There have been many times when Draymond Green carried the Warriors to the land of greatness, using a mixture of passion, intellect and impeccable defense, willing them out of losses and into victories.
That Draymond made only cameo appearances Tuesday night in Phoenix. That’s not enough against top-level competition, and the Suns are elite.
There is no question the Warriors’ 104-96 loss in Showdown I at Footprint Center can be shared by most everyone who played. Steph Curry was stifled to an unprecedented degree, shooting 4-of-21 from the field. Andrew Wiggins (back spasms) was able to play but clearly was compromised. Kevon Looney was overmatched. Juan Toscano-Anderson was unrecognizable, committing five turnovers in 13 minutes.
Who were these guys?
The Warriors needed Draymond to be that rock. He was not. The man who typically reads the action on the floor as if he arranged it had so many misreads that it was baffling.
And Draymond knew it because he always knows. Asked to identify the “root cause” of an offense that committed 23 turnovers and scored 61 points, on 35-percent shooting, over the final three quarters, he did not hesitate.
“Overpassing,” he said.
Nailed it. And Draymond, who accounted for five of the giveaways, was guilty far too often for the Warriors to find a rhythm.
The most egregious example came early in the third quarter when Green dribbled into the paint, getting within 10 feet of the hoop before shoveling the ball to Looney, who was gridlocked among three Suns a few short feet away. It was a difficult ball for Looney to catch, and almost impossible for him to do anything productive with it. Turnover. That was early in a 14-7 Phoenix run that left the Warriors with a nine-point deficit.
“When you have a team that's switching like that, kind of fanning out to the 3-point line, the kickouts are not always there,” Green accurately assessed. “So, we were overpassing.
“And we were also in a rush. We were sped up, but you have to give their defense some credit for that. They did a great job of pressuring us and speeding us up.”
The most shocking example of the unusual came when Draymond misread Curry -- you read that right -- and passed into another turnover. It was a no-fault play, one that can happen in the flow of any game. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen with Green and Curry.
But there it was. And that was symptomatic of much of the evening for the Warriors.
Jordan Poole sparkled with his scoring, finishing with a game-high 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting, but he committed four turnovers. Every starter had at least two giveaways, except Wiggins, who had one.
“Our offensive execution was really poor,” coach Steve Kerr said. “They frustrated us with the pick-and-roll, they did a great job with Steph and Draymond (Green) with the pick-and-roll and it just didn’t feel that we executed the other stuff that we were trying to run.”
Phoenix coach Monty Williams drew up a superb defensive game plan, and the Suns followed it wonderfully. Their switches were precise, synchronized. They had a clear understanding of Golden State’s personnel and weren’t leaving shooters to chase non-shooters. Their overplays were appropriate.
“They played very well defensively,” Green said. “They took a lot of stuff away. They were very good defensively. You gotta give them a lot of credit.”
No doubt. The Suns submitted a spectacular display of defensive discipline, a description that often applies to Draymond’s defense. On this night, though, he had no fewer than three late rotations, two of which led to Phoenix buckets.
How many times have we seen Green destroy opposing offenses while masterfully orchestrating that of the Warriors?
A lot went wrong on a night when the Warriors were outplayed and outcoached. And yet ...
“But in saying all of that, 23 turnovers, right there with three minutes to go,” Green said. “We let it slip away. If we correct the things that we control, we’ll be fine.”
The Warriors trailed by five, 97-92, with three minutes remaining. They trailed by 10 with 56 seconds remaining. In the second half, when they typically finish opponents, they scored 42 points.
To come this close on a night when so much fell flat is oddly encouraging, considering there is a rematch Friday at Chase Center.
“We’ll get back in the lab,” Green said. “Make the necessary adjustments and brush up on the things we need to brush up on.”
The first step to making a correction is admitting it. Draymond and the rest of the Warriors, players and coaches, know the next step. We’ve seen them take it many times before.