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Stephen’s Study: With love to Mikal Bridges, Chris Paul

The Suns falter but they do not fall down

NBA: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

After compiling a seven-point lead at the half, a steady and spirited run from the San Antonio Spurs, even amidst a prolific stretch from Chris Paul, saw them tie this one against the Phoenix Suns at the end of regulation.

Overtime would see more master manipulation from Paul, but even more from Mikal Bridges in the mid-range, to push the Suns through the finish line with a 128-118 win.

1.) Master Manipulation from Mikal

The process of Bridges this season is evidence for the “regular season doesn’t matter” crowd that it, indeed, does matter.

I mentioned months ago and implored, amidst a compilation of dud performances from Bridges to “trust his process,” as there were ample opportunities to come that would test the work he’s put in, enabling him stage after stage to update us on where he’s at in his evolution.

Last night served as the most recent example of him letting us know that he’s here, and confidently so.

He would go six-for-six across the fourth quarter and overtime, three-for-three in each period, and tally 14 points, to tandem-close out the Spurs - with Chris Paul - not unlike how Devin Booker would operate in tandem with the Point God.

Mikal has figured out the balance in manipulating himself into the areas of the floor where he’s most comfortable, with either hand, on or off-ball, and getting shots up in a few different ways from said spots.

His exhibition of late-game execution last night was so dominant that Chris Paul deferred to him to both initiate action in the last two minutes of overtime, but also take the shots, imploring him to be the advantage that he is becoming.

Bridges would reject screens on the outer thirds of the floor, going both directions, and knockdown mid-range fall aways, after manipulating the mesh point of switches and stretching the defense, with all-assuring confidence that is sure to serve as a timestamp in his evolution as we trek through 2022-23.

The best thing about it, pertaining to overtime, is that it was all via self-creation.

He’d also pair these timely offensive displays of confidence with the signature event causing defensive activity, in overtime, to earn extra possessions for the Suns and create separation.

The patience, pace, and deft touch on display from him while maneuvering the mid-range, even as pressure was applied defensively, has been as assuring as any development. The composure and confidence on display are undeniable.

Pairing these moments has made him such a weapon, unique from the “3-and-D” many tried to box him into.

Bridges is putting it together, in an all-encompassing manner.

2.) Chaos-inducing Chris

The first half saw Chris Paul compile eight points on six shots, with five assists.

The second half (including overtime) saw him applying pressure with that prolific blend of scoring and playmaking that makes him the Point God. They’d register an offensive rating of 128.1 in this window, and he was at the helm of nearly all of it.

He’d compile 23 points on 57.1% shooting in this window, with six assists.

When he operates as this style of pressure point, engaging in chess with the opposing coach, is when the Suns grow to their most optimal version (especially in tandem with the pyrotechnics of Booker).

The Suns would extend their pressure on him, and he would respond by receiving screens higher (closer to halfcourt) to springboard him downhill and into the mid-range when Poetl and Collins were in drop.

He’d also have some 77 (double drag) action mixed in there as well.

Eventually, Popovich reverted to switching, Paul would then set up shop on the outer thirds of the floor, then snake dribble and maneuver his way to his patented elbow pull-ups with all sorts of pace changes and defensive rhythm-altering ether that Spurs fans and coaches have seen countless times over his career.

He’d garner the pace of the entire game in the third, with 12 points, and initiate the overtime display of clutch play to come from Bridges by setting the tone himself.

Safe (and exciting) to say, he’s back, finishing with 31 points and 11 assists.

Tip of the cap:

· Deandre Ayton (23 points) operated well against more switching, getting to his spots below the free throw line and making an impact in the paint.

Up Next: The Suns return home for a match-up with the Toronto Raptors.

Over the last two weeks they’ve gone 4-4, and pair the 7th-best offense (123.1) with the 21st defense (119.8).

This is a lengthy, scrappy team that takes advantage of their athleticism and size in the half-court. Led by a coach that can take full advantage of their athleticism via more schemes than any other team in the league, this one is sure to be a compelling match-up, slated for Monday night.

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