The matchup between the Warriors and Phoenix Suns on Tuesday was the most anticipated game early in the 2021-22 NBA season. They occupy the top two records in the league, are two of the top three defensive teams, and are two of the top 10 offensive teams.
Not to mention Steph Curry vs. Chris Paul is the best point guard matchup in the league.
But on this night at Footprint Arena, Paul had the edge, as the Warriors fell to the Suns 104-96, as Phoenix (18-3) extended its winning streak to 17 games.
Phoenix's defense was the biggest game-changing factor. They bottled up Steph Curry, held Golden State to 41.2 percent shooting, and forced them into 22 turnovers. They held the Warriors (18-3) under 100 points for the first time this season.
The Warriors' offense flashed glimpses of its usual high standard. It looked like Jordan Poole could have been the hero. Then Otto Porter Jr. got hot. But as soon as they got going, the Suns' defense locked them down again.
Then, it was as if the Suns' defense got into Golden State's head. Down the stretch, the Warriors were indecisive with the ball and their offense was stagnant. That resulted in more missed buckets and more turnovers. And then, Phoenix kept on capitalizing when the ball was in their hands.
Here are three takeaways from the Warriors' third loss of the season:
Shutting down Steph
Heading into the game, the Suns had the No. 3 defense in the NBA, and it showed -- especially against Curry.
Phoenix had a steady rotation of players go up against Curry, but Mikal Bridges got the brunt of the load. He and his teammates held Curry to just 12 points on 4-of-21 shooting. This was the worst shooting night of his career when he attempts at least 20 shots.
In the past, when Curry has an off shooting night, he still finds a way to have a positive impact and get involved. But on Tuesday, he struggled to do even that. Curry finished with just two assists, the first of which didn't occur until the fourth quarter.
Suns' size was too much
The Warriors have always played well with small-ball lineups. With Kevon Looney as their only true center and Draymond Green and Nemanja Bjelica as their backups, the Warriors are never truly scared to go up against typical big teams.
But the Suns' size clearly gave the Warriors trouble.
DeAndre Ayton and JaVale McGee, Phoenix's two centers, combined for 32 points, 24 courtesy of Ayton. Meanwhile, Jae Crowder scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting -- four of which were 3-pointers.
Usually, Green thrives in these matchups. He takes pride in being undersized and underestimated. But he lacked the aggressiveness the Warriors needed from him -- especially without Curry having a strong offensive presence. He reverted back to being the non-attacker.
Green finished with six points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Looney started strong but finished with a minus-17 net rating. Down the stretch, Bjelica had some nice moments, holding his own on defense and playmaking a bit on offense.
But it was clear that without an aggressive, assertive effort from Green, Phoenix's bigs were going to have their way.
Jordan Poole provided a bit of hope
With Curry having an off night, it was Jordan Poole who stepped up to try and give the Warriors an offensive spark.
He did, finishing with 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including six 3-pointers. Poole started out assertive. Every move he made, he did it with decisiveness and confidence -- whether it was driving to the rim or shooting it from distance.
Midway through the third quarter, Poole gave the team another boost on both ends of the court. Just moments after hitting a 3-pointer in the face of McGee, he blocked Cam Johnson and on the other end, Poole found Gary Payton II for a wide-open dunk.
But Poole needed help.
Otto Porter Jr. gave a good shooting boost, knocking down four 3-pointers. But not having Curry as a scoring factor hurt the Warriors immensely.