Coming into this one sans Ayton (non-Covid illness) and Cam Johnson (injury management), not to mention Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Jae Crowder still being out, the Phoenix Suns would trot out their league-most 18th different starting lineup of the season.
In that, they would piece together a litany of efforts via presented opportunity, and remain collectively up to the task, garnering a win behind an elite “next man up” showing.
1.) Offensive Process (particularly early on)
Phoenix did an excellent job out of the gate. Indiana presented the Suns with mixed coverages throughout the game but relied heavily on an aggressive scheme with Myles Turner hedging out, momentarily putting two to the ball in Suns pick-and-roll actions.
The Pacers would also apply pressure with spontaneous traps against the Suns actions on the outer thirds of the court early on.
This presented unique opportunities for the Suns, as they had players in positions to execute against an aggressive scheme that they’re typically not tasked to operate against sans Booker, Paul, Ayton, Johnson, or Payne. This was, however, the task here, and they were up to it.
In the first quarter, they operated at a 104.5 pace of play per 100 plays in the half-court, which, for reference, would rank as the second-best mark in the NBA if it were a sustained level.
They blended great pace within their ball and player movement, in a disciplined “0.5” manner.
Bridges (24 PPG on 51.5/44.4/89.5, 6.4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 2.3 SPG over his last five games) set the tone by initiating pick-and-roll, seeing two, then getting off of the ball quickly to allow for teammates to attack the subsequent rotations. Enabling them to play in the 4v3 advantage.
That then tricked over to Saben Lee, and the rest of the roster, keeping the Pacers defense scrambling in rotation, but also forcing them to close out, enabling the Suns access downhill for paint touches.
They’d also do a great job getting out into the open floor, spending just 73.3% of their possessions against a set defense, which is an important number to track because it means their defense is locked in and they’re playing in flow.
It’s also a dynamic where a handful of their weapons (Bridges, Booker, Johnson, Ayton, Okogie, Craig) are greatly effective, and enables them to garner the pace of a game.
2.) “Trip” leaving a stamp
Josh Okogie’s meshing with Mikal Bridges on the court has grown into an integral cog within the rotation, independent of who is available.
That’s also enabled him plenty more opportunities, growing comfortable on both sides of the ball and playing with great confidence.
"That's our trip. Me and Cam Johnson, we're twins. We adopted him. He's a triplet."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) January 22, 2023
Mikal Bridges on Josh Okogie, who scored a game-high 24 points in #Suns win over #Pacers. pic.twitter.com/oCRYPHezrr
Opportunity last night, coming after suffering a broken nose and missing Thursday’s win over the Nets, saw Okogie have his best game of the season, compiling a stat line of 24 points (11-15 from the free throw line), 10 rebounds, four blocks, four assists, and a steal.
He’s a walking brand of basketball, never falling short on energy and effort, regardless of the condition of his health.
Over his last five games played (excluding the missed game against Brooklyn), he’s averaging 12.2 points (46.7% from three on three attempts), 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, a block, and nearly a steal a game too.
The manner in which he’s grown to exist on the offensive end, via timely drives off the swing, timely cuts, attacking the offensive glass, shooting with confidence, and seeking out transition opportunities, is an important development.
His confidence and aggression have allowed him to not be phased out by defensive schemes that tend to sag off of him.
That, combined with his invaluable versatility defensive - at the point of attack, as a wing stopper, or as a helper - has me now feeling that he could viably stake a claim within the playoff rotation without being a liability.
He nails the little things, consistently, and raises the activity level of the team upon stepping on the floor.
3.) Handling “Bis-ness”
Since being brought in last season, Bismack Biyombo has done nothing but be a positive for the Suns.
In a lot of ways, he’s a kindred spirit to Okogie, infusing the team with immeasurable deposits of activity and energy, just operating in a rigid, gritty, blue-collar fashion.
Last night, Biyumbo would start in place of Ayton, and block three shots along with a game-best 16 rebounds.
His activity out the gate, blocking two shots in the first six minutes, helped to set a tone for the Suns and settle them too.
He’s another master of the little things, from his positioning, activity, and versatility in his drop coverage, intent in pursuit of the ball, use of his length and reach, then even extra efforts in hustle.
Winning the battle on the glass was imperative in a game with this pace, and his efforts directly aligned with the Suns coming from this one victorious.
Whenever he starts, he instantly infuses the Suns attack with that signature toughness, and often it has resulted in a solid start for them.
Tip of the cap:
· Saben Lee: Double figures in each of his last four games (12.3 PPG, 3.8 APG) continues to apply pressure via his lightning-quick first step and suddenness, and come up with timely plays on both sides of the rock.
· Jock Landale: continues to produce even with an ever-switching role on a nightly basis, finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds as a +8. He’s had some key moments compiled over this stretch of games that have displayed his all-encompassing skill.
· Ish Wainright: Continuing to evolve, Ish would come up with a timely three in closing, as well as a great pass with the defense tilted, to put this one away. All exemplary of his growth in skill and feel.
Up Next: The Memphis Grizzlies come through The Footprint Center today, to match up with the Suns who will be on the latter end of a back-to-back.
Memphis, via a late-game blunder in crunch time, saw them lose to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, snapping a 12-game win streak.