How the Phoenix Suns broke Curry and the Warriors offense

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns found the formula to shut down Steph Curry, and in Tuesday’s 104-96 loss, that broke the Warriors offense.

Hounded all night by Mikal Bridges — and often one or two other Suns defenders — Curry, and the Warriors along with him, had an off night of epic proportion. The most important number — 96 points — represented the first time Golden State checked in under 100 points 43 regular-season games, the longest-running streak in the NBA. Another figure sums up Curry’s struggles: In 262 career games attempting at least 20 shots from the field, Curry had never been held to fewer than five field goals made, until Tuesday’s 4-of-21 performance.

“The driving lanes were there, but I settled a lot,” Curry admitted afterward. He even let go of two airballs he thought were heading for twill, or at least glass or metal. “It’s kind of indicative of how the whole night went.”

Phoenix isn’t the first team to employ the stop-Steph-at-all-costs defensive strategy, but it was the most successful.

“They did a great job on Steph,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Bridges was all over him. They did a lot of switching. They stayed home when he was off the ball. The good looks that he did have, he just didn’t knock them down, so he never found a rhythm. But I thought their defense had a lot to do with that.”

Curry is being blitzed by defenses as much as ever this season. His 19% success rate against Phoenix was already the third time in 20 games this season he’s been held below 25% shooting from the field, equal to the number of times in the four seasons prior.

Golden State’s supporting cast has neutered those efforts on most nights. For a while, it appeared Jordan Poole and Otto Porter Jr.’s hot hands might be enough again. Poole scored 16 in the first quarter, and Porter connected on four 3-pointers (his hit rate from deep the past five games: 50%, or 16-of-32).

“When teams are going to commit people to Steph the way that Phoenix did, there’s going to be openings,” coach Steve Kerr said.

“They just did a lot of switching off the ball and on the ball with Steph,” said Poole, who finished with 26 to lead the team. “Other than that, I personally didn’t see anything. … But I know they were kind of selling all out on Steph on the ball and off the ball.”

No team has disrupted the Warriors’ move-the-ball motif like Phoenix did Tuesday; the Warriors hadn’t seen a team with the size and athleticism featured on Phoenix’s roster, with its trio of 6-6-or-taller wings and duo of towering big men.

The Warriors lay claim to the NBA’s top-rated defensive, but the Suns check in at No. 2.

Golden State shot a season-worst 41.9% (36-86) from the field and was held without a field goal for a stretch of four-and-a-half minutes to close the game before a couple layups once the outcome had been decided.

At 6-3, Curry is 3 inches shorter than Bridges, whose 7-1 wingspan makes him even more irritating for a shooter trying to find space. Near-7-footer Deandre Ayton boasts a 7-foot-6 wingspan and the ability to switch onto guards like Curry.

The Suns employed a similar strategy when the teams met late last season. The Warriors were able to prevail in overtime, but Curry was held to 7-of-22 from the field, and just 1-of-11 from distance; he was 3-for-14 from beyond the arc Tuesday.

“I didn’t get many off-ball looks tonight, and that’s usually on me to keep my activity up and not settle,” Curry said. “… Obviously it didn’t affect my confidence because I still shot 14 3s. I try to live by that rule. But you’ve just got to make adjustments on how you’re getting them. I think that’s the biggest lesson against a team that in the last year tried to do the same thing. I think we got better looks and better off-ball options than we did (Tuesday).”

The Warriors never established an offensive rhythm. Kerr said it felt like they were rushing all night.

“We were just in a rush, making passes on the move where we didn’t even have the option to stop and assess what was going on,” he said. “Because we were in a rush, we start making some passes that we can’t pull back and all of a sudden they get into a passing lane and we’re throwing the ball out of bounds or they’re stealing it.”

They turned it over 23 times, tied for a season high. Draymond Green said they fell victim to making one pass too many on multiple possessions.

“When you have a team that is switching like that and kind of fanning out to the 3-point line, the kick-outs aren’t always there,” Green said. “They did a great job of pressuring us and speeding us up. If we can, which I know we can, handle that pressure and still get into what we want to get into, move the ball … we’ll cut back on some of those.”

The Warriors faced an all-out assault for 48 minutes and countered it with their own defensive performance that they believed was enough to win. It was the offense that stumbled Tuesday in Phoenix.

“You take eight of those turnovers away and you get shots up, one, it’ll help us offensively,” Curry said. “And two, it won’t fuel their transition. … I think defensively we were pretty solid all night, until down the stretch, when turnovers put us at a disadvantage.”

As Curry said, “Losses definitely jolt the system a little bit.”

Added Kerr: “It’s probably good for us to go through this game, especially early in the season, because it’s a good reminder that we’re going to have to get a lot better.”

They have about 72 hours to craft a new plan of attack; the two heavyweights of the Western Conference meet again Friday at Chase Center.

“You would assume they approach the game the same way, knowing they had success,” Curry said. “For us, we’ve got to make the necessary adjustments.”

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