Earlier this week, the Suns did the impossible: They made Stephen Curry look human.
In the first of four meetings between the two teams this season, the Suns defeated the Warriors to record their 17th straight victory despite losing Devin Booker to a hamstring injury in the first half. The Suns got great performances from Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, but it was the way they defended Curry that made the headlines.
Also for good reason. Curry entered the game averaging 28.6 points per game on the season. Against the Suns, he tied his season low with 12 points while shooting 4 of 21 from the field and 3 of 14 from 3-point range.
As many were quick to point out, it was the worst the two-time MVP has shot in a game in his career (playoffs included) with a minimum of 20 field goal attempts.
How did the Suns do it, and more importantly, is it replicable? Let’s take a closer look.
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How the Suns teamed up with Stephen Curry
The matchmaking data is far from perfect, but it helps give an idea of what happened.
Key takeaways: Mikal Bridges spent most of his time chasing Curry and Ayton defended nearly half of his field goal attempts.
According to the matchup data, Curry was scoreless with 0 of 3 shots from the field when Bridges was defending him and shot 1 of 9 when Ayton was his main defender.
|Defender||Minutes||Points||Attend||Rotations||FGM-FGA||% FG||3:00 p.m. M. At 3:00 p. M.||3P%|
WESTERN CONFERENCE LEVELS: Warriors, Suns in their own league
The Tale of the Tape
There is no other place to start than Bridges.
The fact that Curry only attempted three shots in the seven minutes that Bridges defended him speaks for a thing or two. One, how difficult it is to shoot Bridges.
It’s particularly difficult for smaller guards considering Bridges is 6ft 6ft and has a 7ft wingspan. Covers defenders with its length.
Again, Curry didn’t challenge Bridges much one-on-one, but the few times he did, it didn’t end well.
Two, Bridges pays attention to detail. All the details.
Curry typically wears down teams and defenders with his constant movement. (We have already reviewed how Curry breaks through defenses without even touching the ball and how there are no plays defending him.) Knowing how well he moves off the ball, Curry leads the league in scoring off the screens as he ranks in the 98th percentile in efficiency – Bridges kept track of him.
It’s the little things like not letting your guard down and keeping your head in a spin when Curry puts the ball down. Otherwise, open the door for Curry to shoot out of a screen.
Take a closer look at what Bridges does when Curry gives up. Even with the ball on the opposite side of the court, Curry has Bridges’ undivided attention.
Wherever Curry went, so did Bridges.
Of course, it takes more than one player to contain a prolific scorer like Curry. As relentless as Bridges was, the Suns showed him plenty of bodies, so much so that there were multiple times the five defenders on the court looked directly at Curry, almost challenging any of the Warriors to beat them. (That tactic gets a little more difficult when Klay Thompson is playing, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
Throughout the game, the Suns did a good job of making sure Curry saw very little daylight.
Now let’s talk about Ayton.
The Suns generally bring Ayton down when defending pick-and-rolls to better position themselves and protect the rim, but against Curry, who is the league’s best 3-point shooter from dribbling, they extended him to the perimeter to take away his deep pull-ups. .
It’s not every day you see a central block on one of Curry’s three-point attempts.
Ayton also traded Curry on a number of occasions and held up quite well against him on an island.
(Oh hey, there’s Bridges again.)
There were a couple of times Curry was able to dribble past Ayton, but once again he was greeted for help.
(Oh wow, there are bridges again.)
And last but not least, Ayton had good defensive positions at the rim.
Basically, Bridges did a lot of the heavy lifting, but his teammates provided the perfect amount of support.
“A lot of them were,” Curry said. “Credit to its duration and multiple efforts.”
Can the Suns contain Stephen Curry again?
We won’t have to wait long to find out!
On Friday, the Suns and Warriors meet for the second time this season. Then they will meet for the third time on Christmas Day.
It will be fascinating to see how Golden State responds to Phoenix’s aggressive defense over Curry in those matchups and whether or not the Suns can continue to make him feel uncomfortable.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- Despite all the attention that was given to him, Curry still had a handful of looks that he couldn’t take down. If one or two of those shots land, are we having a slightly different discussion?
- Will someone else in the Warriors take advantage of the Suns taking on Curry?
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr spoke about the second point after the game.
“Teams are going to engage people with Steph the way Phoenix did,” Kerr said. “There will be vacancies. There will be vacancies for Jordan (Poole), vacancies for Otto (Porter Jr.). There will be openings for Klay Thompson. That is going to be fun. Much to look forward to, but the main thing we must learn from this is that we must improve. We play against the champions of the Western Conference. They were the best team.
“We will play them again in a few days. Let’s see if we can make some improvements and take them forward so that when we get into these kinds of situations, we can be more effective.”