Phoenix Suns Rare Schemes Needed to Beat the Golden State Warriors

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The NBA’s two hottest teams face off tomorrow evening, as the 18-2 Golden State Warriors clash with our very own Phoenix Suns, looking to extend their 16-game win streak and tie a franchise record.

Not much is known about how these two teams might match up in practice. Even historically, both these franchises being good at the same time is a rarity.

So in heavy anticipation for this bout, let’s take a look at how these two squads match up—and the two ways in which the Suns can win the chess match.

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors: Offensive Scheme

This aspect of the game remains fascinating for both teams, seeing as how they look identical in every basic stat.

The Suns and Warriors both shoot 48.0 from the field as a team, both shoot close to 36.0 percent from deep, and their offensive ratings are separated by just two points. Underlying it all, we see two opposed offensive philosophies leading to eerily similar production and regular season results.

Of course, this comes with caveats, as does any other comparison. The Suns run an exclusively pick-and-roll centric offense that creates a much larger reliance on mid-range jumpers and rim runs. But Golden State relies on non-stop motion to generate open triples due in part to their lacking size without James Wiseman.

This makes things complicated for the Suns.

Although the Valley Boys shoot a similar percentage on triples, they attempt roughly 10 fewer per game than Golden State while still drawing an identical amount of free throws. This means that Phoenix cannot try and turn this game into a shootout because they will suffer greatly for it, and will not be able to take advantage of their size difference down low.

Teams like the 2017-18 Houston Rockets, who attempted 11 more triples per game than this year’s Suns, also shooting 36 percent on them, still lost because they actively tried to beat the Warriors at their own game. Golden State responded with a more balanced and consistent plan of attack that did not live or die by the outside shot.

This year, the Warriors have to rely a bit more on triples and contested shots because they do not have the luxury of Kevin Durant. With that, the Suns have an opportunity to flip the script.

If Phoenix uses their versatility to make life hard for Golden State’s non-Steph shooters, then they have the opportunity to beat them with constant pressure at the rim and better overall shot quality.

Last year during the postseason, Deandre Ayton showed that being a legit seven-footer, while punishing small ball defenders by remaining switchable on defense is what separates him from most big men. The Suns will have to lean on this against Golden State since they rely on small ball defense more primarily.

At a minimum, Ayton needs to assume a “second best player” role in this game with Chris Paul unable to take over scoring-wise since the Warriors lack defensive options for him to hunt. Last year’s Finals illustrated this need for Ayton to step up, as teams found success against CP3 when subbing in smaller and quicker footed defenders to halt his onslaught on slower footed bigs. The Warriors entire defensive game plan centers around such defenders, so changes in priority are necessary.

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors: Defense Scheme

The question of stopping Steph Curry always results in something along the lines of  “throw the whole kitchen sink at him,” or “be physical.” But the question of how to stop the Warriors with solid shooters around Steph always results in a resounding “you can’t,” kind of answer.

While it is preferred that you make the role players beat you instead of allowing Curry to go off, this time around, when said “role players” are an up and coming Jordan Poole or All Star-level Andrew Wiggins, you need something extra.

We saw Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors try and defend the shorthanded Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals with double teams, as well as a box and one setup. You know, the “whole kitchen sink,” approach.

But upon trying it again with today’s Warriors, it resulted in Poole and Wiggins dropping a combined 65 points last week.

I wish I could offer a deeper take on how the Suns might stop Golden State, but excitement behind the unstoppable nature of each team’s offense is what makes this matchup so intriguing. Still, pinning someone like like Mikal Bridges on Curry and hoping that his length and foot speed will help close gaps remains Phoenix’s best bet in doing so.

Next. What's Making Phoenix's Bench Work so Well?. dark

Since the Suns lack the type of defender to typically bother Steph, being the smaller and stockier guard who gets away with his physicality, they need to go off-position with his matchup. Paul cannot just chase Curry around all night, especially with his older age considered and how badly Phoenix’s needs his fresh legs on offense.