Steph Curry was off Tuesday night, as the Warriors star scored just 12 points while shooting 4-for-21 from the field in Golden State's 104-96 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns focused their defensive game plan on Curry. Phoenix bottled up the Warriors' Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-roll, used their length and effort to speed up the Warriors' offense, which made Golden State sloppy and led to 22 turnovers.
Mikal Bridges did a tremendous job as the primary defender on Curry, Deandre Ayton was fantastic when switched out onto the Warriors star and the Suns are a team of rangy wings who are capable of being disruptive helpers. The Suns' Curry-centric plan was able to throw the two-time MVP out of rhythm and make him take rushed shots.
After the game, head coach Steve Kerr credited Phoenix's defense while also noting that when teams focus on Curry as the Suns did, that creates open shots for other Warriors, including Klay Thompson.
"When teams are going to commit people to Steph the way that Phoenix did, there is going to be openings," Kerr said postgame. "There is going to be openings for Jordan [Poole], openings for Otto [Porter Jr.], guys who have knocked down a bunch of threes, and there will be openings for Klay Thompson. It's going to be fun."
This is the first time Kerr has included a mention of Thompson in how the Warriors' scheme could and will change when the five-time All-Star makes his return to the court. It's clear that Thompson, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer in a scrimmage in Santa Cruz on Tuesday, is very close to making his triumphant return after two years on the sidelines.
While it's not fair to expect Thompson to step onto the court and immediately be the player he was when he limped off the floor in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, there should be little doubt that having Thompson's presence on the court will dramatically impact how teams defend the Warriors and improve Golden State's already potent offensive attack.
Poole has been great through the first 21 games, and Thompson's return means the young guard will shift to the bench, giving the Warriors a microwave-ready flamethrower to lead the second unit along with Andrew Wiggins.
Curry will always be the gravitational center of the Warriors' offense and teams will continue to focus their defensive efforts on slowing him down and trying to chop off the head of the snake. As Kerr noted, that focus provides open shots for guys like Poole, Porter, Wiggins and the like.
While the Warriors have received good contributions from their secondary and tertiary scorers this season, defenses still are comfortable living with Poole, Porter and Co. beating them. That calculus could change with Thompson on the floor, especially once he gets his feet back underneath him. Once Thompson gets cooking, he is nearly impossible to cool down and that likely will force defenses to change their tactics to ensure they aren't giving Thompson free reign to torch them while they try to bottle up Curry.
That, in turn, can loosen things up for Curry and allow the Warriors' offense to operate in a way they were unable to Tuesday night as the Suns focused everything on Curry.
Thompson's return is near. You can feel it. The Warriors can sense it and know his impact on their scheme and soul will be unquantifiable.
To echo Kerr: "It's going to be fun."