Ancillary efforts from Josh Okogie and Terrence Ross were timely, however, a late 10-2 third-quarter run from the Clippers, where the Phoenix Suns offensive flow that had surfaced dissipated, is where the game was determined. The Suns would punch back in the fourth, but could not bring it within a possession the rest of the way.
Let’s dive in to the details...
1.) Stagnant Offense
The Suns saw a frigid 91.9 offensive rating in the half-court last night. Relative to the season as a whole, that mark places 32nd percentile.
The Clippers defense is, frequently, a riddle to solve as is. Add to that the infusion of new pieces into the mix, and you can start to see how this could become an uphill battle of sorts.
Even more, the Suns saw some of their pet sets and actions stifled, due to some switching and general gamesmanship (in a mild manner) from the Clippers.
They’d find themselves working late in the shot clock, uncustomarily, and even register two shot clock violations.
The Clippers were able to stifle the Suns into these uncharacteristic depths of action and in the shot clock, and it was part of what sparked the aforementioned late third-quarter run.
Some matchup tactics, switch-and-doubles with Booker, matchup zones ATO, and the subtle changes that’ll stagnate teams if applied with the right timing, were deployed subtly to stall rhythm.
Some of which, Monty Williams spoke to postgame.
“Score after score and then they were changing defenses and I didn’t think we’ve been really good lately at reacting or responding to changing defenses,” Williams mentioned regarding the third-quarter stagnation.”
“They ran some zones, they ran some switching and typically that doesn’t bother us. We came out of timeouts and had no clue how to counter whatever they were in. We had two shot-clock violations, that never happens. We just have to be better in those environments, but our formula is, we score. That means the ball moves around, it got stuck a little bit tonight.”
They did have a few pockets - with pick-and-roll as the base - where they saw those qualities that make their attack elite:
Sound On— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) February 17, 2023
The Suns had a 91.9 offensive rating in the half-court last night
However, they chipped their way back into last night's game via ⤵️
· switch manipulating in PnR
· getting to & working from the middle-third of the floor
· paint touches
Good, playoff-style reps: pic.twitter.com/sKROPk22OE
However, it wasn't sustained enough.
The pace and flow were both muddied by the Clippers physical defense and general activity (8 steals, 2 blocks, 11 deflections), and the Suns fell into a spell where they weren’t able to compile enough stops after allowing a 37-point third-quarter.
2.) More Illustrious and All-Time Company, for CP3
Chris Paul was able to cement his name into even more NBA history last week, becoming just the fourth player ever to cross the 2,500 steals plateau in his career.
As he did so, he also closed in on passing Michael Jordan for third all-time.
He’d lap “His Airness,” with his fourth steal in this one, and join some company he’s already more than familiar with - in Stockton and Kidd - as top-3 in both steals all-time, and assists all-time.
The first of his steals came in a context where he’s been one of the best with anticipatory skill as well as read and react, around the halfcourt line.
He’s customarily “laid in the weeds” in transition throughout his career, and after the dust settled following a turnover, he’d go into a game of cat-and-mouse at the most unassuming time, getting a reaction then pouncing on the likely loose ball to steal-back a possession.
It’s almost as if he sets traps and landmines, and as soon as someone crosses to his proverbial “no man’s land,” he exploits it.
He’d then compile three more steals, almost all of which also resulted in direct points.
To be at all-time levels in any skill or statistical category is a feat in and of itself. Add to that being top-3 in two categories the likes of steals and assists, and it truly speaks to the cerebral IQ, longevity, and sustained level of play set as a standard.
The reel of events he’s caused defensively that led to direct baskets, once it’s all said and done, will be one of the most impressive displays of skills blended together.
As a 6’0 guard, he’s compiled steals in a multitude of improbable contexts that leave you with the same reaction as if you saw a magician pull a rabbit out of their hat for the first time.
Via mismatches, in pick-and-roll defensively (!!!), in transition like a ball-hawking free safety, in isolation - you name the context, he’s compiled a handful of steals in that manner.
Congratulations to one of the best to ever do it at the point, and one of the best to grace the hardwood in general.
3.) Fun Early Terrence Ross Returns
Terrence Ross’ first game in Phoenix Suns threads was an impressive one.
Yes, there were hiccups with botched coverages a few separate times that led to Clippers points, as well as some stagnation offensively as he integrates himself.
Nonetheless, via 16 points, he has already proven that his “shot in the arm” type of dynamic - in shooting, movement shooting, and shot creation - will be a new-found dynamic that the Suns bench hasn’t seen in this rendition.
The Suns have had a relatively “safe” bench in terms of players being judicious with time spent holding the ball, as well as shot volume distribution.
It’s been very much an egalitarian-style feel from that group.
Ross has clearly been presented the green light to be himself from Monty Williams, and rightfully so.
It will be extremely fun to see a player with an unabashed level of unpredictability, and level of flair, mixed into the group of wings and scoring that the Suns have compiled.
“Terrance is doing what we want him to do,” said Williams.
“He’s aggressive to score, he’s solid on defense. Once he understands what we’re doing on defense, he’s going to be a lot better there. There were a couple of times where he was in the wrong rotation, but he’ll figure it out once we get some more reps. Offensively, we feel like he’s going to be a guy that can come off the bench and give us some timely scores, take the pressure off the guys who mainly score for us. I like his aggression.”
Whether it’s chaos-inducing off-ball movement, off-screen shooting via wide-pin downs or empty dribble handoff, or him working with the ball in pick-and-roll, his mindset will consistently put pressure on defenses, and his underlying skills (like the ability to play make) will rise to the forefront and surprise many.
He’s a fire starter, personified. The benefits of adding him are to come in the not-too-distant future.
Tip of the cap:
· Josh Okogie (24 points / 5 rebounds / 3 steals / 2 deflections): A team-high 24 points and career-high six makes from deep. What more can I say about “J.O.,” honestly? The sequences he compiles, serve as fire starters for runs from the Suns, sporadically. The dare shots defenses give him, and he’s knocked down. The stubborn point of attack defense. He understands his role and plays it with free-flowing energy. Another impressive reel on film under his belt in his fourth start of the season, and third in a row.
Up Next: The Suns head into the All-Star break for some much-earned rest and to recoup, before a now national tv matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, next Friday.