Tuesday night was Klay Thompson’s 651st regular-season game as a Golden State Warrior. When you add the 145 playoff games, Thompson’s been a part of 796 games in his career, and he’d never been ejected from one — until Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Suns beat the Warriors 134-105, but the critical point of this game came in the third quarter when Phoenix guard Devin Booker got into a heated verbal altercation with Thompson. They were separated and given technical fouls before Thompson eventually argued with an official and was sent to the locker room.
Thompson’s ejection was alarming as it was not only his first, but also not something you’d expect from one of the more even-keeled players in the NBA. Obviously, this is the behavior we’ve come to expect from Draymond Green, Golden State’s emotional leader. Aside from Green, most of this Warriors squad has been viewed as “choir boys” over the years. Thompson and splash brother Steph Curry can sometimes show a little edge, but not to the extent Klay did in Phoenix.
Looking past the ejection of Thompson, this episode highlights the hottest Pacific Division rivalry, and one of the more heated rivalries in The Association. Fans in the Bay Area and Phoenix take this rivalry even more seriously since the Suns have climbed back to some prominence over the past two seasons.
Two years ago, when the Suns made their improbable run to the NBA Finals, and the Warriors were sidelined after being eliminated in the Play-in Tournament, Phoenix area fans were exuberantly overjoyed at gaining the upper hand over Warriors fans for once. Then Golden State resurfaced last season, the teams had a few battles early in the 2021-22 campaign, and everyone (including myself) thought these teams were a lock to play in the Western Conference finals. Phoenix failed to hold up its end of that bargain, losing to Dallas in seven games, while The Dubs advanced all the way to the NBA Finals, beating Boston in six games.
It doesn’t matter what round. We need this series in the postseason.
The WCF, preferably, but the semifinal round also works. AND, if it’s a first-round showdown, we’ll take that, too. These teams need to play seven games with the season on the line. The Suns match up well with the Warriors, and the Chris Paul factor is still in effect. Even if he’s not quite the same player, his leadership — having the young players ready mentally — makes him a pivotal piece to the Suns’ equation for success.
One of the more overlooked matchups to keep an eye on in this rivalry is James Wiseman against Deandre Ayton. Most notably, whenever Phoenix is on offense and Ayton gets the ball, Wiseman is guarding him. When Kevon Looney was out of this game, and Wiseman checked Ayton, he didn’t fare too well.
Of course, the Curry-Paul matchup is always a factor when these teams get together, and of course Thompson-Booker. But much of this potential playoff series would come down to the younger guys on both rosters. We’re talking about Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga for the Warriors. And for the Suns, players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, who is now a full-time starter for Phoenix. We know what many of the more seasoned players bring to the table, but a playoff series between these teams will be significantly affected by the play of these younger players who are beginning to receive big-time minutes.
If we can get this same level of chippiness (or greater) for seven games, this could be one of the best non-NBA Finals series ever. Phoenix and the Bay Area would be lit if this comes to fruition, and we’d get some pretty damn good basketball on top of all the extra shenanigans surrounding this rivalry.