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Suns postseason lives depend more on defense than the greatness of Chris Paul

If the Suns play good defense on Sunday, they have a great chance to win the game and the series against the Mavericks.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns - Game Five Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Sure, it would be nice to see Chris Paul throw up another 11-of-16 shooting night in Game 7 on Sunday like he showed in Game 2 of this very series just barely a week ago.

Last Wednesday, the Point God blew open a fairly close game early in the fourth quarter with another patented scoring blitz — his fourth in just eight postseason games — to help give the Phoenix Suns a commanding 2-0 lead over the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs.

Flaming Hot or Ice Cold

That game marked Paul’s 4th great game of playoffs:

  • Rd 1, Game 1 (W): 30 points (12 of 16 shooting), 10 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers
  • Rd 1, Game 3 (W): 28 points (10 of 18 shooting), 14 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers
  • Rd 1, Game 6 (W): 33 points (14 of 14 shooting), 8 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers
  • Rd 2, Game 2 (W): 28 points (11 of 16 shooting), 8 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers

His four great games are all wins, and all of them gave the Suns the decided, even coffin-closing, advantage when they needed it.

Unfortunately, now 12 games into the postseason, Paul has as many bad games as great ones.

  • Rd 1, Game 4 (L): 4 points (2 of 8 shooting), 11 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers
  • Rd 2, Game 3 (L): 12 points (5 of 9 shooting), 4 assists, 1 steal, 7 turnovers
  • Rd 2, Game 4 (L): 5 points (2 of 4 shooting), 7 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers
  • Rd 2, Game 6 (L): 13 points (4 of 7 shooting), 4 assists, 2 steals, 5 turnovers

The worst games have all been in blowout losses, though none have been series-killing. Paul had put the Suns up 2-1 without Devin Booker before that Game 4 loss. He had put the Suns up 2-0 on the Mavericks before those weekend duds. And his teammates had put the Suns up 3-2 on the Mavericks before last night’s stinker.

Yet, by the discourse I’ve seen in group chats, comment sections and social media, you’d think Chris Paul has suddenly become one of the worst players in the league.

But Chris Paul is not the only reason the Suns are staring at a Win or Go Home Game 7 on Sunday afternoon.

Just give us an okay Chris Paul

It’s nice and fun to have Chris Paul be great. But I’ll be happy with him being just pretty good.

The Suns are 3-1 in games these playoffs that Paul was not great but not awful either.

  • Rd 1, Game 2 (L): 17 points (5 of 16 shooting), 14 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers
  • Rd 1, Game 5 (W): 22 points (8 of 18 shooting), 11 assists, 3 steals, 1 turnover
  • Rd 2, Game 2 (W): 19 points (7 of 13 shooting), 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover
  • Rd 2, Game 5 (W): 7 points (3 of 8 shooting), 10 assists, 1 steal, 4 turnovers

His averages in these so-so games — 16 points, 9 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers — are in line with his season averages and have been good enough to help the Suns log important playoff wins, including both Game 5s so far this postseason.

We don’t need MVP Chris Paul. We just need good-starting-point-guard Chris Paul.

Defense Does Not Carry

What the Suns need more than a great Chris Paul is just simply a good defense.

And being at home on Sunday represents a great chance to see the Suns play good defense again.

So far in the second round, defense does NOT carry on the road. And that’s true across the whole NBA, which includes four ongoing playoff series among the final eight teams.

First, let me set the stage.

The Suns usually play good defense on the road. In fact, they had the second-best road defense in the whole league this year. Only the Boston Celtics played better defense on the road this season.

But the playoffs are a whole different animal. In the playoffs, the home team has a huge advantage because of the energy from their fans, and because these are generally the best offenses in the league — or they at least boast some of the best individual offensive players getting as many touches as they can handle.

Stopping a great offense/offensive player buoyed by 20,000 screaming fans is almost impossible. Sure, you saw the Milwaukee Bucks somehow come back to beat the Boston Celtics on the road the other day, but those kinds of road comebacks are rare. In this second round, the eight remaining teams — representing the best of the NBA — are 5-17 on the road so far.

The Suns and Mavericks are both 0-3 on the road this round. If you think the Suns defense in Dallas has been putrid, losing by an average of 15.3 points per game, wait till you read this:

  • The Suns defense on the road in this second round ranks 5th out of 8 teams. Mid-pack.
  • Guess who’s defense ranks dead last on the road? The Dallas Mavericks.

Playing on the road, as we go deeper into the playoffs, just simply sucks. You saw it in the Finals last year, as the Suns won both home games to kick off the series then lost all three games in Milwaukee. The only real upset of that series was losing Game 5 at home.

That the Suns were 4-0 in closeout opportunities on the road over the past two postseasons is an anomaly that we (and the team) unfortunately came to expect as a general rule rather than an exception.

The Suns have looked BAAAD on the road this series. I get it. I agree with you. I was yelling at my TV at least as loud as 90% of you last night. For the other 10%, props to you and I hope you didn’t damage any property in the process.

All I’m doing here is providing perspective. The Golden State Warriors lost a road game this round by 39 points to the Morant-less Grizzlies — after being down by a record 55 points in the third quarter — and still aren’t as bad as the Dallas Mavericks have been on the road.

Ride the home energy to the win

Let’s turn this around.

The Phoenix Suns have been the second-best home team in the second round by far, behind only the Miami Heat who got to play a Sixers team without Joel Embiid in two of those home games.

They are 3-0 at home against these Dallas Mavericks with a point differential of almost 20 points per game.

Home teams are 17-5 so far in the second round. That 74% win percentage is far greater than the NBA’s all-time average win rate for home teams of 62% in the regular season.

A lot of that has to do with the atmosphere. Every NBA team is experiencing the euphoria of sold-out arenas screaming their support the whole game. For some of these players, it’s the first time ever or at least the first time in three years.

Those Dallas fans were absolutely rocking the American Airlines Center these past few games, and that certainly had an effect on both teams’ focus. Role players are much more likely to make shots when 20,000 fans are behind their backs. And home-team defenses are much more likely to have that extra energy boost to get steals and fast breaks.

The fans in Phoenix are the best in the NBA. You guys rock the arena all game long, giving the Suns all the energy they need to win every important game these past two years.

For those of you lucky enough to go to Game 7 on Sunday, the Suns need your energy again!

Upsets can happen. 74% is not 100%. Whichever team plays their best game of the series will win it. Whoever fails to show up, or comes up short in the clutch, will go home.

The winner looks back on this playoff series fondly. The loser spends all summer kicking themselves over ‘what if’.

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