The Warriors’ last week has already felt like the playoffs, but Tuesday night’s thrilling 122-116 win against the Suns cranked the dial all the way up on the postseason atmosphere.
While the Warriors (36-33) have treated the recent games like a playoff series, their opponents haven’t always done the same. Phoenix (48-20) was ready to match that intensity though, and it was evident from the jump with the way they defended Stephen Curry.
The Suns really got into Curry defensively, he was met with a double and high hands on every pick-and-roll, and Phoenix never lost discipline, semi-denying Curry the ball even when he was 30-plus feet from the basket.
We’ve seen time and time again that defenses relax once Curry passes, only to get burned on a relocation 3. Not the Suns though, not only were they ready for any pick-and-roll, they also never relaxed.
It was without question, the most meticulous a defense has been against Curry in recent memory. They even held Curry without a single shot attempt in the second quarter.
Instead, it was Andrew Wiggins who captained the offense while Curry struggled. He had 21 of his 38 in the first half and was a perfect 10-of-10 on non-3’s before halftime.
He had to match Devin Booker who went off for 34 and had 22 in the third alone. Phoenix looked like they had the game in hand once Booker scored the final 16 points himself to end the third.
And he did just that in the fourth with a huge sequence when he had a nasty and-1 dunk over Frank Kaminsky, followed by another dunk on an ally-oop from Draymond Green and a cold-blooded 3.
It was a season-defining win with the team on the back end of a back-to-back against the top two teams in the Western Conference and Curry slogging to a 7-of-22 night.
Curry would still finish with 21, but he had more 3-point-plays (2) than made 3’s (1) and needed the rest of his team to pick him up. He looked physically worn down as the Suns blanketed him for 48 minutes and also hunted him on offense like it was a playoff series.
Without Curry’s usual 3 barrage, the Warriors struggled until the final stretch, shooting 8-of-37 from deep.
But with two minutes left and the game on the line, Golden State drilled three consecutive 3’s from Wiggins, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jordan Poole.
Poole had 20 points off the bench and Toscano-Anderson was responsible for a momentum-shifting play in the second quarter.
Booker got agitated after a Bazemore steal and layup, and had some words for Toscano-Anderson after.
That’s when the tone of the game changed. Toscano-Anderson got T’d up the next time down the court after jawing at Booker, but it was evident that the Phoenix guard was on edge.
The rest of the Warriors embraced that pest role from that point on and chipped away at the Suns lead.
Before that play the Suns were raining 3 after 3 on the Warriors head with Jae Crowder going 4-for-4 from deep in the first quarter. Phoenix as a team went 6-of-9 from 3 in the opening quarter, and on the other side the Warriors couldn’t stop throwing up bricks.
The Warriors have been riding momentum-building first quarters their last three games, but Tuesday was different.
While the beginning was different, the ending was the same as it’s been. The Warriors playing like the championship teams of old and toppling another legit title contender and possible first round matchup.
No longer are the Warriors a team you may not want to see in the playoffs, with the last two wins, they’ve put the league on notice.
You absolutely do not want to see them across the court from you if you’re a top seed.
There’s finally a break in the schedule for the Warriors as they’ll have two full days off before taking on the Pelicans Friday. That one is a must win game against a non-playoff team in order to keep pace with the Grizzlies, who get to play the Kings twice.
With the Grizzlies win over the Mavericks, the Warriors remain a half game up on Memphis for the eighth seed. The Warriors have just the Pelicans before the season finale against Memphis, while the Grizzlies play the Kings twice.
Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.