Golden State Warriors 111, Phoenix Suns 107 — Looking in the mirror

PHOENIX – Where the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors began this season and where the teams stand now couldn’t have created a bigger fork in the road. Stephen Curry missed two late free throws as Golden State staved off the Suns 87-85 in the season opener.

“I can’t recall (the Halloween game), it was so long ago,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a friend of Lindsey Hunter’s, said beforehand. “It’s been a very fulfilling season.”

It’s likely fulfilling because of growth. Phoenix, which only wishes it hasn’t taken steps backward since that first game, surprisingly found itself in the same down-to-the-wire situation on Friday night with only six games left in the season.

Again, the Suns fell short. Again, the Warriors got a gritty win, this time by storming back from an 18-point second-quarter deficit to drop Phoenix 111-107 at U.S. Airways Center on Friday. Shooting a white-hot 61 percent from the floor wasn’t even good enough for Phoenix, which didn’t make the plays down the stretch to end what is now an eight-game losing skid.

The Warriors, with another sign of growth, took a step closer to building their playoff identity by making the few plays necessary to win. The Suns – coaches and players – are still searching for answers, as 22 turnovers doomed them despite Goran Dragic tying a career high with 32 points and Michael Beasley pouring in 25.

“I didn’t think it was so much as a mental lapse as trying to do too much at times and getting in a situation where we’re being trapped,” said interim coach Lindsey Hunter, before adding, “and maybe we’re not accustomed to being trapped.

“It’s inexperience in those situations that shows itself. But it’s good for us to go through.”

Matchup issues the Suns posed gave them the big lead in the first half, but they also resulted in said traps.

Jackson wanted his Warriors to start fast, and they did with a dunk and a layup in transition to force the Suns into an early timeout. Golden State led 16-11 before the Suns went on a 17-4 spurt behind an attacking Dragic. He had 15 first-quarter points to eclipse his total from Wednesday’s 126-101 loss to the Clippers, but the matchup with Curry was as expected.

The Warriors point guard did his damage with his passing early on, recording five assists in the first quarter and finishing with 15. Yet, it was more of the Warriors’ seven turnovers, the Suns’ three blocks and hot shooting that gave Phoenix a 37-23 lead after the first quarter.

The gameplan against Curry went well for the most part, making him a passer and not a scorer.

“With our big guy, we plugged (the long jumpers) so the big guy stayed down,” said Dragic, who got the assignment. “He was able to go to the middle of the paint so when he’s at the mid-range shot, you know, that’s a bucket for him. We tried to help and he find open guys. When we blitzed him, he finds Lee and he made some open jumpers.”

Beasley followed up what Lindsey Hunter called his best overall game with seven points in the first quarter, including a half-court bank before the buzzer.

Phoenix led by 18 as Beasley’s hot streak continued into the second, but the Warriors efficiently chopped at the lead with a 15-5 run in less than four minutes to bring their deficit to single digits. Golden State was within five but Phoenix took a 64-55 lead to the half as Dragic and Beasley sizzled with 21 and 19 points respectively.

Dragic hit all seven of his first-half shots and Beasley hit 9-of-12.

The game of matchups continued with Curry hitting a transition three-pointer with six minutes to go in the third to give Golden State its first lead in the second half. An 18-point swing in the third quarter – the Suns committed 10 turnovers leading to 11 points – saw the Warriors take an 87-78 lead to the fourth as Phoenix only put in 14 points during the period. That was a point less than Klay Thompson scored in the third.

Golden State made defensive adjustments to combat Dragic and Beasley. The duo only shot 11 combined times in the second half.

“They did a great job of doubling when they had to,” Hunter said. “They brought weakside help over early to try to deter Goran from penetrating. I think we countered, eventually found ways to get our guys involved.”

Eventually was too late.

The Suns crawled back and was within two points after putting together a few stops. But another one of those surprising double-teams forced Beasley into nearly one turnover that he recovered, but he again threw a pass into traffic. On the other end, Curry drew attention off a pick-and-roll that pulled Jared Dudley off Jarrett Jack, giving him enough space to get off a dagger three-pointer.

“They knock down tough, tough shots and time and time again when we made runs, they did,” Hunter said.

Phoenix had a few more chances to win, even forcing Curry into throwing the ball in the backcourt after an inbound play. But Jackson’s team, with a year of experience under their head coach, went back to the basics – it was only what Phoenix could wish to see in the coming years.

“I got a lot of respect for Lindsey,” Jackson said before the game. “I think they’ve taken his identity and put it on the floor. At the end of the day, it’s moments like this that build a foundation. People look at us and say we’re a playoff team.

“If they stay true to the process, it’s going to play itself out. Even though we won 23 games last year – with our approach, with our mentality, with our habits – if you stay true to it, you’ll be rewarded.”

Kind words, and encouraging even. But still, it’s hard to believe as the Suns reached their lowest point of the season yet.

  • john

    I was at the game, and I am absolutely shocked that so many fans still showed up. Is it possible that phoenix fans are beginning to grasp the concept of loyalty? I hope so. Great atmosphere. Great game from the dragon. Great result.

  • bill.thomas

    Everything’s going to be fine. Babby will just take the whole team out for pastrami and rye sandwiches. And Dudley will get two.

  • Scott

    Beasley had another decent game. 12 of 17 shooting, 6 rebounds, but … ouch … 6 TOs.

    WJ lacked consistency. He missed all 3 of his 3 pt shots and got only 2 rebounds.

    Markieff wasn’t very effective on points, but he did get 7 rebounds in 16 minutes.

  • Scott

    BTW, I don’t know if he’ll make it into the 2nd round, but if he remains undrafted the Suns ought to try to invite Arslan Kazemi to their Summer League team.

    He’s an Iranian version of Faried, and – IIRC – an Iranian national team buddy of Hadaddi.

  • Scott

    Dexter Strickland, very likely to go undrafted, might be a good choice for PG/SG on a Suns Summer League team.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    hello guys,
    I’m writing a little on this blog lately … but I do not stop to follow my favorite team even though most of the time I check the results and see the highlights unique to defeat! okay, it can not rain forever!
    And it is with an eye to the future, I want to ask you a question in the hope soon to read your answers:
    what it says on the draft?
    what will be our choice?
    I checked some sites and give us the fourth choice when it comes to …. Otto Porter, but I saw that there are excellent players and athletes as Shabbaz Muhammed, McLemore, Smart, Zeller … and others …
    which of these is the best according to the number of suns of choice?
    Thanks and greetings from Italy!

  • Azbballfan

    If the Suns got the 1st pick overall, i would pick either Mclmore or Noel

    Suns have huge holes at defense and at the 2 guard spot, abviously

    but if they dont, and remain in the 3rf or 4th spot i would go with Oladipo

    i cant imagine Mclemore or Noel lasting past the 3rd pick

    I think Cody Zeller is a good player but he dosent seem to possess the athleticism that makes noel so intruiging.

    if the Suns end up with a late lotto pick i would pick a bigman in there too since we have big long term holes at the 5

    Heck long term even though we are loaded at the 4 even that is suspect since no one that mans the 4 is the kind of elite player we need

    I just want Jamaal Franklin in there somewhere

    if the Suns stay top 3 Oladipo will almost surely fall to us i hope

    Otto Porter is a good choice too but he has limited athleticism but does everything else well

  • foreveris2long

    As I mentioned earlier in the week John, I have no idea what is drawing the Suns fans to the games. Other cities would let ownership know of their displeasure at the attendance gate. Anyway I will never begrudge those who show up and support the players.

    Scott, good insight on some reach players the Suns should look at in the draft. I have not heard of these guys. I think we have at least 3 draft picks. IMO 2 of those picks have to be very athletic with one being Carter-Williams, Oladipo or Franklin and a big in Dieng (Lakers pick if they do not make playoffs) or Payne (late 1st round if Lakers make playoffs). We need athleticism in the worst way.

  • Scott

    Otto Porter sounds to me like a slightly taller Dudley. Scouting says he has limited athleticism and poor lateral quickness. IMO, he’s been moving up the draft board due to the general weakness of this draft.

    If you’re looking to replace Dudley, I think it’s better to pick someone not in the lottery. I’d take Solomon Hill, who is currently projected to be in the middle of the 2nd round.

    Hill can play both wing spots, he has a roughly 40% 3 point shot, he can get to the FT line, and he has the sort of veteran-like maturity that helps a team stay together and on focus. He lacks quickness, athleticism, and advanced handling, but he has a high IQ and passes well.

  • Scott

    Even if the Suns got the #1 pick, in this draft I’d be tempted to trade down for more picks.

    Assuming the Suns get a top pick, but not #1, I’d probably go with Oladipo. He’s got NBA caliber ability, and he’s fairly consistent. The other guys in the top lottery should be much lower.

    He started off as a freshman who was an athletic energy guy off the bench who had very spotty offense and no ability to create plays.

    In his second year he used his energy and excellent lateral quickness to become a defensive specialist. Not a star on his own, he became more of a Robin to Cody Zeller’s Batman.

    In his junior and final year, his original strengths are still his main strengths: energy and athleticism. While his shooting accuracy has greatly improved, he’s an example of an efficient scorer, not a volume scorer. He still can’t create for himself or others and his handle is still bad.

    While it is possible that his handle will improve, I don’t expect to see anything other than the most rudimentary playmaking from him.

    Oladipo really does seem to be a younger, shorter Tucker or Wes Johnson, with his scoring ability somewhere between the two, and possibly a bit more consistent.

    I think the tendency would be to play him at SG in the NBA, and have him be more of the Raja Bell mold than the Kobe Bryant mold.

    Why take Oladipo? Because any rebuilding team needs energy, athleticism, and defense. There’s no assurance the Suns will be the ones who sign Wes Johnson to his next contract. Also, Tucker is not likely to remain with the Suns for the long term; I’d say 2 more years is the likely maximum.

    Better choices for a playmaking, scoring SG are Carter-Williams – currently ranked #12 – and #18 Archie Goodwin (who after a few years could be the top SG in this draft). There are a few other scoring SGs available, but I see these mainly as career sixth man guys (CJ McCollum, BJ Young).

  • Scott

    If I got the top pick in this draft, I’d want to trade it for more picks.

    Here’s the players I like, in the order they’re likely to be available to draft:

    Victor Oladipo (NBA ready, could start)

    Michael Carter-Williams (could come off the bench for most teams)

    Isaiah Austin (he’s big and long, he can defend, he can handle and shoot, he’s only 19)

    Archie Goodwin (athletic combo guard, 18 years old, might develop a complete game)

    Gorgui Dieng (23 years old, could come off the bench at center)

    However, with limited scouting, here’s the order I imagine for their future value:

    Archie Goodwin
    Gorgui Dieng
    Victor Oladipo
    Michael Carter-Williams
    Isaiah Austin

    Austin goes last, even though he has the the combination of size and a complete game, only because I’m uncertain of his drive to succeed in comparison with the others. He may need a year or two of maturing before he delivers solid, consistent games, but give this guy a skyhook and the sky’s the limit.

    Carter-Williams goes 2nd to last, despite being a combo guard with a complete game, because I doubt he’s likely to add much to his frame and he has only normal length. He could use another 15 pounds of muscle.

    Oladipo is in the middle, because while he is already NBA quality, I don’t think he’ll improve all that much. He has a good work ethic, but the question is his IQ and how much it will hamper him, if at all.

    Gorgui Dieng is my #2 because he’s an energetic defensive center with a jumpshot, and he’s still developing his game.

    Archie Goodwin is my #1, because at 18 he has the most potential to get stronger and patch the holes in his game, while the other guys are probably closer to what they’ll be as the end product. There is the risk he won’t pay off, though.

    I’d draft Goodwin with the expectation that his first 2 years might be a bit rocky. But he does have creation skills, volume scoring, elite athleticism, and at least rudimentary defense, to go along with IQ and work ethic.

  • Forever is2long

    One guy who seldom gets mentioned as a prospect on this board is freshman Glen Robinson at Michigan. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure defense Syracuse will bring today. I think he has a big upside.

  • Ty-Sun

    If the Suns actually get the Lakers pick this year, I wouldn’t mind if they used that to take Robinson. But that would also depend on who they take with their first pick. If the Lakers do make the playoffs this year and the Suns wind up with the Heat’s 1st round pick, Robinson will probably be gone by then and the Suns will just have to take a chance on the best player available.

  • Scott

    I doubt Glenn Robinson is going to declare for the draft; he certainly hasn’t yet.

    He’s just a freshman, age 19, and he could stand to have another year of seasoning.

    Probably next year’s draft will be excellent.

  • Ty-Sun

    Of course Robinson hasn’t declared himself eligible for the NBA draft yet. Michigan is still in the running for the NCAA championship. If they win it all, my bet is that he declares soon afterward. If not, who knows.

  • foreveris2long

    I think Robinson declares for 3 reasons. One, he will likely be guaranteed to be a lottery pick in a weak draft, two, his point guard is likely leaving for the NBA and three they will be playing in the NCAA finals on Monday.