Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams fortified the reasoning behind the sportswriters and broadcasters voting him the 2022 Coach of the Year by orchestrating a 30-point shellacking of the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 on Tuesday night. He made numerous adjustments that put the Suns in position to win the game.
The win not only gives Phoenix a 3-2 series lead, it’s reminded us of the value that Monty Williams brings.
We can become frustrated with his loyalty at times. He seemingly allows certain players too long of a rope. All you have to do is go to your filing cabinet, find your folders titled ‘Ellie Okobo’, and you’ll remember that Williams can allow loyalty to trump productivity.
We saw this in the Western Conference First Round against the New Orleans Pelicans. Torrey Craig, as much of a factor as he was last season and last postseason for the Suns, has not played well all season since his acquisition from the Indiana Pacers. He was atrocious in the Pelicans series. Through the first four games of that series, Torrey averaged 1.5 points on 22.2 percent shooting as was a -19 in 39 minutes played.
When Game 5 came around, however, Monty made a key adjustment. He sat Torrey. He opted to fill those minutes with Bismack Biyombo, sprinkling in some Aaron Holiday minutes as well (because Cameron Payne has been less than stellar). In a crucial matchup, the Suns emerged victorious with a 15-point win.
Phoenix was in a similar situation heading into Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. After two disappointing games in Dallas, it was clear that what worked in Games 1 and 2 was not sustainable. And so it goes in the playoffs. You can’t expect to use the same strategy every night and expect your opponent not to adjust.
Monty’s Size Adjustments
The perimeter defense, especially in Game 4? Putrid. The play of Cameron Payne? Uninspired.
The first adjustment Monty made was to stay at home on the perimeter. Do not allow the Mavericks’ sharpshooters open looks at three-pointers. Run them off of the line. Part of the strategy was successful because, rather than playing JaVale McGee big minutes, the Suns played Bismack Biyombo. Looking at the film from Game 4, you can see why.
Whenever Bizzy gets more minutes, I greedily enjoy it. Why? Because the Bismack Biyombo drop is my favorite on the Suns JAM Session Podcast.
Everybody is talking about the adjustment to give Landry Shamet the minutes normally occupied by Cameron Payne. As well they should. Although Shamet hasn’t looked great offensively, his effort on the defensive end has been fantastic. When Cameron Payne is on the floor, Dallas targets him defensively.
Luka creates a switch that puts Payne on him, backs him down, and owns him. In the 2:39 minutes that Payne has matched up against Luka defensively, the Mavericks have scored 16 points. Sure, Luka has only scored 4 of those points, but the lack of size and pesterability (not a word, but you know what I mean) by CP15 allows Doncic to see the floor and set his teammates up for success.
He attempted to do the same against Landry Shamet at the end of the first quarter in Game 5. He learned at that moment that Landry Shamet is much more engaged defensively.
Enter Point Book
When you first look at the stat sheet, Monty’s implementation of Point Book doesn’t jump out at you. If Booker is running more point and increasing his usage rate, shouldn't his assist total increase? His two assists was his lowest in the series.
But it’s more than simple stats that made Point Book effective.
The Pelicans used a method that the Mavericks had caught up on: harass Chris Paul in an attempt to wear him down. It didn’t appear to work in Games 1 and 2, but as the series has continued, it appears that strategy is working.
The change Williams made in Game 5 to increase Devin Booker’s usage percentage and deploy more Point Book is definitely my favorite. Through the first four games of the series, Booker had a 28.7% usage rate, compared to Paul’s 21.2%. While Booker’s increased in Game 5 to 29.9%, Paul’s diminished to just 16.4%.
You could say that the strategy that Dallas has put in place is effective. The ball is out of Paul’s hands. But the other side of that coin is Booker is getting more touches. And Devin Booker is the team’s best player.
With Chris Paul running point, the Suns offense takes a while to engage. Hell, CP3 barely gets the ball over the time stripe in time. With Booker, however, you see a team that is popping the ball around and taking advantage of the Dallas defense. With Booker getting more touches and initiating the offense earlier.
In Game 3 and Game 4, the Suns were 20-of-44 (45 percent) when taking shots with 22 to 15 seconds left on the shot clock. In Game 5, Phoenix shot 13-of-23 (57 percent) in this same time frame. What does this tell me? When in Dallas, the Mavericks were allowed to set their defense consistently. This allowed them to clog the passing lanes, generate turnovers, and snatch possessions away from the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns took the Mavericks off of their game with this minor tweak. They weren’t allowed to get defensively set, which created a sense of disarray that the Mavericks weren’t prepared for. Phoenix capitalized.
Even with Chris Paul on the court, Devin Booker was leading the break and handling the offense in Game 5’s pivotal third quarter. The Phoenix Suns went on a 17-0 run against the Dallas Mavericks, relying heavily on defense to force mistakes. In the third quarter, the team had seven steals and 18 points off of the Mavericks’ 12 turnovers.
You can take advantage of the fact that a defender is committed to taking Chris Paul out. Reggie Bullock is going to be like glue to Chris Paul. Bullock is also a long and capable defender. So if he’s on the perimeter with Chris Paul, the Phoenix Suns can take advantage of the fact that Devin Booker doesn’t have to deal with his length blocking passing lanes.
Point Book was effective and his ability to confidently run the offense is what has made Phoenix a dangerous team throughout the season. Try to take out one guard and the other thrives.
Game 6 will be a true test for the Phoenix Suns and Monty Williams. The role players for the Mavericks will surely play better at home. The crowd will be behind them, and every shot they make will be met with a thunderous roar of approval.
Dallas will now have a chance to look at the film and see how effective Landry Shamet and Bismack Biyombo were. They will also see how effective Point Book was, how quickly the Suns offense engaged with him taking charge, and have the ability to communicate on defense due to their preparation. That is the adjustment that the Phoenix Suns must prepare for in Game 6.