In case you haven’t been paying full attention, the Phoenix Suns are for real. After they defeated the Golden State Warriors, who were 18-2 coming into the game, 104-96, on Tuesday — without Devin Booker for the entirety of the second half no less — it’s hard to argue Phoenix isn’t the NBA‘s best team at this point.
The win was Phoenix’s 17th straight, tying a franchise record. After starting 1-3, the Suns haven’t lost in the month of November. If they beat the Warriors in a rematch on Friday (in San Francisco), they’ll become just the sixth team in NBA history to go undefeated over a full calendar month. The last team to do that, fittingly enough, was the Warriors in 2015. They also went perfect in November as part of a 24-0 start.
The two stories of the game? Booker, who exited with a left hamstring injury halfway through the second quarter, and Mikal Bridges, who added another bullet point to his increasingly strong Defensive Player of the Year résumé by smothering Stephen Curry into the worst shooting game of his career when taking at least 20 shots.
With Bridges tracking his every move (and Phoenix switching and collectively backing its ace defender up), Curry finished with just 12 points. He shot 3 for 14 from 3. Previously, the worst Curry shooting line with at least 20 attempts had been 5 for 21, which he has authored twice, in 2016 and 2019, both against the Lakers.
To close the first half, Curry appeared to finally get Bridges off his case by screening Draymond Green‘s man, DeAndre Ayton, forcing a switch. The reprieve was short lived. As soon as Curry beat Ayton to the rim, Bridges flew right back into his path to swat his layup attempt away.
Bridges is just an extraordinary defender. His length, his lateral movement, his intelligence, his screen navigation, his willingness to lock up for the entirety of possessions with multiple efforts, it’s all elite. Curry missed some open looks, but that’s what happens in the face of constant pressure. It’s a cumulative effect. Like a quarterback missing an open fourth-quarter throw from a clean pocket that has been collapsing on him all game. Once you’re out of rhythm, everything feels rushed.
Curry is not only the greatest shooter in history, he’s also one of the most unflappable marksmen. But even he’s not immune to the psychological effect of a defender such as Bridges, who similarly harassed James Harden on Saturday, limiting the Brooklyn star to 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 0 for 6 from 3, with seven turnovers.
Watch here as Bridges gets over the screen, stays attached to Harden, flies out to Paul Millsap and cuts off his drive, forcing him to give the ball up before deflecting the pass back to Millsap to start the fast break that he then finishes.
They say Kevin Durant is unaffected by defense?
Bridges, who is normally no slouch offensively, scored just two points on Tuesday, yet the Suns outscored Golden State by 21 points when he was on the floor. He had four steals. He denied Curry out to the logo then jumped the passing lane for a pick-six dunk — the play that really started to swing the momentum in Phoenix’s favor. He switched onto Green in the post, fought over the top and stole Curry’s entry pass. He didn’t foolishly help, or really help at all, at the expense of leaving Curry even a sliver of space.
Bridges didn’t fall for any of Curry’s lull-you-to-sleep movement. He thwarted the post-entry split action that the Warriors use to get Curry multiple clean 3-point attempts just about every game. He didn’t lose him in transition. If he did get cross-matched, someone else filled in. He was prepared. Actively and relentlessly connected. He was awesome.
Still, Bridges knows that containing a player like Curry, let alone pretty much stopping him altogether, can’t be a one-man job. Curry moves too much. The Warriors pass too well. Bridges noted after the game that it was a team effort, and he’s right. What makes the Suns so great is they don’t have any weaknesses. Everyone can do most everything on both ends.
Ayton came out to block one of Curry’s 3-point attempts and was terrific defensively all night. As noted above, Chris Paul, who was as splendid offensively as Bridges was defensively with 15 points and 11 assists while getting into the paint and to his midrange pull-up with typical ease, had five steals as the Suns became the first team to hold the Warriors under triple-digits this season.
It’s not an overreaction to one game to suggest the Suns might be the team most equipped to stop Curry. It doesn’t mean they’re going to stop him like this every time they play. He could very easily hang 40 on them on Friday. In fact, you might want to bet on that. Ultimately, if Curry gets it going, he’s indefensible, and he doesn’t often have two bad games in a row.
But if any team can make Curry that uncomfortable, it’s the Suns. It starts with Bridges, then trickles down to all of Phoenix’s parts. And that goes for both ends of the floor. Switching is the name of the game. Phoenix can interchange defenders on Curry, and on the other end, when Curry is forced to switch, Phoenix can, and will, punish him in the post. They did it with Ayton early and often on Tuesday. No matter where Curry goes on defense against the Suns, he’s going to be tested.
It speaks to just how formidable Phoenix is on both ends. Again, no holes. That’s the key. They can take away what you do best, but you can’t take away everything they do. If Paul isn’t beating you in pick-and-roll or with clutch midrange jumpers, Booker will. If you switch out on their playmakers, they’ll go to Ayton in the post. If you stop the roll, they’ll hit the corner 3-point shooter. They can run early but then also have two of the best late-clock scorers in the league in Paul and Booker.
And Bridges. Man. What a player. With a performance like this in such a high-profile game, it’s tough to argue he’s not in the top two of the DPOY race; he and Draymond Green, in whatever order you want to put them, have separated themselves, and the odds have immediately reflected Bridges’ showing against Curry.
That’s a massive recalibration, but in my opinion it’s still good value on Bridges. It’ll be tough for him to win; wings are discriminated against with regard to this award the same way defender are when it comes to All-Star selections, which Bridges should also be up for but ultimately probably won’t receive.
Either way, Bridges has All-Star impact any way you cut it. It showed again on Tuesday, when the Suns sent an all-caps memo to everyone who thought they were a good bet to regress this year. Better think again. The Suns are no joke.