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 defeated the defending World Champion Lakers 4-2 in the first round and are currently up 2-0 in their second round playoff series with the Denver Nuggets.
First up... the Fantable - a round table of Bright Siders who give their takes on the Suns latest issues and news.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - What are your thoughts/observations based on what you’ve seen in the Suns/Nuggets series so far?
Sun-Arc: As much as I thought we would win this series, I did not think the first two games would result in such “easy” looking wins. Ayton seems to have taken yet another step up. Paul is healthy. The defense looks really good. The entire team seems locked in. Its amazing. I think the one aspect that I’m most impressed with is one can tell the team really believes in themselves. They are playing with poise and confidence, knowing they belong going far in the playoffs.
SDKyle: Defense. The defense is swarming, energetic, and making life hell for the Nuggets. Denver looks totally out of sorts on offense, and is having to either settle for deep contested jumpers or just let Jokic try to hit difficult shots of his own making. Another “Good” mention here is ball movement. The Suns are sharing the ball and several players are contributing to a balanced attack that is just shredding the Nuggets at this point.
SouthernSun: Chris Paul looks like he’s at least 80%! That’s a very good sign. Booker is playing well. He’s actually defending well statistically too. The Suns are getting big contributions from the 4th and 5th options on offense in the starting unit (Bridges, Crowder). Ayton is defending Jokic about as well as could he hoped for. We even had the return of positive Saric minutes.
Alex S: Quite literally everything.
I don’t know how to explain this series other than be proud of the effort the team has put forth thus far. 6 guys averaging double figures PPG? Not one 20 point scorer in the G2 blowout? Chris Paul looking closer and closer to 100%? Ayton play toe-to-toe with the league (rightfully so) MVP? The bench play? The fans showing out? What am I supposed to complain about? I’m not sure what to do with my hands?
The Suns need to grab one game in Denver and this series *should* be a wrap. The overall ball-movement, decision-making, balance, and defense of the Phoenix Suns is leading to these blowouts. Sure, the Nuggets can shoot better from deep but even if they approached league average, the Suns are still winning these games pretty convincingly.
Rod: The Suns are doing a great job in sharing the scoring load in this series. Booker and Bridges are both averaging 19.5 ppg, CP3 is averaging 19.0, Ayton is averaging 17.5 and Crowder has been adding 12.5. That’s 88 ppg from our starters with no one that Denver can point to and say, “We’ve got to focus on stopping that guy.” The Suns have been burning them when they try double teaming and the Nuggets can’t hide weaker defensive players by putting them on any Sun on the defensive end.
I’m also encouraged that Mikal Bridges doesn’t seem to be avoiding contact on offense in this series. He’s averaging 3.5 free throw attempts per game against Denver (and making 100% of them) after averaging only 0.2 per game against LA and 1.8 per game during the regular season.
Sun-Arc: The not quite good enough (being nitpicky):
- Cam Johnson’s shot is still off. I noticed he had tape on his “bad” wrist, which may explain what is going on with him. Though we’ll need his shooting in the next round (which we will hopefully make).
- I’m not a fan of the mind-games Crowder is playing with Aaron Gordon. I’d rather see them just play basketball. He’s racking up techs pretty handily. With how ahead we are, I just do not see the need for this.
- I’d like to see the starters, as a whole, drive a bit more to the rim to draw fouls. Particularly against Porter (if he gets going again), Gordon, and Jokic. I’d rather keep those guys from feeling comfortable on the court as much as possible moving forward.
- The team needs to lock in on the opposing hot hand. Barton was getting going in the last game, and it seemed no one was really focused on him. Stay one-on-one with Jokic to keep him from being a passer and cover the other players tightly.
SDKyle: Cam Johnson needs to get going. His confidence seems low and his shots aren’t falling. Luckily it’s not hurting the team much.
SouthernSun: I would like Cam Johnson to shoot like we know he can.
Alex S: There still could be a little room for improvement with sloppy turnovers but that’s hard to complain about when Chris Paul is matching NBA records for 15+ assists without a turnover. My proactive complaint is going to be if the Suns look complacent in the start of G3. I believe in the guys so this shouldn’t happen but it’s human nature to be feeling yourself a little too much after the performances the squad put together the past 5 games.
Rod: I’m not sure what’s up with Cam Johnson but I hope he gets over it soon. In the 2 games against Denver he’s shooting 28.6% from three and an even worse 20.0% from the field.
Q2 - Monty Williams went back to Dario Saric as Ayton’s backup in Game 1. Good move, bad move or does it really matter?
Sun-Arc: Saric is a good move in this series. He matches up better against Jokic and Millsap than Kaminsky does, mostly because of his interior defense. He’s a bigger booty, er- I mean body, over Frank and is more clever guarding them. I also feel Saric’s European origins gives him some insight into Jokic’s thinking. It was smart of Monty to keep Saric out of the Laker games as much as he did because that was a poor matchup with their length and athleticism. In this series, Dario has the strength and physicality to battle with Jokic and Millsap better than Kaminsky.
SDKyle: Solid move. Monty must have a good read on Dario because most Suns fans seemed ready to keep him glued to the bench the rest of the playoffs, but the ever perplexing Dario has responded well. He came in to game 2 in a fairly close game and quickly made a couple of buckets that really helped pour fuel on the Suns run to establish a lead. He made some very nifty passes, too.
When Dario is on, he is clearly a huge asset to the Suns because of how he can provide size, spacing, and ball movement simultaneously.
SouthernSun: Good move. Dario is better than Kaminsky. Kaminsky seems to be a little more consistent, but Dario at his best is much better than Frank at his. A confident Dario playing well is a huge help to the bench offense with his passing out of and ability to score in the post, and gives the primary unit a different look if they need it. Dario helped the Suns a lot when he was out there in game 2.
Alex S: Very good move. Dario provides the highest ceiling of all the bench options at backup 5 and to see him having a great game 2 was a big sign going forward. His minutes that allowed Ayton to avoid foul trouble heading into the second half were crucial. Without his play, the Suns could’ve went into halftime tied and we might’ve seen a different type of game. He’s a matchup dependent big in the playoffs and the Lakers were a bad match. The Nuggets are a good match when they play Millsap or Green at the 5.
Heck, even his defense on Jokic was something to marvel at.
Rod: Following Game 1, I was leaning more toward saying that it probably doesn’t matter but Saric’s performance in Game 2 now has me leaning more toward “good idea”. Frank’s only edge on Dario is a little extra height (7’0” vs 6’10”) and bulk (240 lbs vs 225 lbs). When Dario is playing at his best, he just does everything at least a little better than Frank and some things much more than just a little better. Hopefully we’ll continue seeing Saric at or near his best for the rest of the playoffs.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week! (GuarGuar did not participate this week.)
This Week in Suns History
On June 11, 1993, Charles Barkley of the Suns and Michael Jordan of the Bulls each scored 42 points in Chicago’s 111-108 victory, marking the first time in NBA Finals history that opposing players each scored 40 or more points in a Finals game.
Michael Jordan 42 pts, 12 reb, 9 ast vs Charles Barkley 42 pts, 13 reb, NBA-finals 93, Game 2
On June 13, 1993, the Suns were down 0-2 to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals after losing Games 1 and 2 at home in America West Arena. The series moved to Chicago Stadium where the Suns pulled of a 129-121 triple overtime win behind Dan Majerle’s team high 28 points, a 24 point, 19 rebound game by Charles Barkley and a 25 point, 9 assist night by Kevin Johnson. Johnson also set a Finals record by playing 62 minutes and Dan Majerle set a mark that still stands by playing 59 minutes without committing a personal foul.
Interesting Suns Stuff
How Devin Booker Is Making It Look Easy
Devin Booker: What NBA LEGENDS Think Of The Phoenix Suns Star
Devin Booker is just the 2nd player in NBA history to have 200+ points, 40+ rebounds and 40+ assists in his first 8 career playoff games (LeBron James was the first). His current 27.13 ppg average in the playoffs is the best career average in Suns history and third for a single playoffs behind Amar’e Stoudemire’s 29.93 ppg in 2005 and Charles Barkley’s 27.60 ppg in 1994.
The last time the Suns faced the Nuggets in a playoff series was in 1989 and this is only the 4th playoff series played between the two teams. The Suns are 2-1 all-time against Denver with all three of their previous playoff meetings being in 1st round. Those series were all played before the NBA went from a best-of-five to best-of-seven series format for 1st round series so this is the first ever seven game series between the two teams.
Chris Paul’s 21 point, 6 rebound, 11 assist game against Denver in Game 1 was the first time a player aged 36 years or older had a 20/5/10 playoff game since 1965. Following Game 2, CP3 now has 974 career playoff assists and passed Jerry West for 14th on the All-Time Playoff assist leaders board. He needs 14 more to pass Isiah Thomas (987) to move into 13th.
Point God— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 10, 2021
Chris Paul is the player in NBA history to have 15 assists and no turnovers in a playoff game with three different franchises.
Did it over three different decades. pic.twitter.com/Be2qZLrGiU
Devin Booker’s 47 points in Game 6 against the Lakers is tied for the most points in NBA history in a first career playoff closeout opportunity (Anthony Davis also score 47 on April 21, 2018 when New Orleans closed out their 1st round series with Portland). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then with Milwaukee) is 3rd with 46 points scored against Philadelphia on April 3, 1970.
Devin Booker’s 8 3-pointers in Game 6 against the Lakers was one shy of tying the Suns single game playoff record of 9 set by Rex Chapman against Seattle back on April 25, 1997.
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “Other than CP3, Booker and Ayton, who has been the biggest positive contributor for the Suns in this series?”
08% - Jae Crowder.
05% - Mikal Bridges.
86% - Cam Payne.
00% - Cam Johnson.
01% - Torrey Craig.
A total of 409 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Against the Nuggets the Suns will...
This poll is closed
Win in 4 or 5 games.
Win in 6 games.
Win in 7 games.
Not win the series so who cares about how many games it lasts.