Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Suns team as well as a peak at Suns teams throughout history in this week.
In this weekly article, we focus on you the community to tease out the good and bad of the Suns who finished the 2021 regular season with a 51-21 record to earn the 2nd seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They are currently 1-1 in their first round playoff series with the LA Lakers.
First up... the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders who give their takes on the Suns latest issues and news.
Fantable Question of the Week
Q1 - What are your thoughts/observations and your series prediction based on what you’ve seen in the Suns’ playoff games so far?
Part 1 - The Good
GuarGuar: We have gone neck and neck with the defending champs despite our 2nd best player being injured and a liability. Booker and Ayton have been phenomenal.
Sun-Arc: The Good...
- Ayton is showing us what we want to see. Mostly. Dude is playing big and dunking every time. And yet we know he can do so much more, which is a good thing.
- Cam Payne is ready for this moment. He’s playing hard and mostly in control. I’m loving what he’s bringing.
- Booker is cementing his All-Star status in this series, regardless of which team wins 4 games.
- The team overall does not look overwhelmed.
- The team is mostly working very hard.
- The team is working together.
- The ref’ing feels pretty even to me. And I’m pleasantly surprised.
SDKyle: Ayton. Ayton has been fantastic in these two games, far outshining Anthony Davis in game 1 and dueling him closely in game 2. The Suns overall have played with energy and toughness, and nearly fought back from a big game 2 deficit before coming up short. They’ll need to keep bringing that intensity on the Lakers’ home floor.
SouthernSun: Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. They’ve both played as well as we could possibly expect them to. Booker has averaged 32ppg on 61% true shooting in his first playoffs so far, with Ayton joining the party with 21 and 13 and like 99% from the field (an exaggeration, but still). Can’t ask for much more from these two guys.
Alex S: Deandre Ayton - In general, DA has been nothing short of fantastic this series. His efficiency and basic counting numbers output show the type of impact that a locked in Deandre Ayton can have on a playoff series. Taking it a step further, when he’s isolated against Anthony Davis defensively he’s doing a tremendous job forcing him to take contested mid-range shots. I am thrilled to see his impact in this series and what that can mean for him moving forward.
Devin Booker, the seasoned veteran - Although Devin struggled a bit down the stretch of Game 2, it is clear that his game is built for the playoffs and that he’s having a huge impact on the series thus far. In a world where Chris Paul isn’t 50% healthy, he’d be in the perfect position to do his thing each game of this series. The Lakers are playing great defense but Devin is still getting to his spots which is very encouraging. I anticipate him being ultra aggressive in Staples Center.
Cam Payne, the calming presence - Isn’t this a weird statement to make when Cam gets ejected in Game 1? The way I looked at that moment actually felt like a positive from the standpoint Payne wasn’t afraid to back down and provided his teammates a sense of confidence for the rest of G1. In G2, CP15 stepping in for Chris Paul down the stretch made a massive impact and had a huge effect on the crowd with his energy and attacking mindset. He quite honestly is going to be the key to whether the Suns can win this series if Chris is injured the rest of the series.
Part 2 - The Bad
GuarGuar: Chris Paul is hurt. It’s hard to win a series with our Point God out. Our team is nowhere near as good without him. He’s been such a huge piece for us all year.
Sun-Arc: Number one is the CP3 injury. This was a major concern when acquiring him and if he doesn’t get right in the next game or two and the Suns lose the series, his injury issues in the post season will stigmatize him forever. I really hope that is not the case, and it is too early to tell one way or the other. But he clearly is not ok based on the first two games.
Our stars need to force fouls on the Laker stars. Ayton needs to jump to the rim through Drummond, Davis, and anyone else. Booker needs to use all the tricks in his bag to get guys in foul trouble. Not easy to do, for sure. But the lack of taking advantage of Davis and others’ foul troubles in game 2 might have been the biggest difference in the game. Along the way they’d also get more FTA, which they need to win games.
Need better adjustments against the Lakers defense. More clean cuts and passes. And definitely more transition baskets for the Suns.
Better recognition of not throwing passes to teammates when a Laker player is in the way. That just is not going to work. Take care of the ball.
Need better on-ball defense against Schroeder.
Not loving the rotation so far. I like that Monty has gone with Saric, but felt he should have gone with Craig more in the 2nd game, and probably moving forward. Also, since Paul clearly was not right, I would have liked to see some Carter against Schroeder in the 2nd game.
SDKyle: Chris Paul’s shoulder and shooting woes. The Suns have been without the best version of the Point God, and it shows. With Booker and other players called upon to shoulder more of the decision-making, the Suns are turning the ball over too much and not getting enough easy buckets. The other concern is that the Suns outside of a couple of players have been cold from 3, including their most prolific shot-takers. Booker is 3/10 from downtown, Crowder is an ugly 1/13, and the Suns as a team are only shooting 32% from beyond the arc.
While this is slightly better than what the Lakers have done, it isn’t good news for a team that relies as heavily on the three as the Suns do, as this season they were #14 per 100 possessions in triples attempted and #7 in percentage. If the Suns can’t improve on shooting it will be a slog to beat a Lakers team that doesn’t rely on outside shooting nearly as much.
SouthernSun: Chris Paul’s apparent injury. Man. I’m pretty upset about this, as I’m sure we all are, especially Chris. I could see the frustration on his face during Game 2 as he watched his guys battle, being unable to do anything to help them. It was a sad sight.
Jae hasn’t been hitting his threes. Cam Johnson hasn’t been quite as effective as I’d hoped (those back to back threes were pretty cool, though). Dario has been terrible. Mikal has reverted back into 2019/2020 Mikal for these last two games. Even Book, despite his overall effectiveness, is shooting like 3 of 10 from three.
Despite the team sitting at 1-1 against the defending champs, things certainly haven’t gone “well”.
Just makes me more upset thinking how they’d be up 2-0 right now if only a couple of those things listed above had gone right.
Alex S: Dario Saric: Man… Dario I have nothing but love and respect for you but this isn’t your series my guy. Too small to bang with Drummond or AD. Not providing floor spacing. So what is his purpose without stretching the floor or providing playmaking? Give me Torrey Craig at the 5 with Cam Johnson if you’re going to go small.
Jae Crowder shooting: If Jae hits even 25% of his three pointers the Suns are more than likely 2-0. It was encouraging to see him have an impact on the 4th quarter of G2.
Mikal Bridges aggressiveness: I know this is a tough matchup for Mikal but I want to see him playing like a #3 option on a championship team, especially due to CP3’s injury.
Anthony Davis officiating: That man could get a breeze blown in from an open window and would get knocked down to the ground. Great bounce back game for him in G2 but my goodness does he get away with a lot.
Chris Paul’s playoff injuries: What else is there to say… just sucks. Hope he’s better by at least game 4.
Turnovers: It’s not that Suns are turning the ball over a ton, it’s the turnovers they have been making that are sometimes inexcusable. We need to keep it down closer to 10 a game if the Suns want to win this series.
Part 3 - Series Predictions
GuarGuar: I’m still going with Suns in 7. I think we find a way to pull a game out in LA and take back home court.
Sun-Arc: So much of this depends on Paul’s health at this point. Lebron is not 100%, but he’s somewhere around 80-85% which is dangerous enough. Without Paul (who seems to be <40%), this team is going to be hard to defeat 3 more times. If Paul is healthy I think we win in 7. If he isn’t, I think the Lakers win in 6.
SDKyle: I’m going to go Suns in 7. I’ve seen enough to think that if Paul can recover a little in the next couple of days they can gut out a tough series victory here. This WILL NOT be easy... if Game 1 gave anyone any illusions we were cruising past the Lakers in a quick five games, it’s time to get ready for a fight.
SouthernSun: With CP3’s health a question mark, I don’t see how I can predict a Suns series win anymore.
If CP3 remains out/not healthy, Lakers in 6.
If CP3 is back and healthy by game 4, Suns in 7.
Alex S: I’ll give two answers to my gut feeling. Lakers in 6 or Suns in 7.
If Chris Paul can’t be near 75% health by game 4 I’m going Lakers in 6. If he can bounce back by then I’ll be a ride or die with the ship and go Suns in 7. The only thing I worry about a game 7 is officiating ensuring the Lakers get every break possible.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week!
This Week in Suns History
On May 25, 1993, newly acquired Sun Charles Barkley won the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the 1993 NBA Most Valuable Player. Barkley helped lead the Phoenix Suns to a franchise and NBA-best 62-20 record during the 1992-93 season and averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 76 games.
On May 28, 1974, the Phoenix Suns drafted future 9-time NBA All-Star and eventual Basketball Hall of Fame member George Gervin with the 40th pick in the 3rd round of the NBA Draft. Gervin was however already playing in the old ABA and elected to stay there to play for the San Antonio Spurs instead of jumping to the NBA to play for the Suns. Gervin was originally signed to play in the ABA for the Virginia Squires in 1973 by Johnny “Red” Kerr... formerly the first ever head coach of the Phoenix Suns during the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons.
On May 30, 1976, after getting down 0-2 against the Boston Celtics in the 1976 NBA Finals, rookie center Alvan Adams scored 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds along with 2 steals and a block to lead the Suns to a 105-98 Game 3 victory in Phoenix. The Suns took control from the start, building a 52-38 lead at the half and held on for the win despite a late run by the Celtics in the 4th quarter. A total of six Suns players had 2 steals in this game for a total of 12 vs just 5 for the Celtics. Paul Westphal added 22 points and 6 assists.
Interesting Suns Stuff
Is Deandre Ayton the Suns’ Playoffs X-Factor?
Devin Booker’s 34 points in Game 1 set the franchise record for points scored in a playoff debut. He also scored or assisted on 53 points which is the fifth most by a player in his playoff debut over the past 20 years, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 16 rebounds while going 10-of-11 from the floor in Game 1, becoming the first Suns player with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in his NBA playoff debut since Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins* (24 pts, 13 rebs) in 1970. Ayton also is only the sixth player ever with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 90% shooting (or better) in any playoff game.
* Connie Hawkins’ 1st ever professional playoff game was on March 25, 1968 while playing in the old ABA for the Pittsburgh Pipers. In that game he scored 38 points and pulled down 19 rebounds in a 146-127 win over the Indiana Pacers. Hawkins’ Pipers went on to win not only that series but the ABA Championship with Hawkins named the ABA Playoffs MVP.
Most playoff games with 20+ points and 10+ rebounds on 80%+ shooting in Suns history:— The Valley Stats ☀️ (@TheValleyStats) May 26, 2021
(parentheses = how many total playoff games played for PHX)
2 - Deandre Ayton (2)
1 - A.C. Green (24)
1 - Gar Heard (44)
1 - Tim Thomas (20) pic.twitter.com/7hxHDFOxT4
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “What do you think is the Suns’ biggest obstacle in the playoffs?”
10% - Lack of playoff experience.
62% - Lack of big interior defenders other than Ayton.
23% - The referees.
05% - Something else.
A total of 287 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Can the Suns win this series without a fully healthy Chris Paul?
This poll is closed