The Phoenix Suns defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 114-111 in a crucial game on Friday night in The Big Easy. Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton both put up stellar games, scoring 28 points each, with DA grabbing 17 rebounds and CP3 handing out 14 assists. It was an important win for the squad as they look to extend their postseason run and win without their leading scorer, Devin Booker.
There were 15 lead changes and 14 ties in this duel. In the fourth quarter, the point guard went into Sicko Mode, scoring 19 points and dishing out two assists. He battled, clawed, and willed his team to a 2-1 series lead over the Pelicans.
Ayton and Paul received help, but not the kind we had hoped for. Take away their contribution, and the rest of the team went 21-of-49 (42.5 FG%) and 2-of-19 from three (10.5%).
It was a hard fought game. But it didn’t have to be.
The performance of the Suns’ role players and bench has been a struggle for them thus far in this series. The group has not experienced the same level of success as they did during the regular season, when they established a franchise record with 64 wins. In the first round of the playoffs, there hasn’t been much consistency.
The team is still up in the series. Which is good. One thing that has been bad is the play of Torrey Craig.
Craig, fondly dubbed ‘The Juice’ by the Suns JAM Session Podcast after noticing the enthusiasm he gave to the organization last season since arriving from the Milwaukee Bucks, simply hasn’t performed well after returning the team in February. At the trade deadline, the team re-acquired him from the Indiana Pacers, and it looked that he fit a need for the club. A long wing defender who can hit a three-pointer now and again, but who is mostly focused on defensive performance and can add rebounding from the second team unit.
While he did experience some success in limited playing time during his 27-game regular season stint with Phoenix, for the most part, we have not seen the same Craig that we did last season. Outside of a four-game stretch from March 13-18, Torrey averaged 5.7 points on 26.8% three-point shooting and had a -42 +/- in 23 games played.
The playoffs haven’t been pretty either.
The zero on his jersey corresponds to the number of points he’s scored for the Suns in 29 minutes of action thus far in the series against the Pelicans. That’s all right. We don’t need him to score a great amount. However, we could utilize his defensive ferocity to help us shut down the Pelicans’ second unit. That hasn’t happened yet, either.
He currently has the worst defensive rating on the team in the playoffs at 136.5 and the worst net rating at -27. He is a team-worst -17 through three games. It’s time to squeeze the Juice.
Torrey Craig through three games in the playoffs:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) April 23, 2022
All are worst on the team. It’s time to let the Juice loose.
What options exist for Monty Williams and the Suns to turn those minutes into positive production? How can they find productivity, physicality, energy, rebounding, and perhaps even a little shooting from that spot? Anything is better than what Craig is providing.
Oh, hello Ish Wainright. Didn’t see you there.
This season, Ish was a feel-good story for Phoenix. Prior to the start of the season, the former Baylor Bears tight end signed a two-way deal with the Suns, allowing him to carry out his dream of playing in the NBA by picking up garbage time minutes. However, as the season progressed, he showed an ability for bringing an attitude and presence to the court when called upon. And a few threes.
Wainright ended the regular season having played in 45 games for the Suns, averaging 2.5 points on 32.2% from deep and 1.2 rebounds. While they are not gaudy numbers, note that he was a +39 on the season, helped largely by a +36 performance in which he scored 20 points in 25 minutes against the Clippers at the end of the season.
One of the benefits of playing for a team with as many injuries as the Phoenix Suns is that everyone gets a chance to play, perform, execute, and earn minutes. Ish Wainright not only fulfilled all of the abovementioned exploits, but he also obtained a contract that allowed him to join the Suns’ postseason squad.
Yes, we had to say goodbye to Frank Kaminsky, but a healthy Ish brought additional depth to the squad as the club headed into the postseason in search of the franchise’s first title.
Ish might not bring the experience that Craig has, but for 10 minutes a game, his physicality might have an effect on the opposition. His 6’6”, 250 pound frame may be beneficial in moving the Pelicans off of their spots and snagging a few boards.
The Suns bench has grabbed 25 boards through 3 games whereas Pelicans’ bench has 34. How many of those 25 has Craig grabbed? One. One? One!
Torrey Craig has been almost unnoticed in the playoffs and for the duration of his time back in Phoenix. He’s the man on the court who vanishes for minutes at a time and has no impact on the game, whether on offense or defense. And this can’t be the case throughout the postseason.
Adjustments must be made as the team prepares for Game 4. After a dominating performance by DA, expect New Orleans to swarm the interior and force the ball out of his hands. Expect the team to once again try to get out in transition and make an impact via the fast break.
Maybe Ish isn’t the answer and Monty will extend the minutes of Cameron Johnson or add Bismack Biyombo to the fray. Perhaps he doesn’t want someone out there who lacks experience. Maybe he wants to show faith in Torrey. But at this point, a change needs to occur.
Monty will have to make his own adjustments. The numbers don’t lie. This just isn’t the series for TC. Tough decisions will have to be made, and with a long playoff run ahead of them, Williams has to pull the right levers at the right time to help this team win.
It’s time to look down the bench and give Wainright the nod to enter the game.