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 then swept the Denver Nuggets 4-0 in their second round playoff series. Next up is their first trip back to the Western Conference Finals since 2010 where they will face either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are presently leading the Jazz 3-2 in their semifinals series.
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 - Rest vs Rust. Could too much rest time between the Suns’ final game of Round 2 and the 1st game of the WCF actually be bad for the Suns?
Author’s Note: This week’s questions were given to the FT members before Chris Paul’s COVID diagnosis.
GuarGuar: I can see us having a shaky first quarter in game 1 because it would have been so long. But for the most part I think I prefer the rest aspect. Unfortunately CP has a Covid issue now but I was looking forward to seeing him off a good rest.
Sun-Arc: This team has been fully prepared and in the right mindset for each series so far. The first series had some days off too and was not a problem. I do not think this team takes anything for granted, and I fully believe they’ll be ready. Two weeks or months might be another story, but one week is perfect to get rested up (especially for CP3) and study film on both potential opponents.
SDKyle: I don’t worry too much about rust. I think the rest is more valuable at this point, especially to CP3, assuming he’s able to play at all with this latest COVID test news. I think this team has the mental fortitude to avoid falling victim to being rusty due to 10 days off or whatever.
SouthernSun: I think rest for this squad is good either way, especially with CP3. Now that we have the added issue of him getting Covid, we definitely need the time. One benefit of the rest for sure though is his shoulder getting as healthy as possible too.
Alex S: Don’t consider too much rest an issue, especially with CP3 being sidelined. This is an opportunity to lock in on your two matchups and continue to build on the success you’ve had so far in the postseason.
Also, now you can prepare as if Chris misses a game or two instead of being rushed into a series with no additional prep.
Q2 - Jazz or Clippers... does it really matter which team the Suns face in the WCF?
GuarGuar: If both teams are full strength I prefer the Jazz. They will play a drop pick and roll coverage similar to what Denver did against CP. Book and Paul feast on those defensive coverages. If the clippers are without Kawhi though I obviously prefer them.
Sun-Arc: So many issues to consider here. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Depth (Utah) vs dual superstar (LA). Interior defense (Utah) vs wing defense (LA). Hostile environment (Utah) vs our home court advantage (LA). I keep feeling like it was virtually equal and therefore home-court advantage over LA might be the advantage. But two issues sway me towards wanting to face Utah:
- The Clips are a more physical, and “muck it up” team. They push, shove, and will slow the game down to a crawl if they have to. We’ve had issues with these types of teams and players in the regular season. The Lakers were like this in the first 3 games of our series with them and I think it bothered us then, too. I think the Suns will do better against a like-minded team like Utah, where basketball skill on both ends is most important rather than physicality. And I think we match up well against them because of this. It would be more beautiful basketball to watch too. Probably less chance for injuries as well.
- In my opinion, the Clippers have a lot of players that are just plain jerks. I have always disliked Tyrone Lue (back to the series where he totally cheated on defense against Iverson and everyone praised him for it). There is a sense of entitlement with the entire team that comes from the press and their own bloated egos. As much as I’d love to play them and defeat them, I’d actually very much prefer they do not make it to the WCF at all. That would definitely feel like another playoff failure/disappointment for them, and I enjoy that type of demise for any collusion-formed “superteam.” Lastly on this point, in the event we lose the next series, I would VERY much prefer it is the Jazz and not any team from LA. I would feel a lot better about it.
In terms of home court advantage, the Suns have shown they can play on the road in the regular season and the playoffs. It does not scare me to play in Utah.
SDKyle: I think homecourt is a serious consideration here. A game 7 at our place vs. in Salt Lake City? huge difference. But that said, either opponent will be very tough so I don’t think it will be markedly “easier” if we play one team vs. the other. Both are dangerous in different ways, but neither is in the WC semis by accident. They’re both very tough potential opponents.
SouthernSun: Jazz lost to the Suns all season and are missing Mike Conley. The Clippers are without Kawhi now. It’s a tough decision who I would prefer to play. I’d say that the one in the worse position are the Clippers, because Kawhi is a lot more important to them than Mike is to the Jazz. I’ll say the Clippers, but at this point, even if CP3 misses a game (or even 2), I feel pretty confident in the Suns chances of beating either of them in a 7 game series, assuming CP3 is mostly healthy by game 3.
Alex S: It does now that Kawhi is hurt. Previously, I was indifferent on the matchups but now the Clippers are the clear team of the two you’d want to see.
Really hoping that Kawhi’s injury isn’t severe and he recovers quickly.
Q3 - CP3 averaged 25.5 pts and 10.3 assists per game during the Denver series while shooting 62.7% overall, 75.0% from three and 100% from the FT line. Logic tells me he can’t keep that level of play up but could I be wrong?
GuarGuar: I doubt he will see that kind of drop coverage again in these playoffs. It was mind boggling what Denver was doing defensively vs him. He’s still very capable of putting up similar numbers though because he’s elite. Hopefully he’s even able to play!
Sun-Arc: After a week of rest, and based on what we’ve seen so far it appears Paul can keep playing atop very near his current level. I still worry about the dreaded playoff injury collapse with him. But I feel like we have already seen that and gotten past it. I think this is his year - and the Suns year - to do the “impossible.” And that’s “win the whole damn thing.”
SDKyle: I tend to agree. Playing that well over four games is unlikely but not not THAT unlikely. For him to post those kinds of numbers over the course of 9 or 10 games would be virtually unprecedented in NBA history, the kind of playoff performance you could only draw comparisons to Jordan or Kareem or somebody like that, if even that.
The good news for the Suns is I think they can win without CP3 needing to score at a Kevin Durant-like level. As long as our lunch bucket players are hitting the open shots they are getting courtesy of CP3’s slick passes and Booker’s double teams, the Suns have a great chance.
SouthernSun: I’d say its correct that he won’t keep that up. Him getting Covid makes things kind of a question mark now. If he’s mostly healthy when he comes back playing, I could see him averaging 20 ppg and 8-10 apg on pretty good efficiency. But nothing quite like in the Denver series. His numbers were also boosted in large part by that game 4 explosion of his.
Alex S: He can keep up that play against drop coverage for the Jazz. Although we do need to see him fully healthy (asymptomatic) before I can solidify the take. Maybe the shooting splits would go down a bit but the other production is sustainable in my opinion.
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 June 17, 1992, the Suns traded Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley.
On June 20, 1969, the Suns officially signed Connie Hawkins as a free agent. Hawkins had previously been unjustly blackballed by the NBA until he filed a lawsuit against the league which decided to settle out of court and allow him to play in NBA. His rights were given to the Suns following a coin toss to determine whether his rights would go to the Suns or the Seattle Supersonics, the teams with the worst and 3rd worst records in the previous season. The Sonics got the opportunity at the coin toss because the Milwaukee Bucks which had the 2nd worst record in the previous season had already won an earlier - and more famous (infamous?) - coin toss between them and the Suns to determine which team would get the number 1 pick in that year’s NBA Draft.
On June 20, 1993, the Suns were down 3 games to 2 in the NBA Finals but had a 98-96 lead on the Chicago Bulls in the final seconds of the 4th quarter of Game 6. The Bulls had the ball and, although Westphal’s sole instruction on the play was for none of the players to double-team any of the Bulls (even Michael Jordan), Danny Ainge left John Paxson to try and either steal the ball or foul Horace Grant, who had missed all five of his shot attempts in the game and wasn’t a good crunch-time free throw shooter. Grant saw Paxson alone 25 feet from the basket, fired a perfect pass and Paxson then made a three pointer with 3.9 seconds left giving the Bulls a 99–98 lead. A last second shot attempt by Phoenix’s Kevin Johnson was blocked by Grant and the Bulls won the series 4-2.
Interesting Suns Stuff
Woj on the Suns advancing to the WCF and Chris Paul’s contract | KJZ
The Curious Case of Cameron Payne.
Devin Booker has scored 81 points in the Suns’ two closeout wins this postseason. The only player with more points in his team’s first two closeout wins of a single postseason is Michael Jordan (84 points in 1989 and 98 points in 1992)
During the 4-game series the Nuggets players’ shooting percentages when guarded by Deandre Ayton were 38-97 FG (.392) and 7-22 3P (.318).
Only five times in NBA history has the team with the regular season MVP been swept in the playoffs. 2020-21 - Suns sweep Nuggets in 2nd round (Nikola Jokic MVP), 1988-89 - Pistons sweep Lakers in NBA Finals (Magic Johnson MVP), 1978-79 - Hawks sweep Rockets in 1st round (Moses Malone MVP), 1976-77 Trail Blazers sweep Lakers in WC Finals (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar MVP) and 1968-69 Knicks sweep Bullets in 1st round (Wes Unseld MVP).
In Game 4 against the Nuggets, Chris Paul scored 37 points without attempting a three point shot. That ties Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points ever without a 3PA by a 36-year old or older player in a playoff game.
In Game 4 against the Nuggets, Chris Paul also raised his career playoffs assist total to 989 and passed Isiah Thomas for 13th on the all-time list. He needs 18 more to pass Dennis Johnson for 12th.
Devin Booker’s current 27.9 ppg average in the playoffs is the highest ever career average for a Suns player. In just 10 career playoff games, Booker has scored 279 points and is 28th on the Suns all-time list for points scored in the playoffs. If he can maintain his current ppg average, he will at least finish this year at 18th on that list with 391 points. (Based on playing only 14 total games. He could easily wind up higher on the list with more games played.)
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “Against the Nuggets the Suns will...”
78.5% - Win in 4 or 5 games.
18.5% - Win in 6 games.
01% - Win in 7 games.
02% - Not win the series so who cares about how many games.
A total of 280 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
No matter who they play, the Suns cannot win the Western Conference Finals if CP3 misses more than 2 games.
This poll is closed