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Stephen’s Study: How the Suns closed out the Clippers to move on

A 50-point third-quarter display hints at this team’s true two-way potency

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are still in a state of learning themselves, experimenting (in a sense) with just what works, how well it works, and what it looks like when they press all the right buttons.

We were all witnesses of what *that* can look like from the third quarter of game five - where they compiled 50 points - and flipped the momentum of the game on its head within a matter of minutes.

They’re still tinkering with entities of their process to find their most optimal points to prioritize, but it is ever clear that there is a ceiling this group can hit, and they could be knocking on the door of sustaining it as they compile both realizations and wins, in the process.

Let’s dive into what caught my attention.

1.) Booker goes Ballistic

Devin Booker had himself a night.

He’d finish with 47 points on 15-for-20 from two, and 4-for-7 from three, firmly entrenched in one of (maybe the?) best shot-making stretch of his career.

That, plus going 5-for-6 from the stripe, made for an astronomical true shooting percentage of 78.3%.

Of course - and rightfully so - the pyrotechnics of his 25-point third quarter will be etched into the memory of all who watched.

However, I’d also just like to make note of the defense on display in that third quarter from him.

En route to the 50-point explosion for the Suns, was defense at the foundation.

The notes they were able to hit, and hit consistently, were undeniable and downright disruptive.

Booker was the direct defender in many of these instances, holding his own 1v1 and doing so with an activity that infused the Suns with multiple abundances.

The space he’s in defensively, in addition to what he’s putting forth on the end of the floor he’s most known for, is further proving how made for *this* stage he truly is.

We’ll dive into some of his film - on both ends of the floor - shortly.

2.) Suns Q3

Generally, the third-quarter display from the Suns will prove important to their general process moving forward.

Not only were they able to turn the tides of the game, at the drop of a dime, but they were also able to consistently take actions off the table from the Clippers.

The iteration of the Clippers that was operating sans George and Leonard is not equipped to attack one-on-one on high volume, and the rate at which Okogie and company were able to force them off-script was abundant.

This led to low shot-quality attempts, rushed decisions, turnovers, and a complete loss of rhythm.

Chaos-inducing spells like this one - which this Suns group is capable of and has shown to be in multiple moments post-All-Star - is when they’re at their absolute best.

The defense dictates, then the offense plays off of sustained successes in that end, time and time again.

That quarter saw the Suns register ratings of 192.3 offensively, and 92.3 defensively. A mind-blowing net rating of 100!!!

If sustained for a season-long stretch, those would be all-time per 100 possessions marks, especially when pace of play are applied to the context.

This is something this team is consistently capable of when they put it all together, and will continue to be the barometer for me when gauging what level of play they’re operating at, in any given moment.

3.) Short-Roll and Connecting Reps

This game presented invaluable and much-needed short-roll playmaking reps from a few key players.

These reps will grow more important as they inch their way closer to the overarching goal of 16 wins.

Notice here:

The Clippers are in their (much) aforementioned cross-matching, and Booker waves Ayton (guarded by Gordon) off, to get to Zubac.

The “hunt” screen from Okogie sees two to the ball on the outer third for Booker, which sets the advantage as Zubac steps up to the level of the screen.

Off feel, Okogie astutely touches then reverse pivots downhill and into the short-roll - with pace - to play within the 4v3 advantage.

(Sidenote: Okogie has untapped potential there that I've tracked and hinted would be a weapon for this team in multiple moments over the course of this season, he's just comfortable there...)

A direct result of the spacing provided underneath by the point of the screen (well north of the three-point line), the Suns are enabled to play - in space - and stretch the rotations of the Clippers.

Gordon is late on his rotation getting into the short-roller, and cannot stagnate the pace, while Durant spaced above the break, and Paul is in the strong corner.

The Clippers are compromised by the spacing, and Ayton is enabled an easy deuce.

Here, they get into a short-roll adjacent play, with Okogie again in the middle of it all.

Here, it’s Okogie’s feel for timing with both scripted and off-script cuts.

Paint touches via drives get a ton of attention because of their obvious function in effectiveness. Underrated are paint touches via cuts, that serve as a vacuum as it forces attention - with pace - to the defense in the most compromising area of the floor.

Off the isolation touch for Durant (cleverly along baseline - allowing for space on the second side to play with), Okogie as the middle guy on the “three side,” is responsible for cutting - especially with the gap help induced by the baseline double form Zubac.

As the Suns were rotating, that, in turn, is added to by a simultaneous baseline cut from Ayton.

All the while Booker sneaks behind the weakside rotations - with the cuts both serving as a vacuum that reshapes the floor balance.

Booker is then enabled a three here - in a role he is overqualified for as a second-side weapon - by re-spacing.

Good teams space, great teams re-space, elite teams manipulate space, and the Suns saw all three bundled into one play here.

Here we see the gift that keeps on giving, in Durant being that expensive decoy stashed in the corner on the weak side.

Him occupying that space as the Shamet re-spaces to the high quad enables the entire pocket for Biyombo to catch and finish, undeterred.

Here, Booker astutely flares this middle pin-down as Batum top-locks then navigates. That enables Booker a closeout to attack, and the Clippers defensive dominoes would fall.

As they rotate to double on the box, baseline, Biyombo is able to hit the pocket on a short-roll adjacent touch and connect to the second side for a high-pace plus one pass, and Okogie is able to connect.

Lastly, we’ll see Ayton get into the short-roll play party.

Payne lifts from free throw line extended and brings his man right into the mix, allowing for Gordon to jam Ayton on the catch.

However, he’s bailed out by a(another) well-timed cut from Okogie, the minute Ayton catches.

He sinks just enough into Powell’s peripheral, then burns him baseline.

This will be an all-important function in their process both on-script and off it, in general play.

Film Session

The Youtube version, for those that would prefer this one:

Tip of the cap

Josh Okogie - the model of mental stamina for this team this series, Okogie simply continues to be a tone-setter for this team.

He simply does what he’s asked for - within his wheelhouse of strengths - in a consistent manner and with a level of energy and activity that always makes him an asset to this team and their process.

Sudden lineup changes, in addition to a tweaking of minutes distribution, saw him descend from key cog to single-minute contributor in transitioning from the regular season to the postseason.

Rather than fretting or disengaging, he remained locked in, and saw his minutes totals increase (game 1 - 6:37, game 2 - 15:18, game 3 - 20:51, game 4 - 24:36, game 5 - 32:46) while also seeing his activity levels do the same, and eventually winning back the lion share of the minutes in his role.

He continues to be vital to this team’s desires, and as they trek forward, his impact (in transition picking up the pace, at the point of attack, on the wing, in passing lanes, navigating screens, playing with physicality, offensive and defensive boards) will be synonymous with what types of results this team is able to compile in this portion of the season, and his role will be one that is needed - in ancillary efforts - to push this team to its most optimal levels in a sustained manner.

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