clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Three takeaways from the Suns loss to the Pelicans in Game 2

It wasn’t all bad on Tuesday night, was it?

New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I woke up this morning like many of you and the first thing to come to my mind wasn’t, “Damn you alarm. My bed is so comfy and I don’t wanna get up!”. It was the Phoenix Suns.

It wasn’t the fact that we lost to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night that has me in a daze. It’s the fact that the Phoenix Suns are missing one of their All-Stars for the second consecutive postseason run due to injury. Chris Paul did play despite injuries last season, but the negative impact from his injury was apparent.

Now we have Devin Booker with right hamstring tightness, and he is a player known for having issues with the soft tissues in his legs.

All is not lost, however, because at the end of the day the Phoenix Suns are still only in the First Round and they are playing the Pelicans. This is the team that won 36 regular season games. That’s a total of 28 fewer than Phoenix. The Phoenix Suns are still the better club despite missing a probable first-team All-NBA shooting guard and MVP candidate for an undisclosed period of time.

When we reflect on last night, we must consider what went well as well as any anomalies that may have occurred. We can look at the negatives and hope that Monty Williams and his coaching staff will do their due diligence in addressing them. Then there’s the ugly. Things that the Phoenix Suns will not tolerate happening again. If they do, this will be a much longer series than it needs to be.

Like a 1966 spaghetti western, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly from Game 2.

The Good

This is the Bright Side. So we’ll try to look at the bright side.

It may be difficult to find the positive in what happened last night, but keep in mind that what the Pelicans did was the exception, not the rule. Willie Green and his coaching staff deserve credit for having his team prepared. New Orleans is a young team that is bolstered by two elite scorers in Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. We were aware that this was a possibility.

The fact that the Pelicans shot 57% from beyond the arc, despite shooting 33% from beyond the arc on average and ranking 27th in the NBA in that category, is simply an anomaly.

How many times have they done so well? Add it up. Zero. Prior to Tuesday, their best three-point shooting performance was 52% in a loss to the Wizards. They made 17 three’s against the Suns, which also is a first this season for the team.

The other side of that coin is that the Suns don’t normally give up 57% from being on the arc. How many times did they give up that percentage? Let me jot down the math, carry the one…oh. A total of zero times. The best percentage they gave up was 54% to the Kings in a loss 10 days ago.

Their three-point shooting was a glaring outlier.

The Pelicans are an interior-based team that ranks third in the NBA in second-chance points during the regular season. The Suns left the perimeter open in an attempt to defend this. They simply made the shots.

What else was good? I’ll once again tip my hat to the man who was denied Defensive Player of the Year. Mikal Bridges had another outstanding defensive performance. His defensive efforts will be critical to the Suns’ success in this series. Because if the Suns are without Devin Booker for an extended period of time, they will have to rely on their defensive prowess to keep the Pelicans from scoring rather than focusing on outscoring them.

The Bad

Willie Green stated prior to the game that his plan to address Deandre Ayton’s defensive abilities and shot deterrence was to have Jonas Valanciunas roam the perimeter. This would take DA out of the paint and allow the Pelicans to attack without having to deal with Ayton’s hand in their face.

Mission accomplished for the Pelis.

Not only did Brandon Ingram find himself driving to the basket with ease throughout the game, but with Deandre Ayton out of the picture, the Pelicans’ field-goal percentage in that area improved dramatically.

In Game 1, New Orleans struggled to finish at the rim. They had 20 more offensive rebounds than the Suns, but they struggled to convert those into points. In Game 1, the team shot 48% at the rim.

In Game 2, however, this was not the case. They shot 80%.

You’d think that forcing Ayton to guard Valanciunas further away from the basket would open up rebounding opportunities for the Suns. It’s difficult to dominate the paint when you’re 19 feet away, isn’t it? Nonetheless, the Suns had difficulty grabbing rebounds. It’s as if the Pelicans had a second chance on every possession.

According to the statistics, this was not always the case. In this game, Phoenix had two more shot attempts than New Orleans. It’s worth noting that the Pelicans had 17 more shot attempts than the Suns in Game 1. However, it appeared that the Pelicans were once again having their way with the Suns on their glass. Part of that is correct. The Pelicans outrebounded the Suns by ten this time.

Their interior efficiency is more of a red flag than their perimeter shooting. Why? Because that is where the adjustment should have happened in Game 2. The Suns were well aware that the Pelicans were capable of rebounding them. They were aware that this was a source of concern. Yet any changes that were downloaded to the team did not take effect.

That’s bad.

The Ugly

The easy answer here is the transition defense.

The Pelicans are a younger team, as evidenced by their performance on Tuesday night. JaVale McGee, Jae Crowder, Chris Paul…they all looked old in that game. The Pelicans’ strategy was simple: play like the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. Try to run Phoenix out of the building. And that they did.

The team didn’t have their energy dialed in. Cameron Johnson observed, “Sometimes it just comes down to focusing on details of the game, and it can appear a certain way, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that guys are taking plays off or playing lackadaisically. It might just be a misstep, it might just be a miscalculation of some sort, but it’s something that we definitely have to clean up.”

What is unfortunate is that because of this, we’ve lost Devin Booker. Never one to stop competing or give up on a play, it was this chase town of Jaxson Hayes that injured his right hamstring.

Monty Williams noted, “I think it happened on one play, when he was trying to track down someone in transition, that’s where I think it happened.”

What’s ugly, Phoenix is caught in a Catch-22 situation. The rebounding is a problem. You’re going to get caught with your pants down if you try to crash the offensive glass to gain extra possessions for your team. Because if you don’t get that rebound, the Pelicans will easily get out, run, and score.

What is the solution? In theory, your guards should sprint back on defense while your forwards should crash the glass on errant shot attempts. What is the challenge? Having Chris Paul sprint up and down the court to accomplish this. To ensure that the Pelicans don’t get those easy points, you’ll need to include Mikal Bridges in the mix.

That leaves the rebounding up to Deandre Ayton. And Jae Crowder.

If you’re going to talk about ugly in game two, Jae Crowder’s name has to come up. Sure, he was outstanding on defense in Game 1. It was a game in which he had a historic quadruple-single, but it can be justified because of his defensive efforts against Brandon Ingram. However, when you dissect his defense in Game 2, you’ll notice that the statistics aren’t as favorable.

The opposition went 7-of-12 on Jae in Game 2 including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.

When you combine that with Jae’s 2-of-11 shooting night, it was an ugly night. Yes, he’s trying to get his offense going, as Jae Crowder has done before. He’s a streaky shooter who can go 5-of-7 from behind the arc, and we’re all singing his praises. I’m not going to get too worked up about the fact that he had a bad night. The Suns could have won this game if he hadn’t had a bad night.

Everything the Phoenix Suns want is on the other side of hard. This series, with the injury of Devin Booker, has become just that. Hard.

Chris Paul commented on the Booker injury, saying “It is what it is. It’s part of the game, you know what I mean. We got guys that are more than capable of stepping up.” Mikal Bridges added, “That’s our brother, so obviously hoping everything goes right, but I know everybody is ready to step up, so we’ll be ready. We went through regular season games without him and C (Chris Paul) and DA (Deandre Ayton), so we’ll be ready for sure.”

The Suns will not breeze through the First Round as we all hoped. True, the Pelicans didn’t win many games during the regular season. But they’re too young to notice. Willie Green is coaching a group of young rookies, two veteran scoring options, size on the interior, and a stable full of young rookies.

Is this team defensible? Absolutely. The Suns must address the Pelicans’ strengths and make the necessary adjustments. And they must adapt to any changes they believe Willie Green will make. Playoff Basketball 101.

Buckle up buckaroos. Game 3 is on Friday.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun