The Golden State Warriors spoiled Steph’s Curry’s return on Tuesday night, falling to the woefully short-handed Phoenix Suns 125-113. Here are three reactions from the defending champions’ third consecutive loss.
Steph Curry, rusty in return
The reigning Finals MVP last took the floor almost a month ago, and only just joined his teammates for full-contact practice in the last 48 hours. Some rust was to be expected even if Curry ultimately put up big numbers, and just because he was wearing a black shooting sleeve on his left shoulder and arm. Andrew Wiggins admitted after Saturday’s loss to the Orlando Magic that he was a step slow in his first game since December 4th. It would’ve been a pleasant surprise if Curry had it much differently.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, Curry looked almost exactly like a thirtysomething all-timer who most recently played in mid-December. He started 2-of-9 from the field, missing several good looks from deep and a couple runners he normally makes look easy. Curry was pressing, too, clearly making a concerted effort to pick up where he left off against the Indiana Pacers on December 14th before injuring his shoulder.
Despite frustrating personal and team-wide struggles, though, Curry still had the chance to entirely change this game’s momentum as Golden State—inspired by Wiggins coming to life defensively and on the glass—tried to regroup for a furious fourth quarter rally. Clank, clank.
Curry rarely misses three good looks in a row, and didn’t when he had the chance less than 90 seconds later. But Andre Iguodala was whistled for a moving screen as his longtime teammate’s corner triple tickled the twine, and Steve Kerr’s ensuing challenge was unsuccessful, keeping the Warriors’ deficit at 14 points.
It just wasn’t Curry’s night, hardly shocking given the circumstances of his return.
The Warriors didn’t come to play…until the 4th quarter
The writing was on the wall from the opening tip of Tuesday’s game.
The Suns came out with far more energy than the Warriors, a reality manifested in execution on both sides of the ball. They were discombobulated offensively early, with Curry and Wiggins trying to will themselves back to pre-injury form. Phoenix dominated the offensive glass (20 offensive rebounds, 25 second-chance points) all game long, out-hustling and out-fighting Golden State in the paint.
Offense was hardly the Warriors’ only problem on Tuesday, but these possessions lay bare just how out of of sync and unmotivated they were altogether in the first half and third quarter.
This was Golden State’s second shot-clock violation before intermission.
These turnovers from Draymond Green and Thompson are close to inexplicable, an encapsulation of the ineptitude that helped drive the Suns’ 27-point third quarter lead.
Then the fourth quarter came, and Golden State woke up. Behind a spirited, tireless effort from Wiggins, the Warriors forced 13 turnovers in the game’s last 12 minutes alone, igniting their transition offense to free up Curry and Jordan Poole. They were suddenly down just 117-111 on a Poole three with 1:28 left, sensing an epic comeback victory as Chase Center rose to a roar.
But it was too little too late for the home team, the Suns’ offensive rebounding making the biggest difference late. This is a game Golden State should’ve won. Encouraging as their fourth quarter was, it’s also a reminder of how un-seriously the Warriors took the first three.
What home-court advantage?
The Warriors survived Curry’s 11-game absence mostly due to a home-court advantage that was still the best in basketball barely more than a week ago. Five straight wins to begin a perfectly timed eight-game home stand made Golden State’s record at Chase Center a dominant 17-2, even pushing the reigning champs to two games above .500—the first time they’ve been there in 2022-23—despite similarly eye-popping struggles away from home and a depleted roster.
All that optimism is pretty much gone now, replaced by consternation about the Warriors’ season-long penchant for playing down to competition. No one would have been surprised after that instant-classic win over the Atlanta Hawks last Monday if Golden State finished its home stretch perfect, especially with multiple reinforcements coming. Instead, the Warriors fell to the Detroit Pistons, Orlando and Phoenix’s C-team in quick succession, simply outplayed by objectively inferior teams.
Golden State’s five consecutive victories loom even larger now than it seemed like they did in the midst of that run. The Warriors could’ve kept climbing up the Western Conference standings, somehow breaking into the top-four before the All-Star break in spite of a 3-7 start and weeks-long absences to arguably their two best players. Instead, they leave the once-friendly confines of Chase Center tied with a Suns team that wasn’t just playing without Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Cam Johnson, Cam Payne and Landry Shamet, but had lost nine of 10 coming into Tuesday’s action.
What a waste of Curry’s return.