In a game where many expected a mediocre showing that was more focused on lottery positioning, we enjoyed another competitive game out of the Phoenix Suns on this Sunday afternoon.
Even though it ended in a loss for Phoenix, that slots them firmly in front of Atlanta in the reverse standings. After quickly checking Tankathon after the final buzzer, the Suns currently sit with the No. 2 pick firmly.
The Suns tallied up another competitive loss, but if this leads them to Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic it’s well worth it.
Starting lineups for Sunday’s loss in Atlanta:
Suns - Elfrid Payton, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler
Hawks - Dennis Schroder, Tyler Dorsey, Taurean Prince, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon
As usual, I will relay to you what I liked and did not like from today’s game.
Good: Marquese Chriss finally looked productive, and this time he stayed out of foul trouble. As has shown up often with Chriss in terms of his numbers, he tends to produce nightly if he’s able to provide energy and stay engaged. He had a few mental mistakes but he showed off a few times his sense of verticality on a few rim protecting situations when Phoenix deployed a small-ball lineup featuring him at the 5.
At halftime, Chriss was up to 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 blocks, and an assist in 11 minutes.
As general manager Ryan McDonough hinted at last month on 98.7 FM, Chriss’ second half of the season might be the most important for any member of the Suns’ young core.
In total, Chriss finished with a plus-minus of +10 alongside a line of 17 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 4 blocks. When he’s dialed in, Chriss can notch these types of outings.
Now, the thing with him will be to build on this performance and maintain it the rest of the way.
Bad: Devin Booker had his first clunker of a half that I can remember. He came close in Philadelphia back in December but then erupted for 46. On Sunday afternoon, that definitely was not the case.
Booker had more turnovers than he did points at the half (5-4). Whatever it was, Booker seemed passive and out of sync from the get-go with two immediate turnovers off actions that are usually sent his way by the defense.
These types of games happen on an 82-game platter served up by any player, and luckily it happened for Phoenix against the downtrodden Atlanta roster.
Even though Booker was off, his teammates, especially his usually season-long running mate from a scoring view, had his back.
Note: Booker helped carry Phoenix late when Warren went cold, which usually is a typical Suns game when he starts ice cold.
Good: Welcome back to the T.J. Warren experience. When he’s feeling it, that’s a fun thing for me to watch. Jay Triano was running many mid-range looks for Warren, but way more often with Booker in his funk on this afternoon.
Booker was cold, but Warren was scorching hot. At halftime, he was already up to 21 points on 10-14 field goals. 17 of which were in the second quarter alone!
Most of those shots were off of those patented schematics Triano draws up for him but also his growing chemistry with Elfrid Payton.
Throughout the first 24 minutes, Warren and Payton were in a rhythm as his longtime buddy continuously found him in the low post or transition.
For the third time this season, Warren ended up scoring 35 or more points. He did it once with Booker against Minnesota back in November, while earlier that same month exploding for 40 points in Washington.
Atlanta consistently allowed Warren ample wiggle room to maneuver around his spots throughout today’s game, hence why he was so efficient.
With Warren, I want to actually see how he looks as a small-ball 4 alongside Booker and Jackson more often. Maybe we will see just that over this season’s final month.
Good: Payton continues to impress me, albeit his defense wanes from time to time from an effort perspective. A theme of today’s game with Booker at the beginning was trying to cover for offensive aggressiveness. Payton, as I mentioned in the last recap, maintained that consistency which is great to see.
In his first 9 games as a Sun, Payton already has five double-doubles and now two triple-doubles after tallying up 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists.
After helping out Jackson when Prince got in his face late in the fourth quarter, Payton was ejected with just over 2:30 to go in a tight-knit game.
So far, I’m liking how this backcourt fit is offensively but warts as a defensive pairing between Payton and Booker showed through against an inferior Hawks guard rotation. If Payton is able to hit his perimeter shots more consistently while also channeling the Louisiana-Lafayette version of his defense, then Phoenix could be onto something.
Either way, Payton has definitely outperformed what the Suns gave up for him last month, which currently is the No. 40 pick in this year’s draft.
Bad: Ironic how the Hawks won on a Prince off-balance three because they were scorching from there all afternoon. They finished over 50% from both the field and three-point land.
That’s the recipe of how to lose this game, but, as mentioned, this helps Phoenix instantaneously as far as ping pong balls go.