference standings and enable a first-round matchup against the teams.
The Suns’ schedule does not get any easier. Tonight, Phoenix faces the Milwaukee Bucks, which it narrowly lost to two weeks ago on the road and has two games each against the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets later, along with one game against the Philadelphia 76ers (at home) and the Sacramento Kings (on the road).
The Suns are trying to survive without Durant. It will be difficult to judge them until he returns, but they will have to find a way to stay afloat before that happens.