Suns’ fourth-quarter crew sends Warriors to first loss
PHOENIX — When in doubt, shoot.
That qualifies as the prevailing philosophy on every rec center floor, asphalt court and backboard-accessorized driveway in this basketball-playing nation.
So, with a loaded pickup game erupting Sunday night at U.S. Airways Center, two leaders of the Suns’ second unit let ‘er rip against the previously unbeaten Golden State Warriors.
"I was just making plays," Isaiah Thomas, who combined with runnin’ buddy Gerald Green for 31 fourth-quarter points, said after Phoenix’s 107-95 triumph.
But nothing was accomplished with much ease — at least for Phoenix — over the first three quarters. OK, so it wasn’t exactly an oil-painting to look at from Golden State’s perspective, either.
Collectively, the Suns and coach Steve Kerr’s Warriors combined to burp up 54 3-pointers — both made over 40 percent, so that was nice. The Suns, for instance, knocked in 5 of 11 behind the arc in that galvanizing final quarter.
But both teams slapped some abandon on the proceedings, eschewing the sport’s fundamentals by committing 48 turnovers. The Warriors, who now have 135 miscues in six games, were credited with 27 (including one that was credited to the team and not an individual). Kerr, the former Suns general manager, suffered his first defeat as an NBA coach.
"So we were our own worst enemy," Kerr said. "We got what we deserved."
Before the rallying exploits of Thomas, Green and their playmates soar to the realm of legend, let’s pause for a dose of collateral reality.
"I think the big key was we finally played defense and got active," coach Jeff Hornacek said after his Suns (4-3) unleashed a 36-16 fourth-quarter blitz on the Warriors (5-1).
Yeah, there was some of that grit and determination stuff, too.
"We knew if we just stayed solid at the defensive end," Thomas said, "they would be turning over the ball because that’s what they’ve been doing this whole season. They’ve been turning it over, but we stayed solid, we got steals and we got out running."
For the record, the Suns had only 10 fast-break points and the fast-tempo Warriors had a measly four. Hornacek explained that a basketball court filled with guards makes it difficult for either team to gain a transition advantage.
Anyway, please note that Golden State was playing without star two-guard Klay Thompson (sprained right hand) one night after knocking the Rockets from the ranks of the unbeaten in Houston.
"We told our guys with our depth, maybe we can wear ’em out by the end of the game," Hornacek said. "That’s kind of what happened."
But things seemed a bit iffy for a while.
By the way, that defensive uprising Hornacek referenced certainly did wonders for the Suns’ offensive opportunities. Generating open looks seems simple when the opposition’s defense — ranked first among NBA teams in efficiency before tip-off — isn’t locked and loaded.
"When our guys run our stuff and just make the simple play, we’re pretty good," Hornacek said.
Amen to that. The fourth-quarter crew, however, didn’t exactly make a boatload of simple plays. Quite a few of the shots hoisted by Thomas, Green and their late-game cronies (P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee) were something short of wide open.
With nothing even close to a yellow light in his mission statement, Green elevated to launch eight shots during the fourth. He made five, including 3 of 4 from behind the 3-point line, in a 16-point salvo.
That’s how it goes, sometimes, when Thomas and Green — leaders of a second unit that easily could answer to the nickname of "The Chuck Wagon" — start to click.
"All of the guys coming off the bench were huge," Hornacek said.
Well, one of them is only 5-foot-9.
That’s Thomas, who started the fourth quarter with seven points and ended it with 22 and seven assists. He missed 9 of 13 shots from the field (1 of 5 from 3) overall, but his jitterbug dribble moves resulted in 14 free-throw opportunities. He made 13.
Thomas also used his relentlessly pesky routine to coerce three personal fouls — one on a charge, another near mid-court in the final tick of the third quarter — from Steph Curry, who had 22 points at halftime and ended the game with 28. Eric Bledsoe (nine points, three assists in 21:37) deserves most of the credit, however, for Curry managing just a deuce in the third quarter.
But those intersections with Thomas pushed Curry’s foul total to five at 7:12 of the fourth. With the Suns’ complete rehabilitation of a performance that had them down as many as 13 points, Golden State was down, 90-88, when the Warriors’ star point guard went to the bench soon after.
The Suns’ lead rose to seven by the time he returned a minute later.
Curry did ring up a triple-double, adding 10 assists and 10 turnovers to his game-high scoring.
"You’re not going to win in this league turning it over 26 times," Kerr said.
Although he — like Bledsoe and Markieff Morris — didn’t play in the fourth quarter, Goran Dragic had some nice numbers. Making all three of his 3-point attempts, "The Dragon" scored 19 points (8-of-12 shooting overall) and was credited with three steals.
"I was just enjoying sitting in the end," Dragic said. "The whole five that played, they were playing good defense and on offense, they were hitting shots.
"That’s the beauty of this sport, everybody can play."
We’re not sure how much certified basketball beauty was there to behold Sunday, but this is the NBA’s Western Conference … where there is no such thing as an ugly win.