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Stephen’s Study: Bad third quarter after gritty first half dooms Suns

Physical stamina of the Suns falls off, as Grizzlies throw their weight around in FedEx Forum

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Phoenix Suns lost another one. This time it was Memphis laying the wood to this severely depleted squad in the second half on MLK Day.

The Suns solid start and good offensive process were adjusted to, and then exploited, to start the second half. Lack of scoring, above all, does the injury-riddled Suns in again. The Suns are now 30th in offensive efficiency this month. Also, the issue against bigger and bruising style tandems in the frontcourt pieces persists as Adams and Jackson Jr. have their way on both ends in the second-half.

1.) Strong Start

Phoenix started this game by winning the first quarter 36-29, doing an excellent job with their blend of player and ball movement.

Their philosophy change towards more continuity-style offense - given injuries to their lead guards - rather than volume pick-and-roll, isolation, or their three-player actions when whole, was humming for a change.

Bridges had nine in the first, on perfect shooting, and the Suns were at an efficient true shooting percentage of 81.5% as a team, with a 138.5 offensive rating (which is really, really, good).

Some of this is attributed to their defense, however, which defended at a 111.5 rate, behind solid game plan discipline and activity as well as physicality, but most importantly they kept their defensive shell intact and stayed out of rotation while walling off the paint.

Williams and company elected to deliberately duck under with drop coverage in pick-and-roll against Morant, in hopes of keeping both him and the Grizzlies. They essentially doubled down on both protecting the blocks and elbows with defense, while inviting nearly uncontested looks from deep for him.

It worked to aid their defensive game plan and process, even while Morant went two-for-four in the opening, and kept the exuberant Grizzlies without the crowd-engaging theatrics from the most advantageous area of the floor.

2.) Bad Third Quarter

The third proved to be tumultuous and really decided the game, as the Grizzlies game plan of imposing their will with physicality and activity defensively saw zero resistance from the Suns.

The Suns coverage of Morant came undone, as they’d pivot to rolling coverages - initially with continued under and drop, then flat hedges at the level, switches, plus switch and doubles - all to no avail.

Couple that with just one Grizzlies turnover, via a flashy attempt in transition from Morant in the closing minutes (after the damage was done), versus the head scratch-inducing turnovers from the Suns which enabled pace to the Grizzlies, as well as being out-rebounded, and the picture is painted for how quickly this one got out of hand.

It’s tough when you main ball handlers are Landry Shamet and 10-day signee Saben Lee.

3.) Mikal Maintaining (reprised)

Bridges is up to 18 points per game on 50.0/40.0/91.7 shooting over his last five games, with 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals.

Couple all of that with the applied context of him being the focal point of scouting reports, and this grows increasingly more impressive.

He’s growing through the increased volume of reps having to set the table for himself (via unassisted field goals and attempts) as a creator, as well as in primary playmaking.

The present space he’s operating in is just what the team needs from him as the other integral pieces begin to return from the mend.

I mentioned months ago to trust his process, as he experiments with the skills he’s honed in over the last couple of seasons, and through the ups and downs of this season have surfaced some successes to the spotlight.

He’s garnering a great feel with the ball in his hands and is maturing with his decision-making.

I mentioned his four-for-four perfect shooting in the opening.

The flow he’s in now is also coming in a manner that can surely be sustainable as he regresses to the role he’s supposed to play with this team, helping better equip both himself and the team for postseason-style operating on offense.

Tip of the cap: to Okogie, who exited this one after an injury to his nose in the first half. Defensive activity, knocking down threes while being helped off of, and physicality were ever-present.

Up Next: The Suns will have a few more days off before starting a five-game home stand, beginning with a match-up against the Brooklyn Nets.

As of January 17th, they’ll come through Footprint Center, sans Kevin Durant, at 2-3 over the last two weeks. They’ve had the second-worst (to the Suns) offense (108.1 per 100 possessions) in this window of play, but couple that with the seventh-best defense (112.3 allowed per 100 possessions).

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