The Golden State Warriors’ 123-112 win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday served as a reminder for anyone who has counted them out for the title race this year. In true Warriors fashion, the defending champions showed everyone why the title resides in the Bay Area.
With the Splash Brothers leading the charge, the Dubs were off to a fiery start. Toward the end of the first period, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson outscored the entire Suns team 30-21. When his team needed a win, Thompson came up big with a 33-point first half, his fifth 30-point half in his career.
“I just think Klay’s been in a great place now for a while,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr stated. “[In] the two early Phoenix losses, he really struggled, showed a lot of frustration. I know it felt good for him to have that huge first half.”
Despite a boiling-hot start from the Splash brothers, the duo felt more like room temperature in the second half. Still, Curry would finish the night 23 points behind his accomplice’s 38. Down 17 at half-time, the Suns came back swinging after the intermission, cutting the lead to single digits in the third quarter. But when Curry and Thompson appeared to burn out, Jordan Poole was the next man up. With 20 points and six assists, Poole finished what his teammates started as the Warriors put the game to bed.
The missing pieces for both teams
It is hard to deny how much of a difference the Suns’ newly-acquired centerpiece, Kevin Durant, would have made against his former team. Durant has been absent since injuring his ankle pregame against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Mar 8. 3-0 with Durant, the Suns now find themselves without him for at least two weeks when the wins matter most. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton led the way with 32 and 27 points, respectively. However, the Warriors proved a bit overwhelming on offense shooting 54.2% from the field and 48.7% from three. Without their primary offensive weapon, the Suns had no answer for the onslaught.
Like the Suns, the Warriors were not in complete form as a roster despite the win. A day after Durant’s pregame mishap, Jonathan Kuminga suffered the same fate, hurting his ankle before tipoff against the Memphis Grizzlies– a game that the Warriors lost 131-110.
The Warriors are also missing Andrew Wiggins, who has been away from the team since the middle of February due to personal reasons. While the former number-one pick is averaging 17.1 points per game, he has also been stellar on defense, which shined in the NBA Finals series against the Boston Celtics.
“I think that’s the hope,” Kerr said about Wiggins returning this season. “But really there’s nothing to report on, so we’re giving him his space as he deals with something that’s way more important than the game.”
The Warriors needed this win ahead of a raodtrip
With the Playoffs nearby, the fifth-seeded Warriors first have to embark on a five-game road trip which starts on Wednesday against the LA Clippers. The Dubs have struggled on the road (7-26) this year, and Kerr pointed to defense becoming the key to a successful five-stop tour late in the season.
“It’s gotta start with the defense. Our defensive stats at home are really good, one of the top few teams in the NBA,” Kerr said. “On the road were one of the worst. I always talk about how the game has to connect so part of defense is having [a] good offense in possessions. We gotta connect the game but it has to start with a defensive mindset.”
While the Warriors’ defensive sparkplug Wiggins handles important matters away from his team, they can still put themselves in a position to defend their title in the playoffs. The key to doing this is their overwhelming offense. The landscape has completely changed in the Western Conference, but the Dubs are clearly still in the picture, not just photobombers.
“They’re a hell of a team,” Kerr said about the Suns. “They’re very physical and I thought they took us out of our offense [in the third quarter]. They were the more physical team, the more aggressive team. And just like we showed in the first quarter, the more aggressive team tends to have the ball go in the hoop.”