For the most part, the Warriors played badly on defense -- until the moment they needed to deliver an inflection point. With Stephen Curry scoring 30 points, Klay Thompson also claiming 30 (24 in the second half) and Kevin Durant notching 29, defense can be optional.
“You're going to have games like that, where it's just going to be a slugfest,” Durant said after the game. “Trade baskets at one point. They went on a couple runs. There's going to be times where you're going to try and come out and maybe try to outscore teams.”
It’s unusual for the Warriors to play so early on a Sunday, and maybe that’s why the game had the lackadaisical feel of a discount matinee. As Curry put it, “It's a weird day, I guess.”
He elaborated: “Honestly, I think just, it's our first game day at home without shootaround. So it's different, just, routine. Maybe guys' engines weren't revved up enough before the game. Good learning experience. It won't be the last time it happens."
For whatever reason, Golden State’s defense was dormant to start this one, switching frequently but sloppily. For the second time this season, the Suns brought a tremendous amount of energy, driving at and cutting behind the Warriors with vigor.
It was in this discombobulated situation that JaVale McGee was thrust in at the six-minute mark of the first quarter. Although McGee was excellent in Denver, he looked overwhelmed on defense in these minutes, and he quickly got the hook after Jared Dudley blew by him. The Warriors still are searching for answers at the 5, and such answers have not come easily or clearly.
If it’s any consolation to McGee, he was not alone on that side of the ball. The Warriors, especially the starters, were a mess for much of this. Offensively, Golden State was paced by Curry's and Durant’s increasingly routine brilliance. It felt like a game at half-speed, with Golden State procrastinating on a moment to strike.
Are the Warriors pacing themselves? Certain moments of intensity seem to speak to that, such as what happened on one of the last plays of the half. Draymond Green, as much an agent of chaos as someone who brings order, seized up and punched the ball away from Alex Len to close out a rugged defensive sequence. On the other end, Curry quickly fed Durant for a 3, which led to Green’s favored celebration: a timeout signal directed at the opponent.
Still, the Suns would not go away. They attacked the Warriors in transition, posting up on smaller guards (such as Curry and Patrick McCaw) with larger wings (such as Dudley). And so the game stayed in a loopy, 1970s ABA-style holding pattern until Golden State found another inflection point.
This particular sequence of insanity happened near the end of the third quarter, beginning with McCaw blocking Devin Booker from behind. That led to an Andre Iguodala fast-break layup miss, an outlet back to Booker for a certain dunk. As Booker tried to drop the hammer, Durant swooped in to swat it off the backboard, which led to a long Curry rebound and a classic, absurdly deep Curry pull-up 3-pointer that sent the crowd into hysterics. This looked more like a cinematic depiction of a game than an actual game.
Yet the Suns continued to hang around, eating into a double-digit lead and closing the gap as Curry sat. The awakening of Thompson proved decisive, though, as the All-Star started, finally firing with far less conscience than accuracy. It was a run also galvanized by Golden State’s “death lineup,” that spaced-out look in which Green plays center and Durant plays as power forward.
“It was good,” Durant said of the lineup. “They were doubling Steph off the pick-and-roll, and he was making the correct play, and Draymond was getting into the paint, making the right passes. Klay caught fire there in the fourth, and we moved the ball."
This was a great game for a crowd, a perfect Sunday even if the basketball were less than perfect. As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game, “If you are trying to win a championship, you don’t do that simply by outscoring people.” The Warriors have yet to get their defense in order, but it’s possible that’s a matter of choice -- for now.
When you’ve got this much firepower, defense is less a priority than a situational device. That could be a part of how this team conserves its energy over 82 games. When it comes to Golden State’s regular-season defensive lapses, as the saying goes in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to tell if it’s a feature or a bug.