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Stephen’s Study: Better defense, clunky offense remain

Suns Stay Afloat, yet Come Up Short Sans Multiple Scorers

NBA: Miami Heat at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Already severely undermanned coming in, the Phoenix Suns would lose Chris Paul after the start of the second quarter, making a valiant effort from what remained of the roster impressive, yet simply not enough in a 96-104 loss at home to the Miami Heat.

Time to dive into the details.

1.) Defense

In a sloppy game from both ends, the Miami Heat shot 52.5% from two, and 31.6% from three.

Only 19% of their shots came at the rim (they average 29% on the season), speaking to the overall level of containment of the ball from the Suns defensively.

This was the third lowest half-court efficiency mark per 100 plays in a win that the Heat has seen this season, finishing at an 89.3 pace, even outdone by the undermanned Suns (89.8) in this one.

When the Suns, in the second half, went away from having double teams on Jimmy Butler be automatic, the Heat offense hit a snag in flow and struggled to create advantages against the swarming efforts put forth.

That’s back-to-back games where they’ve been stout defensively, holding teams below the 97.0 mark that’s the present league average in half-court efficiency.

They registered a defensive rating of 107.3 in last night’s loss.

At their foundation, and at this rendition since 2020-21, defense is where their league-wide dominance has stemmed from. So seeing even an injury-ravished rendition uphold the standard and scrap defensively is all-telling.

2.) Searching for Offense

After Chris Paul went down, if it was not pick-and-roll play or in transition, the Suns struggled to break the Heat’s defensive shell.

So much so that Miami sat comfortably in their 2-3 zone and remained active (25 deflections) as the Suns tried to solve the Rubix cube of operating without both the roster's two natural point guards and their primary ball handler in Booker.

On the rare occasions, they were able to generate a paint touch, they got great looks. However, they were so few and far in between, that rhythm was nonexistent.

Ayton had some moments via post touches, but even before Paul went out with the hip injury, they needed to get Ayton more touches and invert the offense more.

Nonetheless, being without four of your best six scorers is going to stagnate your offense about as much as you can imagine.

3.) Hat tip to Torrey Craig

I just wanted to give a moment to (again) shine a light on the elite ancillary efforts that Torrey Craig has put forth this season.

With consistency, he’s hitting the offensive glass, defending with event-causing activity, top-locking off-ball screening actions, absolutely flattening two-and-three-player handoff actions on the switch and redirect, scram and kick-out switching smaller Suns out of mismatches in the post, hitting the defensive glass with reckless abandon, sprinting the floor in transition, attacking the rim, and generally infusing lineups with productive juice.

His efforts and extra efforts must be acknowledged, as, in a season where injury has led to more opportunity than he could ever ask for, he's been elite in the system and elite in his varying role, having a career-best season all-around.

Up Next: The final of this two-game home stand sees the Suns match up again with the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night

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