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Stephen’s Study: Quarter four in Memphis was a corner-turning moment for the Suns defensively

The Suns are putting it together as they solve the defensive end of the floor, as a collective, and find their footing particularly defending in fourth quarters.

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

The Phoenix Suns are amidst a six-game win streak and are amidst their most impactful defensive stretch in the half-court. There were plenty of instances that occurred priorly that compromised impressive leads they’d garnered over the course of individual games, which I’ve detailed.

I mentioned in the piece linked above, that time would simply do the team a solid in terms of helping them “iron out the kinks,” and establish chemistry.

Though the team was sans Durant, Beal, Eubanks, and Watanabe yesterday (in addition to Damion Lee), they showed a level of connectedness and trust defensively that I hinted at earlier would come together as the pieces compiled reps to ingratiate themselves.

Regardless of opponent, their game against the Grizzlies provided multiple examples of their growth on that end of the floor.

Yesterday’s game was one in a stretch of four, where their defense has turned a corner.

In the fourth quarter, they’d compile multiple stops, and a handful of impactful stop-score sequences that pushed their lead to blowout territory.

Grayson Allen has been in a space of late with how effective he’s been in spurts defensively.

His activity has been contagious, he’s been physical to the legal limit, and his reliability has been invaluable.

Notice him take over on Jackson Jr here, fluster him just enough, then allow Metu to finish the job.

Booker is then free in transition to attack in space, to which he counters with a vicious stepback three.

Here, ATO, we see the Grizzlies go “Veer” action (a screen on-ball that’s immediately followed by that same screener, setting a screen off it.).

Nurkic is up to touch in pick-and-roll and is tasked to shoot upwards in scheme multiple times because of this action.

Okogie does a great job in his navigation of the initial “Veer” screen. As Memphis is forced to flow into an automatic re-screen, we see the Suns in a defensive automatic, with Nurkic now, again, up on the screen.

He does a great job flattening out action, then aided by Gordon on his “jab at” to make Bane give it up.

That’s then a rushed pass and attempt for Aldama, who misses.

In the very next possession, we see Okogie wreck the entire action.

Okogie is aggressive in denial with Bane, forcing an initial reject of action, then sticking to the hip before the connected and aggressive switch, stopping that, then jamming the switch in the handoff for the next player, sliding while bodying up then contesting vertically to secure the stop.

Just absolutely impressive discipline and attention to detail.

In the very next possession, we see Okogie activated yet again.

The tone is set by Okogie, and he is then able to deflect the initial pass but muddy the entire pace of play.

Watch him then slide with Bane all the way across the helpline, switch with Goodwin, then ultimately force Memphis into a shot not desired.

That’s then followed by a Gordon three.

It’s the connectedness and activity, collectively, in these possessions that simply was not consistently involved in games prior to the streak.

We see now, however, that sprinkling in some of Okogie and Goodwin early in the fourth quarters — especially in the minutes where one of Booker/Durant/Beal is resting, is fruitful.

They can’t be depended on to the extent that they play a majority of fourth-quarter minutes on most nights, but they can certainly be relied on to make an impact defensively and in helping the Suns either maintain or increase, a lead.

In 259 minutes with neither of them on the floor, the Suns have a defensive rating of 121.1. In 274 minutes with Okogie on, and Goodwin off, they’re at 118.9. In 174 minutes with just Goodwin on, and Okogie off, they’re at 110.1. In just 76 minutes with both on the floor, they have a defensive rating of 85.81 and a net of 23.04.

This is not a suggestion that they should be played in unison, but rather that they should be effectively staggered over the course of close to 30-35 minutes a night.

As the Suns continue parsing through rotations and lineup combinations that stick, it’s clear to me that these two are integral to the teams championship endeavors.

Additionally, the bar shown in this window from Grayson Allen defensively needs to be sustained, and as the level of effectiveness grows collectively, that will see their numbers settle in in that high middle-third of the league on that end, where I feel their defensive ceiling is — around 12th.

They provide reliable outlets for the Suns in addressing some of the slippage they’ve seen in fourth quarters, in addition to Devin Booker being available in final frames as well.

The Suns have the fifth-best defensive rating in fourth quarters over the last two games, at 105.2.

These defensive efforts on film should serve as a template going forward.

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