Why: Round 1, Western Conference Playoffs, 1 vs. 8
When: Tuesday, 7:00 PM AZ time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: TNT, Bally Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, KSUN-La Mejor, KTNN 660 AM 101.5 FM
Betting Line: The line for this game currently has the Suns at -9.5 point favorites on Draft Kings.
One down. Fifteen to go. The Phoenix Suns will look to take a commanding 2-0 lead over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night at the Footprint Center.
Game 1 was a bit of a reminder of what a locked-in Suns team looks like after coasting for a few weeks to end the regular season. The Pelicans fought back as one would expect, but the Suns neutralized them when it counted— something we’ve seen from them all season long.
Probable Starting Lineups
Same lineups as the last game.
Suns: Dario Saric (ACL) is OUT
Pelicans: Kira Lewis, Jr. (knee) is OUT, Zion Williamson (foot) is OUT
Keys to the game
Hunt for mismatches
The Pelicans almost always have one weak link on the court at all times, and some of the time possibly two or three even. It’s vital for the Suns to continue to hunt and expose those mismatches and target the weak link or as Devin Booker called it “the pigeon”.
I’ll also throw Herb Jones into this brief segment, as finding ways to get him out of his comfort zone, running through screens is going to be a key element for Phoenix to limit his defensive impact and take some of his strengths on that end away.
Here’s a prime example on the first possession of the game from the Suns.
New Orleans puts Herb Jones on Chris Paul to start so Phoenix is like "bet, let's test out Brandon Ingram real quick."— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) April 18, 2022
I believe the Suns will take what the defense gives them and continue to hunt for mismatches, but a bit more balance could be in store as we’ll touch on later.
Control the glass
Limiting the second-chance points will be the ultimate key in this one for Phoenix. As we saw on Sunday, the Pelicans feast on the offensive glass and generate a ton of second-chance points. If you can limit them to one shot on most possessions, you’re in good shape at holding them in check offensively.
Monty Williams agreed, saying, “That many offensive rebounds is way too many and it caused them to have almost +20 in possessions”.
Jonas Valanciunas was a menace on the boards, securing 25 of them to go with his 18 points on a rough shooting night. He isn’t going to miss as many “bunnies” as he did on Sunday again, so it’s imperative to put a body on him at all times. This isn’t on any one man, it’s a team effort to box out and hunt the ball when the Pelicans launch shots.
The Suns getting out-rebounded by 20 overall is atrocious. The Suns getting out-rebounded on the offensive boards by a total of 25-to-5 is embarrassing as a team, and it must be corrected. If the Pelicans can’t make them pay, someone down the road will unless they clean it up on that end.
In the past, if both Jae Crowder and Cam Payne had rough nights (offensively) like they did on Sunday, the Suns would typically struggle to score. Luckily the Suns’ trio of CP3, Booker and Ayton stepped up in a big way, combining for an efficient 76 points.
While it’s nice to get a 30-piece from Chris Paul, it’s not something you want your offense to rely on as the Suns did in the fourth quarter. It would be nice to get some of the role players to get their confidence rolling as the series (and playoffs) progress.
There will be some additional fuel to the fire for Mikal Bridges as well after he finished second behind Marcus Smart for Defensive Player of the Year.
Congrats to Marcus Smart fr ! Happy they start realizing it aint easy guarding mfs on the island every night ! Very much deserved … I appreciate everybody that was rockin wit me lol we’ll be ok its a blessing to even be apart of the convo— Mikal Bridges (@mikal_bridges) April 18, 2022
His “twin”, Cam Johnson, who is a 6MOY finalist, also had an awesome game going 5-for-6 with 13 points in 23 minutes. It was great to see him look like himself out there, including that thunderous one-handed alley-oop slam.
Control the pace
The Pelicans love to get out in transition and use the steals they generate to get out and run while searching for easy buckets. If you can force them into their offensive sets, things can get stagnant very quickly as we saw for the majority of the first three quarters in game one.
If the Pelicans are stuck in their half-court offense more often than not and the Suns can keep them off the glass, things could get ugly for NOLA real quick. Rebounding also factors into pace, so that’s something to keep in mind as these are interconnected in that way.
The Suns come out with a laser focus after how the Pelicans closed the gap towards the end of the game and take them down in a similar fashion as they did on Sunday.
Suns 113- Pelicans 102.