- NBA writer for ESPN.com since 2008
- Former contributor and editor at NPR
PHOENIX — Despite losing Devin Booker to a left hamstring injury in the second quarter, the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday extended their winning streak to 17 games with a 104-96 decision over the Golden State Warriors. Phoenix now owns the longest such streak in the NBA since the Milwaukee Bucks ran off 18 consecutive victories in November and December of 2019.
“You sort of forget about [the streak], because we’re just hooping,” Suns point guard Chris Paul said. “We prepare for every game the same way. When you do that, it’s about building habits. Three teams I’ve been on have won 17 in a row. It’s a really good feeling.”
It was only three seasons ago that the Suns endured a 17-game losing streak in the midst of a 19-63 campaign. That team included three of the Suns’ current five starters — Booker, center Deandre Ayton and forward Mikal Bridges.
Tuesday’s nationally televised game showcased the two teams with the NBA’s best records. With Phoenix’s triumph, they each stand at 18-3, with a rematch slated for Friday in San Francisco.
After a prolific first quarter, the Warriors and Suns muddled for much of the evening through a defensive battle befitting of the league’s first- and third-ranked defenses, respectively. The Warriors were particularly sloppy, as they committed 23 team turnovers. That marked the most in a game this season since the 23 they compiled against the Memphis Grizzlies in late October during one of their only other two losses.
In Phoenix, Warriors guard Stephen Curry suffered through one of his worst offensive performances in recent memory. He finished the night with only 12 points, shooting just 4-for-21 from the field overall and 3-for-14 from beyond the arc. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Tuesday night was the first time he shot under 20% in the 329 games in which he attempted at least 20 shots, including the postseason.
Bridges, the Suns’ defensive ace on the wing, drew the assignment of serving as Curry’s primary defender. According to Second Spectrum, Bridges held Curry to three points and an effective field goal percentage of 11.5% in the 37 matchups.
“What I really did was be aggressive and be attached through a lot of screens and a lot of [traps],” Bridges said. “But it’s a whole team thing, because if one guy messes up on a switch, there’s a slip or there’s a 3 for him … I think our coverages and what the coaches put together on our schemes was really good, and we executed it pretty well.”
Asked to explain how the Suns specifically contained Curry, Phoenix coach Monty Williams quipped that with another tilt versus Golden State scheduled in three days, he’d refrain from giving Curry any fuel for Friday.
The Suns lost Booker midway through the second quarter when the two-time All-Star grabbed his left leg following a drive to the basket on which he was fouled. Booker drained both free throws then attempted a 3-pointer on the subsequent possession, before exiting the game. He didn’t return, and he will be evaluated by the Suns’ medical staff on Wednesday.
With Booker absent in the second half, Paul and Ayton were the catalysts for Phoenix.
Ayton dominated the Warriors’ smaller lineups, scoring 24 points on 19 field goal attempts, all inside of 12 feet. He also snagged 11 rebounds — six of them on the offensive glass — and blocked two shots. He excelled both as a post-up threat and working in tandem with Paul on the pick-and-roll.
“He’s imposing his will in a number of ways,” Williams said of Ayton. “He generates a lot of offense with his dives, whether it’s against the typical NBA defense or against switches on smalls.”
Williams emphasized that he believed Ayton has been considerably more assertive this season as an interior presence in the Suns’ offense looking to dominate defenses at the front of the rim.
At the top of the floor for Phoenix, Paul controlled possession after possession, both as a scorer and a distributor. One of the NBA’s premier midrange shooters for more than a decade, Paul hit five of his six attempts between 12 and 18 feet. He finished with 15 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and five assists.
Paul noted that there’s little margin for error when facing the Warriors in what’s materializing as one of the most interesting and competitive rivalries in the NBA.
“These guys on my team have probably heard me talk about [the Warriors] probably too much,” Paul said. “But I think we talk about them so much because of the respect factor. They’ve been doing it for a long time. When you play against that team, you can’t just be running around there hooping. You’ve got to think, you’ve got to think the game.”
Source: Read Full Article