Why the Phoenix Suns Should Fear the Golden State Warriors

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

The Phoenix Suns lost their immaculate battle with the Golden state Warriors two nights ago, relinquishing their hold on the West by a half game now.

Normally regular season games are just that—regular season games. But during this one, a few things caught my eye that I would like to point out, and to be honest, I am a little bit worried about how a potential series could play out between these two teams.

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors: Key Issues

The Warriors standing more equipped to stop the Suns rather than vice versa resembles the most glaring issue for Phoenix, at least it looked that way during this most recent game.

The way in which these two teams try to stop each other’s main offensive game plan makes their dynamic as a rivalry most interesting. Phoenix’s constant defensive switching makes it so that Golden State’s motion offense works far less effectively. With the Suns constantly putting one body after another right where a Golden State cutter wants to run, it becomes difficult for the Warriors to confuse Phoenix on defense with those lanes filled and an overall lack of movement.

On top of the fact that, almost every Suns guard/forward stands capable of making those switches even onto the opposing team’s best perimeter players with mixed, yet solid results overall.

This all applied against Golden State ideally cuts off their opportunities for open shots, icing their role players and forcing Steph Curry to play heavily within the guard/big pick and roll scheme, as that remains the only spot where Phoenix refuses to switch. Both those avenues make the Warriors a far more controllable offense to deal with, as opposed to an unstoppable force.

However, last night the Suns fell a bit out of tune defensively, which made this strategy ineffective. Phoenix surrendered multiple backdoor cuts due to poor communication, and the disciplined Warriors took advantage.

After that, Curry’s superior talents just made things feel lopsided as far as defensive schemes go. Curry remains a better player than anyone on the Suns roster by a wide margin, and any plans the Suns had to slow down Steph did not work as well as what Golden State had in store for Phoenix’s Devin Booker.

At the defensive end, the Warriors did not let up all night. They refused to let Booker get to his spots or utilize the midrange in any capacity. Every time Book sought an isolation opportunity on the block or a chance to drive through the paint, Golden State loaded up around him and forced a pass or bad shot.

Naturally, the Warriors stuck their best perimeter defender, Gary Payton II, on him the entire game. His efforts reflected what Jrue Holiday, and to an extent Patrick Beverly, accomplished in last year’s playoffs.

If Suns fans remember, Booker struggled during the latter half of that Clippers series and parts of the Bucks series. But while some attributed those issues to his broken nose, last night came as another example of a materializing pattern which argues that Booker struggles against strong, quick-footed guards who do well to chase around screens.

When paired with Golden State’s constant collapsing on Booker’s every move, Payton II deterred him from his usual pull-up jumper attempts. This relegated Booker to catch and shoot chances which he failed to knock down, and attempted drives to the basket, which he also struggled with due to the amount of bodies he needed to take on.

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors: Why This All Matters

As mentioned earlier, the Warriors quickly collapsed on Booker and Chris Paul the other night, but popped out on Phoenix’s shooters fast enough at the same time. However, the Suns still managed to create consistently good looks for themselves both inside and outside.

Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson contributed double digit scoring efforts and both shot at least 40.0 percent from three. Paul, while not seeing too many midrange looks, still managed to take advantage of Golden State’s weaker on-ball defenders as they keyed in on Booker, also hitting some triples and drawing fouls.

Deandre Ayton, as per usual, took over against a small-ball lineup, finishing with 18 points while shooting 80.0 percent from the field. Golden State simply possessed no one big enough to match him.

But amidst all that, the Suns still lost. It now feels clear that unless Booker finds a way to consistently explode at a tier one superstar level, none of this outside production will matter in the face of a well-oiled Warriors team.

For whatever reason it may be, Phoenix’s guards seem uninterested in deferring their shot attempts to Ayton when they cannot find their groove, even with Ayton as a walking mismatch against most other teams.

So if the Suns remain unwilling to change their approach in a series vs the Warriors which Booker and Paul might struggle, they will have to reckon with the fact that Golden State can beat them at their own game, as we saw the other night.

Curry, when relegated to pick and roll or one-one-one scenarios, remains elite in all senses of the word. Against the Suns, he attacks both bigs and forwards alike, trapping them on his hip and creating space from that point, negating any size/length advantages held by Phoenix.

Most of his 33 points were scored in isolation against the Suns, and doubling to force the ball away did not help either. At one point during the 4th quarter, Curry’s teammates were shooting 80.0 from the field off looks coming from a double team.

Essentially, the Suns eliminated most of Curry’s “easy,” off-ball looks from deep and Golden State still put up a high caliber offensive performance. Comparing that to how Golden State played Booker and the little success they found after certainly feels discouraging.

Now, when you consider the fact that Golden State missed their secondary and tertiary creators in Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole during this one, you start to get a real picture of the sheer amount of firepower this team truly carries. From Phoenix’s perspective, you could make the argument that regardless of who takes the floor, Steph’s teammates cannot go nuclear every night, therefore the dynamic comes down to if Phoenix’s three stars can outplay Curry.

If you look at it from that perspective, things grow more optimistic. But when Klay Thompson’s return also dawns on you, things feel troubling for Phoenix again. Thompson poises to act as Golden State’s offensive insurance option should their role players become inconsistent, and remains a shooting explosion waiting to happen.

In my mind, this makes things very scary for the Suns. Thompson could completely neutralize the potency of Phoenix’s switch heavy defensive scheme by virtue of simply not needing any airspace to drop 20, 30, or even 40 points.

The switch defense remains one of Phoenix’s best ways to combat Golden State, and if they cannot rely on that, they need Booker to play at a superstar level, which history shows can fluctuate depending on who defends him. Thompson might also end up as another effective defender to throw at Booker, which just widens the gap even further between these two teams.

Next. Ex-Suns Returning Due to COVID-19 Spike. dark

All of this of course depends on how Thompson looks upon returning. But even with his rough last two years considered, my worries still persist.