It feels like the second act of every buddy cop movie. You know, the part where something comes between the duo, whether it be ego or injury, and they have to find their value without the assistance of the other.
Riggs and Murtaugh. Starsky and Hutch. Booker and Bridges.
We’ve seen flashes this year of what Phoenix Suns forward Mikael Bridges can be offensively. He scored 31 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s dropped 27 points on three separate occasions. He’s third on the team in scoring at 15.7 points and he’s shooting 39.2% from deep.
While he isn’t someone who you necessarily rely on for an offensive output, he has some tricks in his bag that permit him to be effective on that end of the ball. He is your defensive guy. He’s got your back. He’s like Sergeant Al Powell in Die Hard, watching out for John McClane and smoking Karl, who somehow survives a roof explosion at Nakatomi towers.
Bridges is a key cog on a team that has made a trip to the NBA Finals and won 64 games. You have to have connective tissue to do that, and Mikal is that piece.
He is now in his fifth year as a pro. And while the injuries have mounted for the Suns, some of the burden is falling on his narrow shoulders. When it matters most, Bridges has suffered.
Devin Booker reaggravated his groin injury early in the game against the Denver Nuggets on Christmas. Knowing you’re on the road, playing the opening game of a six-game road trip, and losing your best player isn’t a good way to start.
Mikal Bridges stepped up in Booker’s absence. Initially. The team was down nine points when Devin departed for the locker room, but behind Mikal Bridges’ 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first quarter, Phoenix closed the Denver lead to four points.
Then, like Carter in Rush Hour, he was gone. Like Jackie Chan’s character Lee, we were all left in our car, emotionally reminiscing as Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” plays.
In a game that went to overtime, Mikal Bridges ended with 13 total points. Yes, the same Bridges who scored 10 points in the first quarter, scored three points the remainder of the game. He shot 1-of-9 for the final three quarters plus overtime.
Bridges’ lack of offensive presence was exacerbated when, with a chance to win the game, Mikal set a sluggish screen, resulting in an offensive foul.
Phoenix would go on to lose the game in overtime, it’s somehow Suns fans found a way to blame Deandre Ayton.
It’s time we look at Mikal. His performances thus far this season in the clutch are abysmal.
Note that this team isn’t great in the clutch either. While last season they were 33-9 (best in the NBA), this year they are 5-9 (23rd in the NBA). They lack the identity that they had a season ago, where everybody had an opportunity to play their role and execute when the game was within the last five minutes and within five points of the opposition.
Injuries are a primary contributor to this lack of cohesion. Players are stepping outside of their normal roles. In the long run, this experience that they’re gaining may ultimately benefit the team. In the short term, however, it’s painful to watch.
Simply look at Mikal Bridges’ numbers during the clutch time.
Against the Nuggets he was 0-of-2 from the field in the clutch, adding 2 turnovers and 2 personal fouls.
Book as your primary, Ayton as your secondary, and Bridges as your tertiary. This is the way. Injuries are not allowing that, and when Bridges needs to step into that secondary role, he’s highly inefficient.
The 26 year-old Bridges, who is currently the third leading scorer on the team, does not play like a secondary option when Booker is out. In games in which Booker is out, Bridges is averaging 16 points. But he is doing so on 33.3% shooting and 28.6% from deep. The Suns are 1-4 in those games.
This is an issue.
There’s plenty of time left in the season, and we know that many more opportunities for Phoenix in these exact situations exist. Devin Booker is hurt, and we don’t know how long it’ll be until he’s back. A pulled groin – a soft tissue issue – lingers.
Mikal needs Booker to be the best version of himself, but it’s time that he realizes that he might need to go this one alone for a while. Bridges needs to see this opportunity and hit the lab. Go to the shooting range, if you will.
He can’t simply be a defensive force. He needs to be an offensive threat as well.
Together, he and Booker can win the day. But it’s only when the confidence in the sidekick is fully realized. Mikal, it’s time to fulfill your full potential.