When: 6:00 p.m. AZ Time
Where: Staples Center
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns in 6? Has a good ring to it, doesn’t it?
The Suns will once again have an opportunity to close out a team from the City of Angels in six games when they play the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday evening.
Although they carry the series lead at 3-2, many are uneasy after the Suns’ Game 5 showing. It wasn’t that the Suns lost Clippers on Monday night that has the fanbase questioning the outcome of the series, it was the way that they lost it. The Clippers deployed the same aggressive five-out strategy that assisted them in defeating the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals. Couple that with their execution and adaptability — and the Suns’ inability to do either — and we are all anxiously awaiting to see how Monty Williams will combat the Clippers’ chameleon-esque approach to both sides of the ball.
The guard play for the Phoenix Suns has been anything but through the first five games of the series. Chris Paul and Devin Booker, both All-Stars this season, have combined for 61-of-170 shooting (35.8%). This metric was much higher versus the Lakers in the first round (81-of-178, 45.5%) and the Nuggets in the semifinals (73-of-133, 54.9%). If this team wants the opportunity to play for a championship, they will need their stars to lead them to the NBA Finals.
While the Clips are negating the effectiveness of the Suns’ key players, their star is shining bright. Paul George has been truly unguardable in this series. He is averaging 30.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in the series. In an elimination game on the road in Game 5 he dropped a career playoff high 41 points.
Stars aside, it is the role players for Phoenix that need to increase their defensive prowess and connect on their shots. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder have combined for 14.8 points thus far in the series on 29.5% three-point shooting. The role players for the Clippers stepped up in Game 5. It is time for Phoenix to do the same in Game 6.
Probable Starting Lineups
- Cameron Johnson (illness, non-COVID related) is OUT
- Ivica Zubac (knee) is QUESTIONABLE
- Kawhi Leonard (knee) is OUT
- Serge Ibaka (back) is OUT
What to Watch
Can Phoenix slow down Paul George?
Probably not. But you can contain him.
The Catch-22 of the ordeal is, if you choose to throw double teams his way, he’s surrounded by the best three-point shooting team in the NBA. So how do you stop him? First, some level of physicality needs to occur. I know, I know...“Pushoff P” leads with his chest and creates contact that entices the zebras to blow whistles. That is a challenge until itself.
Phoenix has plenty of wing depth to throw at George and I wouldn’t mind seeing some more Torrey Craig on him. In 5:18 of game time and 17.8 partial possessions this series, George is shooting 2-of-8 when Craig is guarding him. That includes 0-of-5 from three.
One way to “contain” Paul George is to force him away from his comfortable zones. Here is what his shot chart looks like thus far this series, via StatMuse.
George loves the shoulders. He is shooting 46.4% from the right shoulder area which includes the mid-range and beyond the arc. There is something about the way the rim looks to him from that angle that is symbiotic. He could probably make that shot with his eyes closed if he needs to (and he almost did when Jae caught him in the eye in Game 5, resulting in a flagrant foul).
Force him left. Don’t allow him to the rim. Do what the Clippers have done to Devin Booker: make him uncomfortable. He’ll still get this points — most likely from the line — but if you force him away from his hot zones, Los Angeles will be left with empty possessions.
Limiting the role players
This is the adjustment Monty must focus on. Again, you ain’t stopping Paul George. You are limiting him. You have to stop those around him from adding 20+ points.
I swear to God, if the Suns allow Marcus Morris to back down Devin Booker on the left block again, I’m going to lose it. I see the struggle. Much akin to Paul George, if you throw a double at Marcus, the ball will be whipped around to a wide open Terance Mann, who loves that corner three. The switchability and recoverability of Phoenix on the defense end must be elite to stop this. Or Devin Booker needs to pull the chair out from Morris.
The way I see it, Reggie Jackson is going to get his. Paul George is going to get his. Stop everyone else by doing what the Clippers have done to us: get physical, pester, annoy, claw, and be the aggressor.
Execute on offense
We saw Los Angeles drop in a zone on numerous occasions in Game 5. Rather than post Ayton up in the middle of the key and allow his outstanding passing skillset to flourish and pick apart the Clipper defense, the Suns played into their hands. The zone forced Phoenix to rely on their outside shooting.
The zone also negated the crisp drive-and-kick passing we are accustomed to seeing from Phoenix. The ball movement just wasn't there. The Suns turned the ball over 14 times as they tried to force passes, which led to 23 points for Los Angeles.
The Clippers, with their length, athleticism, and depth, have taken Phoenix out of their game. With their five-out offensive approach, they added defensive intensity and hustle to that side of the ball as well. Team rebounding, jumping passing lanes, and furious closeouts disrupted the flow on offense for Phoenix. 38.1% of the Suns shots came on tight coverage in Game 5 and they shot 43.8% on those attempts.
Monty will need to game plan against against this. And the Suns will need to execute.
Keys to a Suns Win
We are waiting for the game in which the offense really starts to click. They key is they need to get open. Find a way to create good looks at the rim. In the first round, 19.6% of the Suns’ shots were wide open. In the conference semis, 18.3% of their shots were wide open. Thus far in the conference finals, that number has dropped to 13.5% of their shots have been wide open.
I have faith that Phoenix will put this one away tonight. I truly do.
Monty and the Suns have shown us time and time again that they know how to bounce back from a loss. I believe this team was embarrassed with its performance and Monday night and will have the road warrior mindset that they’ve carried in their luggage all season long.
Tonight we advance to the NBA Finals.
Suns 107, Clippers 103