The Warriors just couldn’t stay out of their own way while losing a sixth straight road game.
The Golden State Warriors fell to the Phoenix Suns 119-116 on Tuesday night at Footprint Center, squandering yet another double-digit lead. Here are three in-depth reactions from the Dubs’ sixth straight road loss.
What else can you even say? Draymond Green’s well-earned reputation and checkered history had nothing to do with his flagrant-2 foul and automatic ejection from Tuesday’s game. Any player who swung a wild forearm to the face of Jusuf Nurkic in response to a nondescript grab would’ve met the same fate.
Draymond Green was given a foul after striking Jusuf Nurkic in the face 😳
The play is currently under review for a flagrant foul. pic.twitter.com/ar6GZuiWkn
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) December 13, 2023
Green briskly ran back to the locker room after the officials announced his punishment, a welcome development considering his typical reaction to ejections. Maybe that’s a sign of progress?
Of course, the real indication of any development from Green would be avoiding these situations in the first place. Make no mistake, either: Draymond created this one all by himself. Nurkic’s common foul on the dead ball wasn’t close to dirty or even necessarily born from animus. It was a basketball play; Green’s flailing, upward forearm in the direction of a seven-footer’s face was anything but.
There’s already talk that Green could face another suspension for striking Nurkic, the league office taking his well-earned reputation and increasingly checkered history into account. Adam Silver and company did just that last month while banning him five games for putting Rudy Gobert in a chokehold.
Why would they act any differently this time around? Again, Green was clearly the instigator here. He wasn’t protecting a teammate or reacting to another unsportsmanlike act. A suspension is likely coming, and even if it doesn’t, it’s only a matter of time until Green picks up another flagrant foul. He has four flagrant foul points already this season; a fifth triggers an automatic suspension.
Green will surely say all the right things about his latest unacceptable, dangerous, completely avoidable transgression. Too bad words won’t keep him on the floor and his real-time emotions in check.
The Warriors, by the way, were outscored by eight points once Green exited with 8:23 remaining in the third quarter. If not for a last-gasp comeback attempt led by the bench, that discrepancy would’ve been much, much larger.
The Warriors’ early-season issues certainly aren’t the cause of one single player. The numbers say they’re far better off with Andrew Wiggins on the bench, though, and Tuesday’s eye test did nothing to deflect from that conclusion. If anything, Wiggins’ performance only drove it home harder.
Effort wasn’t the problem for Wiggins against Phoenix. He tried his best staying attached to Devin Booker, fought hard on the glass and was clearly engaged offensively. But his sustained discomfort putting the ball on the deck and operating in traffic once again killed the Dubs offensively, and he was unable to make up for it by hitting open triples or playing lockdown defense.
Wiggins threw a telegraphed chest pass to Klay Thompson on the first possession of the game. He was credited with the turnover, but Thompson bobbled the ball on the catch after it was nearly deflected by Phoenix. Both Wiggins and Thompson are culpable for that unforced giveaway.
This one, obviously, is all on Wiggins, and all too familiar amid his consistently unsettled start to 2023-24.
Golden State made a concerted effort to push the pace, hoping to get into early offense against an un-set defense—sometimes even after makes.
This is pretty much exactly what you hope that gambit produces: Stephen Curry drawing two defenders, freeing up an athletic wing for a clear path to the rim. Wiggins, like he has so many times over the first six weeks of the regular season, just missed a shot he needs to make.
Steve Kerr yanked Wiggins early after that ugly second-quarter stint, his team’s double-digit lead suddenly cut to two. Wiggins wasn’t solely responsible for that downturn, but certainly played a major part in it. He was a clear minus offensively and wasn’t guarding Booker well enough to handle him one-on-one, relegating the Warriors to automatic early traps high up the floor that left Phoenix’s role players wide open from deep.
Wiggins isn’t making open threes. He’s rattled creasing the paint and isolating as a secondary creator. And he’s nowhere close to scraping the defensive peak he reached as a true stopper in the 2022 playoffs.
Something must change for Wiggins. Maybe getting benched for Brandin Podziemski to begin the second half—a no-brainer decision for Kerr and the coaching staff paid off by the rookie’s awesome third quarter—will spark the flame that finally lights a fire under the 10th-year veteran, saving his season before it’s too late.
Warriors starters crumble again
Wiggins wasn’t the only started who started the second half on the bench. Kevon Looney was replaced in the lineup by Jonathan Kuminga out of intermission, no surprise considering the ineffectiveness of both Looney and the Dubs’ starting unit at large in the first half.
Golden State only got its early double-digit lead on the back of the bench, too. Thompson was almost invisible as Chris Paul, Podziemski, Jonathan Kuminga and Dario Saric pushed their team’s advantage to 13 by the eight minute-mark of the second quarter, quickly moving the ball in the halfcourt, forcing turnovers to get out in the open floor and owning the offensive glass.
When was the last time the Warriors’ starters produced a possession that looked like this, regardless of final result?
Wiggins played one stint in the second half, finishing the third quarter after entering with 5:09 on the game clock. Looney might’ve been stuck to the pine entirely after halftime if not for Green’s ejection. Even Trayce Jackson-Davis played early in the fourth quarter, blocking a shot at the rim as a help defender and finishing a dump-off from the dunker spot before Nurkic started going right through him on the block and on the boards.
Joining Wiggins and Looney on the bench for the fourth quarter’s majority? Thompson, who finished with seven points and five rebounds on 2-of-10 overall and 1-8 of from deep in 27 minutes. Just like Wiggins, Thompson easily deserved being left out of Kerr’s closing lineup.
Another forgettable, dispiriting night for Klay began when he got lost executing a simple off-ball switch with Curry and fumbled Wiggins’ chest pass out of bounds.
Shot selection, shocker, was also a problem for Thompson. He can get these looks from deep almost any time he touches the ball. Given the way he’s shot the ball so far this season, there’s just no reason for Thompson to be launching deep, semi-contested threes just a few seconds into the shot clock without even allowing the Warriors to get into their halfcourt offense.
The silver lining of yet another loss marked by the struggles of Wiggins and Thompson, Green’s hot head and evidently unavoidable turnover issues? All signs suggest it’s a turning point for how Kerr goes about constructing lineups and forming the rotation.
Podziemski was probably the Dubs’ best player against Phoenix. Kuminga owned that distinction at times even amid too many defensive miscues and occasionally thirsty offense. Saric played a huge role in the Golden State’s second quarter run and Moses Moody, while less explosive than Podziemski and Kuminga, was rock solid on both ends.
Changes really do seem like they’re coming this time. And if Green hadn’t been ejected, there’s a good chance they’d have arrived on the back of the Warriors’ first road win since early November, sparking some much-needed optimism as the 82-game grind continues.