Coming off of a last-second loss at home, the Phoenix Suns would see themselves matched up with a fellow elite of both the conference and the league. They failed to bring the requisite energy to the game to compete. It resulted in their second loss in a row.
How did it happen?
1.) Lacking Extra Efforts
The offensive rebounding number allowed was, frankly, offensive. The Suns conceded their second-highest total of offensive rebounds this season, with 19.
That’s a direct indicator of effort of hustle, competing, and extra efforts that either bode in your favor or against you.
In this one, it was heavily against the Suns.
The Memphis Grizzlies had their season-best performance in that department, grabbing a dominant 49% of their misses in the contest.
When applying the context of the game and its direct impact, the Suns held the Grizzlies to 96.5 points per 100 plays in the halfcourt. That’s essentially league average. So the half-court process defensively was solid (solid enough to win, that is), however, allowing 17 second-chance possessions, which were parlayed into 23 points, makes for a steep mountain to climb.
The league average in offensive rebounds is 10.1 per contest. The Suns have allowed north of that amount in 14 of their 33 contests this season. They’re 4-10 in those games.
When you’re operating without a couple of your top-end talents, you have to absolutely nail the effort (and extra effort) areas of the game. This helps make up for the scoring that’s likely to take a hit.
If and when you don’t in this predicament, this is the result you get.
2.) Life without Booker
Speaking of operating without Devin Booker, the Suns have now fallen to 1-4 sans their franchise player.
Losses at New Orleans and Houston, then at home against Washington and Memphis, have this team seeing at least three of these as truly winnable if not all of them even while being, again, undermanned. The margin of defeat in said games is -11.8.
There have been bodies out of the rotation for a short period here, but in a few of these games, the standard and culture of competing haven’t been collectively upheld.
That’s the concern, as this is a prideful group that banks on controlling the controllable. The context of just who has been missing in addition to Booker has to be applied, which may in the end make winning some of these games truly unrealistic and insurmountable, however, the competing level and fervor in feel haven’t been there in a few of these.
Could certainly be attributed to the ebbs and flows of the regular season, but this team has aspirations and hasn’t been in alignment with that aim in some rather surprising fashions through this first third of the season.
Some change is needed and multiple moments have suggested this. Some fresh energy and style of play would do this group well.
3.) A Drop in Dictating
Over the previous three seasons, the Suns have branded commanding via execution, numerous efforts, and connectedness early in games.
It was — and could still be down the road — a point of emphasis enabling them to dictate terms defensively, enabling them ample opportunities to attack in transition or to establish their “flow” offense as the base to expand upon.
Last season, they were 47-3 when leading after the first quarter. At home, they were 24-1 when leading through the first frame. This season, they’re 15-6 when leading after the first, and 4-7 when trailing after.
A tell-tell sign for this team continues to be how they perform out the starting blocks.
"Whether it's Boston, Memphis, these teams that are big and physical, and want to put their hands on us, we don't have the pregame edge we've had around here. We've got to get back to chasing something. I feel like the prey, and I don't like that feeling." Monty Williams. #Suns pic.twitter.com/rxBViUw5vS— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) December 24, 2022
It’s certainly not their end-all, be-all, but is a clear indication of the frequency at which they’re operating on a nightly basis.
Next Up: They start a daunting six-game road trip on Christmas against the Denver Nuggets. At 5-1 in the last two weeks of play (the best record in the West in this window), with the eighth-best offensive efficiency (117.6), and 10th-best defensive efficiency (111.8), this team also recently returned whole via Michael Porter Jr. He scored 18 points in their win over Portland yesterday and certainly looked healthy doing so.