It was no fluke.
Unquestionably, the Suns got some breaks on the way to the NBA Finals last season - every team does - but they earned their trip last summer. They brought back largely the same very talented, balanced roster this season, but there were doubters. Few picked them to make it back to the Finals, but more of us should have. The Suns may not roll out a top-five player in the league every night, but they do roll out a versatile, high IQ team with a couple of All-NBA level players and few weaknesses. It's a team that finds ways to win.
That's what the Suns did Tuesday night against the Warriors, they found ways to win, 104-96. Here are the three keys to Phoenix beating Golden State - and it's three reasons the Suns can return to the NBA Finals this year.
Defense. Defense. Defense.
The Phoenix Suns came into this game with the third-ranked defense in the NBA - Tuesday they used it to hold the second-best offense to a 100 offensive rating for the night (12.4 below their season average). The active Suns' defenders forced the Warriors into 23 turnovers - 24% of Golden State possessions. Turn the ball over almost one-in-four trips down the court and you're likely to lose.
Phoenix threw its All-Defensive Team-level defender in Mikal Bridges at Stephen Curry - along with a lot of other players in the form of double- and triple-teams - and it held Curry to 4-of-21 shooting overall and 3-of-14 from 3.
"Steph missed some shots, but I think the respect Mikal has for Steph and our team defense [worked]," Suns coach Monty Williams said postgame. "We showed him bodies tonight, we tried to make it as tough on him as we could."
The Suns were active on defense all night, had Deandre Ayton protecting the rim, and became the first team to hold the Warriors under 100 points this season.
That defense can carry
The Suns are Clutch
The Suns came into this game 8-1 in clutch games - within five points in the final five minutes - with an insane +47.8 net rating in those minutes.
They were better than that in this game. The Suns had a +59 net rating in the final 5:19 against the Warriors Tuesday. Golden State shot 2-of-8 in those minutes (both buckets in the final :44 seconds, when the game was already decided), Phoenix hit 5-7.
Chris Paul's teams are historically good in the clutch. It's a combination of factors: He makes smart decisions, he rarely turns the ball over, and he can create space and knock down midrange jumpers.
Some fans tend only to think of some of CP3's handful of epic playoff clutch meltdowns, but those are the outliers, not the norm (even in the postseason, but especially compared to the regular season). In this game, he had a bucket, three assists and a steal in the final five minutes, plus found open shooters and controlled the flow of the game.
We know what CP3 does translates to the postseason because we saw him do it with this same team a season ago.
Depth and Versatility
The Suns lost Devin Booker to a hamstring injury in the first half Tuesday - the team's leading scorer at 23.9 points a game was out.
The Suns' bench got better this offseason with the addition of Shammet and JaVale McGee (who backs up Ayton).
That bench will be put to the test Sunday when the Suns and Warriors have a rematch. But they are also among the reasons the Suns can win again.
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Three reasons the Suns beat Warriors - and are legit contenders originally appeared on NBCSports.com