CP3 Draws first Blood

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Updated: December 1, 2021
cp3 Ayton

A head-to-head matchup with the two hottest teams in all basketball, CP3 and his Phoenix Suns were on the cusp of franchise history. All tied up in the 2nd quarter and their bonified bucket getter Devon Booker pulled his left hamstring and was forced to exit the ballgame and would not return…but it didn’t matter. Even when the Warriors were leading in the 3rd, it felt like they were climbing uphill against Suns’ overwhelming size inside the paint. The first quarter looked like a ‘90s throwback game with how Phoenix’s guards relentlessly fed their big-man DeAndre Ayton inside.

It is well-documented that Golden State lacks size and athleticism in the frontcourt with Looney being the weak link in their starting lineup. For unexplainable reasons, most teams have chosen only to periodically expose this hole in their defense. The Suns instead deliberately pounded the paint to prove that neither Kevon nor Bjelica could stop Ayton’s finesse game at the rim. Steve Kerr hoped that putting Draymond on Chris Paul would allow Green to cover Ayton after the switch, yet it left Kevon Looney on CP3 making light work of the coverage, dissecting the defense like a surgeon. And when the ball came back inside, Dray simply gave up too much size to the true 7-footer barreling to the rim.

Mikel Bridges attached himself to Steph Curry from the jump and his length proved to bother the Chef who never found his rhythm through 4 quarters. Curry had a historically poor shooting night with the worst stat line of his career for any game over 20 attempts from the field. After looking immortal over the last 10 games, Curry was a non-factor down the stretch and the Warrior’s biggest run in the 3rd occurred with Steph on the sidelines.

Cp3’s ability to penetrate and kick constantly created open jumpers from distance for his array of perimeter shooters who were set on automatic. With Booker out for the 2nd half, it further empowered Paul to dictate the pace in the half-court and punish the mismatches and lack of size in the Warriors’ number 1 ranked defense in the NBA.

Kerr opted to depend on Juan Toscano Anderson, his energizing undersized power forward, who had appeared to be resuscitated three games back after being taken out of the rotation in the emergence of Payton II. However, as much as JTA’s energy has been a nice booster off the bench for the Dubs, it has become questionable if he can handle the moment, committing 5 turnovers all on his own. However, it obviously was not only him as Golden State committing what felt like 35 turnovers (22 actual total), many of which were unforced. They also failed to score 100 points for the first time this season.

Part II: The Missing Variables

One regular-season game should never be taken too seriously, however, it is impossible not to feel that this win by Phoenix was a statement game which meant more than most events on the schedule. Especially with Booker out for the 2nd half and CP3, Bridges, and Ayton able to close at the win with ease, the pressure is now placed on the Warrior’s shoulders to split the pair and take the W in their second matchup of the week. With the hamstring injury to Devon, it is hard to tell if he will be made available for the 2nd game against the Warriors. It is also questionable if Andrew Wiggins, who was almost taken out of the lineup with back spasms will sit on Friday.

Wiggins is their only true small forward on the roster that plays substantial minutes and has been given the defensive assignment of the best scorer on the other team throughout the season. The last 10 games have maybe been the best of his career but last night he looked like a shell of himself on both ends of the floor, clearly moving cautiously in fear of aggravating the injury.

The Warriors also still had Iguodala out with a sore knee, and their only true 7-footer in sophomore center, James Wisemen yet to return from the torn meniscus last season. The biggest missing variable though obviously is future hall of famer, Klay Thompson, who has missed the last two seasons with an ACL and the dreaded torn Achilles. Even if Wisemen and Klay come back for the final Phoenix matchup on Christmas day, it is likely both of them will be on heavy minute restrictions and will still be working themselves in the game shape. The additions would only truly be impactful in this matchup if these Western monsters meet up in the playoffs.

For the Warriors though, this was the first game that solidified a fact that everyone in the front office has considered, that in a handful of 7-game series matchups, their lack of size, namely, Kevon Looney, is a handicap that will be exposed when game-planned against. They can always opt to go small, but since Ayton can switch quite well out to perimeter it is questionable how much the Dubs can punish the Suns for keeping their center on the floor. It will not be Friday or even the December 25th matchup that will dictate their decision, but what James Wisemen looks like prior to the deadline. No one expects him to be elite or even an above big for that matter, however, he does need to show that he can stand his own adequately for 12-15 minutes a night for the likes Ayton, AD, Gobert, and Jokic. If not, a package of Looney, JTA, and picks probably will need to be strung together to get reinforcements in the frontcourt.

We can make assumptions that with Klay back to 80% of what he was by the playoffs that the Warriors will be the superior squad as we have seen the splash brothers dominate Chris Paul from the Lob City era to the Harden Tandem in Houston. However, after two cataphoric lower-body injuries for Thompson, nothing is guaranteed. In this first matchup, CP3 drew first blood, and in the vacuum of what was seen, they have to be given the edge as the current best team in the West with their now 17-game winning streak.

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