It would seem the days of the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors racing to see which team could drop 130 on the other first are gone. The defense from both sides is improved with the Suns and Warriors each shooting just 43 percent on the night.
For Phoenix, the strong defense came behind the crafty legs of Grant Hill who locked up one of the league's best offensive players. Monta Ellis scored his 21 points but he took 17 shots to do it and was helped with 13 attempts at the line. Other than Ellis, only Reggie Williams (19 points, 8-10 shooting) was able to provide any reliable offense. The normally hot shooting Warriors went 2-18 from long range.
"I just tried to make him work and just like everybody you have to try and know their game," Grant Hill said about defending Ellis. "Against him, try to use your height and stay in front of him and really try to make him shoot contested jumpers."
On the other end, the Suns had their way with the Warriors early in the game by attacking Ellis in the post with Grant Hill. The inside-out offense gave the Suns a comfortable 62-45 lead going into the break thanks in large part to 9-15 shooting from three as the Warriors were forced to leave shooters to double team the paint.
Warriors coach Keith Smart made an adjustment in the fourth quarter after his team got down by 23 late in the third, calling for a zone defense which took away the Suns inside opportunities. Phoenix responded poorly with their attack on the zone failing to find seams in the lane or baseline opportunities. The Warriors clawed their way back to a five point game with just under five minutes remaining before the Suns were able to calm down and restore order.
"The zone bought us some time, got us back into the game and gave us some momentum to where they were taking shots that they really didn't want to take because they were a pick and roll team. Averaging around 30-35 pick-and-rolls a game. It bought us some time, but they found a way to make some plays," Smart said.
With better passing and attacking to force the defense to collapse, the Suns knocked down four consecutive threes (one later ruled a two) to go on a game-winning 11-0 run. While the Suns zone offense was disappointing for long stretches of the fourth quarter, the defense at least held firm allowing the Warriors just 17 points in the final period.
The Suns had a balanced offensive game with six players in double figures led by Channing Frye's 19 points. Birthday boys Steve Nash (37) and Mickael Pietrus (29) both played well. Nash finished with 14 points and 15 assists while Pietrus had 12 points in a solid second quarter run.
These two teams will meet again on Thursday in Phoenix. Hopefully, the Suns will have Goran Dragic back on the floor to replace Zabian Dowdell who finished with no points and five assists in 11 minutes of play. I am sure we will be hearing more about the Suns zone offense during practice over the next few days as they prepare for the next meeting.