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Stephen’s Study: Defense and Rebounding Enable Phoenix the Style of Play Needed for Sustained Success

Offense finally surfaces to aid the general competing level seen over the last few games, resulting in a win

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns saw consistent and effective efforts on the glass in tandem with multiple efforts defensively, which then enabled a great pace for this rendition of the team to play off of. A lead that ballooned to as large as 27 was cut to six late, but they remained unwavered to finish the win, 125-113 over the Golden State Warriors.

1.) Defense

When playing without even a few of your best scorers, especially when two of those guys are your primary initiators of offense, your best bet is to bank on defense (as well as rebounding) and flow into your offense via that.

The Suns came out and set an early tone with their defensive activity, then sustained play, in multiple efforts, for the duration of the game on that end.

They’d strap the Warriors offense down, especially in the first half - registering defensive ratings of 104.0 in the first, then 73.1 in the second, making for an 88.2 mark in the half - which gave them just enough cushion for the inevitable blow to come in the second half.

Defending at that frequency was the equivalent of, by far, being the best in the NBA. Yes, Golden State missed some of their typical shots along the way. However, why they missed a handful of those shots due to how hard they had to work to get them, and because their typical rhythm stagnated.

It was Okogie at the point of attack muddying up the flow of sets at its initiation, Bridges and Craig top-locking, trailing, and shooting passing lanes in addition to providing secondary rim protection, then Wainright and Lee playing with the requisite activity in a hostile environment while undermanned.

Curry (24), Thompson (29), and Poole (27) combined for 80 points, but much of their outputs came in the second half as they gained traction on their steep climb back, but the general feel of their scoring was far from their typical.

The Suns finished at 105.6 in defensive rating.

That’s a testament to the frequency this team was operating at in disrupting the flow, setting a tone, and dictating with defense, which enabled them to avoid the inevitable rigors of going against a set defense will give a team operating sans their three primary ball handlers.

Phoenix now claims two of the Warriors eight least effective season marks in general offensive efficiency, and two of their six worst marks in half-court offensive efficiency, including their second worst being registered last night, of 81.5 points per 100 plays.

2.) Rebounding

The other key component to competing while undermanned, and undermanned in the fashion this team is, sans scoring and playmaking, is to neutralize the glass if not manipulate that dynamic into your favor.

After a stat correction, what was once marked as a season-best performance on the glass, is now, “technically,” their second-best, at 57.

This is why we always apply context to stats, using them as an “in addition to,” to aid what we see. Not to be the end all, be all.

Seeing them amass these rebounding totals, especially in this rendition, was just what they needed to give themselves a chance. It was also what they needed to offset the sloppy turnovers that surfaced down the stretch and also allowed them to generally dictate the pace and flow over the course of the game.

19 offensive rebounds enabled 17 second-chance possessions and 25 second-chance points.

They’d use this entity of the game as a true weapon, off the backs of their usual suspects in Craig (6), Biyombo - who infused so much grit and activity (3), and Okogie (2). They’d see efforts also from Saric (3), Landale - who just finds ways to be effective vs switching units - (2), then Bridges who came up with two of the most timely ones (3).

There was a contagious element of simply pursuing the ball (and out-pursuing the Warriors efforts there), with a tone of ferocity set by Bismack Biyombo, who had two in the first five minutes.

Even in a less than rendition, two key elements to the blueprint of how this team, when fully healthy, can maximize this collection of talent they have, were on display.

They average 43.2 rebounds on the season, ranking 17th. In games where they grab 44 or more rebounds, they’re now 15-7.

However, they’re 9th in rebounding percentage at 50.6%, which is more accurate and team specific than the general rebounding metric.

Last night they were at 55.9%, indicative of dominance in the game on the glass.

3.) Mikal Maintaining

The Villanova product compiled his second consecutive game operating in the manner this team needs him to, on both ends of the floor.

Last night he had 26 points on 20 true shot attempts, with a true shooting percentage of 60.0.

He was 9-15 from 2-point range, 3-3 at the rim, and 6-11 from 4-14 feet.

He had that blend within his shot and scoring profile that’s true to him as he continues to evolve.

Attempts at the cup via the drive or smart cuts, as a moving target via pin-downs and dribble handoffs, in isolation after manipulating a late-switch, initiating pick-and-roll, and in transition via pick-sixes or filling the lane (the most important specifically to him!).

Juice off the bounce was apparent, as he was able to get to his spots against varying coverages, pulling up with a few of his patented leaner and fadeaways, and was a steadying presence while operating in a position of leadership that’s foreign to him on this level, being the proverbial “go to guy” down the stretch.

You could tell by his demeanor and “want to” in seeking out the rock as Golden State made their fourth-quarter run.

He was rock solid amidst the chaos, confidence was undeniable, and he saw his most impressive game of the season as a direct result.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Damion Lee (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) - received his championship ring last night prior to tip-off, then proceeded to play a key role in the win as anyone not named Mikal Bridges. 14-14 from the line, enabling the Suns to set their defense more often, while that frequency worked heavily in tandem with their efforts on the glass, which enabled garnering pace, was all-impressive.

He’s also such a versatile offensive weapon, in tandem with being no slouch on the defensive end. He’s an elite “Time on task-er” and winning player. The type needed to compete on the highest stages.

  • Duane Washington Jr. (21 points, 5 assists) - “Wash” put together his second consecutive game with 20+ points and 3+ assists. It was also his second consecutive with 5 makes from deep (10-for-15 over the last two games). He’s fourth on the team in scoring over the last 10 games (14.4 PPG) and continues to torch the nets, shooting 59.1% on pull-up attempts from deep in this window.

Up Next: The tail end of a difficult road back-to-back looms as the Suns travel back to Denver for a bout with the present best in the West.

The Nuggets now have the league’s best mark in offensive efficiency on the season at 118.6.

Over the last two weeks they are 5-2, and combine the best offensive efficiency of 124.9 (league average is 115.5 in this window), with a 10th-ranked defensive efficiency of 114.1.

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