Less than a month ago, the Phoenix Suns were riding high. They were finishing out a historic franchise season, winning 64 games for the first time in the organization’s history. The team was preparing for a long postseason run and had hopes of finally delivering a championship to the city of Phoenix.
In a candid interview, Jae Crowder dropped a little inside knowledge. He let us know some of the terminology that he and fellow teammates use to describe the competition.
The pigeon is the player who the other team targets on defense, exploiting their lack of defensive abilities. The pigeon in the series against the Dallas Mavericks, a team that preferred to generate switches in order to focus on one player, was Chris Paul.
It was apparent beginning in Game 3 that something was not right with the Point God. Offensively and defensively. He wasn’t performing at the level he had been in all season. Part of this is due to the Mavericks’ strategy of pestering him whenever he had the ball. Their goal, wear him down. It might not matter in a game, but in the context of a series, it is a valuable tactic.
The turnovers began. The lack of offensive production followed. And with it came losses.
Chris Paul didn’t look right. From Game 3 on, Chris Paul took 36 shots, fifth most on the team. He had 29 assists and 18 turnovers, a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. Note that during the regular season, CP3 had a 4.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was a -57 while on the court, had a 98.4 offensive rating (115.6 during the regular season) and a 116.2 defensive rating (105.5 during the regular season).
And when all was said and done, our suspicions were confirmed.
Suns point guard Chris Paul limped out of the arena with a very slow walk. @andscape learned that Paul had a left quad injury. When asked about his quad injury, Paul declined comment.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) May 16, 2022
Chris Paul must be admired. He is the ultimate competitor. He wishes to be there on the court at all times. He desires to be in command. He loves to play the game of basketball. I do not fault him for wanting to compete.
Suns’ head coach Monty Williams failed to make numerous necessary adjustments as a coach during the series. If any of the rumors about his quad injury are accurate, it is the biggest blunder he made. The goal is to put yourself in the best situation possible to win. If Chris Paul was hampered, that isn’t the best situation for the Suns.
The Mavericks recognized this. Paul may have been the pigeon on the court, but Monty was the pigeon for not properly managing the situation.
Defensively they wore him down, attacking him with physicality. On offense, they didn’t respect him. They would force the ball out of his hands, and whenever that ball went to Devin Booker, they would blitz him. They knew anytime that anybody but Chris Paul had the ball, they could throw a double team at that person. Why? Because Chris Paul was compromised. Defenders didn’t have to stick to him. For five games in the series, the Dallas Mavericks were playing five on four.
Again, this comes down to Monty Williams. His affinity for using loyalty to certain players as a management tool has proved to be his weakness. I’m not saying Cameron Payne is the answer. I’m not saying that Point Book on a consistent basis is the answer. But sitting injured Chris Paul would have given the team the best chance for victory.
Mikal Bridges said he knows Monty Williams is taking the blame for the way these playoffs went for the Suns, but he insisted it's squarely on the players— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) May 16, 2022
The Dallas Mavericks would have to respect somebody who wasn’t physically compromised. Williams allowed his loyalty to Paul trump his duties as a coach.
Sure, the Suns inability to do anything in Game 7 was an all-time case of the yips. It was an embarrassing offensive performance for the ages, and you can’t point to one thing or one situation as the culprit. Dallas forced them into tough shot taking situations simply due to the fact that Monty Williams did not make the adjustments. Chris Paul was compromised and the Mavericks knew it.
The Suns had a Game 6 chance to close out the Mavericks as well. Had Monty put them in the best situation to win, perhaps they could have. The team mimicked their leader’s behavior, limping through the remaining two games of the series in a humiliating way.
The 2022 Coach of the Year relied on his faith in his players rather than creating, coaching, executing adjustments. He played a hurt Chris Paul for 32.4 minutes a night in the series. He allowed the Mavericks to take advantage of this.
I get it. Making a drastic adjustment like starting Cameron Payne, who has had his own issues throughout the playoffs, is a big decision. The difference between Paul and Payne, however, is you have to account for Payne on offense. Paul, you didn’t.
ever often I agree with Patrick Beverley. But he’s not wrong here.
.@patbev21 says the Suns should've benched Chris Paul instead of Deandre Ayton— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 16, 2022
"They benched the wrong person. They should've benched Chris."
(via @GetUpESPN) pic.twitter.com/wjMBWVybRV
I will always love Monty of the changes he brought to this franchise and this organization. He is clearly the right guy for the job. Still, it is the second consecutive season in which the Phoenix Suns started a series 2-0, only to have it end with disappointment. Adjustments weren’t made. You can have all of the great motivational sayings you want, but actions speak louder than words.
Apparently the other side of hard is the off-season.
We will forever have to remember one of the all-time boneheaded Game 7’s in NBA history as one authored by the Phoenix Suns. The team wasn’t prepared. Because Monty didn’t put them in a position to be successful.