Though they play the game in very different ways and at a different pace, these are two of the greatest point guards we've ever seen, and ever will see, in NBA history. They deserve the spotlight and have earned it. But when these two teams square off for the first time this season, the battle of the bigs could be the difference.
The tallest player the Warriors will deploy is starting center Kevon Looney, who is listed at 6-foot-9. The seventh-year veteran is averaging a career-high 6.6 rebounds per game, but he's far from an enforcing presence in the paint. In essence, the Warriors will throw out their small-ball lineup and hope for the same dominant results they have seen all season long.
As the Suns continued to climb up the NBA ladder last season, the Los Angeles Clippers tried to throw a small-ball lineup at them in the Western Conference finals and Deandre Ayton powered his way to an eye-opening series. The 7-footer put up 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds per game over the six-game series that saw the Suns advance to the NBA Finals. He also blocked 10 shots and shot 69.3 percent from the field.
“I think the Clippers series was one that, it wasn’t just those guys scoring, it’s the ability to punish them on the boards and then everybody else playing around them under control but fast," Suns coach Monty Williams said Monday to reporters.
Ayton this season is averaging a career-high 11.5 rebounds per game but the Suns as a whole aren't exactly owning the boards. The Suns rank 16th in total rebounds per game with 45.8. They do rank fifth in the NBA with 36.9 defensive rebounds per game, but are struggling to grab offensive rebounds, ranking 27th with only 8.9 offensive rebounds per game.
By comparison, the "small" Warriors are the No. 5 team in total rebounds per game (47.1) and the No. 3 team in defensive rebounds per game (37.3), but are only the 22nd-ranked team in offensive rebounds per game at 9.8.
They also allow the third-least amount of rebounds by their opponents, and the Suns are much lower, allowing the 10th-most.
JaVale McGee, who won two championships with the Warriors, should play a big role against his former team. The veteran backup center is listed at 7-foot tall, has a 7-foot-6 wingspan and his 7.3 rebounds per game are his fourth-most in his 14-year career. He also is coming off a strong 10-point, 10-rebound game against the Brooklyn Nets, a team that tried to go small against the Suns and failed.
The former Warrior also believes the road to beating Golden State is by going big.
“I feel like a couple years ago there was a real emphasis on trying to get the bigs out of there and going small,” McGee said Monday to reporters. “And people thought that was the way to beat the Warriors, but I definitely think going big can serve some problems also.”
The Suns could try to bully their way to points and rebounds with their big men. The Warriors will use their plethora of long wings and bigs who can step outside of the paint. It also doesn't hurt having Draymond Green, the player who holds the key to the Warriors allowing the fewest points per game in the NBA.
Green is fully motivated and back to beng the defensive force we have seen in the past. His 7.8 rebounds per game are his most since he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2016-17. Draymond's 98 defensive rating is the second-best of his career and even better than when he was named DPOY.
Someone, please show him the ultra-confident comments of his former teammate.
Measuring themselves against the Suns no doubt will be a challenge. As players like Green, and even Steph Curry -- who is averaging a career-high 5.8 rebounds per game -- have shown, Golden State can win on the glass thanks to a plethora of contributing players. If they don't, they could be in for a long night in front of the rowdy road fans.
A quick change would then be in store before these two teams again take the floor against each other come Friday night in San Francisco. Let's see what the scoreboard reads when the final seconds run out in Phoenix first.