What: Phoenix Suns (1-2) vs Denver Nuggets (2-1)
When: 5 PM. AZ Time
Where: The Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona
Watch: TNT, Bally Sports AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
Backs against the proverbial wall, with their first true test against adversity in a series with this new rendition, the Suns got uncomfortable and answered the bell.
Their 121-114 win in game three saw the resurfacing of ancillary efforts all help to chip in – in ways unique to their roles and skills – to provide a much-needed volume of complementary scoring deposits (22 points) that helped stave off the Nuggets.
Devin Booker scored 47 points on 90.4% true shooting. He was 20-25 from the field, including 15-for-17 from two, and 5-for-8 from 3. He also didn’t attempt a single free throw until late in the fourth, scoring nearly exclusively from the floor (45 points).
A H1STORIC START TO THE POSTSEASON. pic.twitter.com/NIpy2KMT7B— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 6, 2023
In addition to that, he is averaging a prolific 36.9 PPG these playoffs, on 63.9% from two, and 48.9% from three.
He’s been up to the task and operated as the best scorer in these playoffs, displaying an abundance of growth while doing so against the schemes and tactics that rise in volume at this stage.
In addition to Booker’s efforts were Durant, and his 39 points.
Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are the 2nd pair of teammates in Suns history to record 35+ points each in a Playoff game, joining:— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 6, 2023
Steve Nash (39) and Shawn Marion (38) on 05/20/2005 pic.twitter.com/E07gxI9siA
After a 1-for-7 start, he’d proceed to go 11-for-24 from the field over the final three quarters – including 10–for-19 from two.
He was able to get downhill and keep pressure on the Nuggets while also navigating his way to the free-throw line, finishing 14-for-16 from the stripe.
He’d lead the team in attempts, and finish responsible for all but the two aforementioned late-game attempts from Booker, for the Suns.
· Cam Payne
· Devin Booker
· Josh Okogie
· Kevin Durant
· Deandre Ayton
· Jamal Murray
· Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
· Michael Porter Jr.
· Aaron Gordon
· Nikola Jokic
- Chris Paul (groin) - is OUT, remaining day-to-day
Suns Things to Watch For
I emphasized in my most recent ‘Stephen’s Study’ how important the (re)surfacing of the three-player actions – in all of its variations – was for their offensive process.
This remained a large share of their advantage-creating action in game three.
Phoenix was forced to go away from most of them, particularly the quick hitters, due to the defensive personnel and scheme tandem that is unique to the Clippers.
This series, I felt they should feel liberated in opening up the playbook more – not as a slight to Denver in any capacity. Rather, a sign of the difference in both personnel and pressure applied.
Following the increase seen in game two, we saw them use more of it in game three – with great intention – and even included Durant as the recipient of the “Zoom” types along the outer thirds of the floor.
Durant found successes with screen rejects as well.
For Booker, he was able to be the recipient of attacking against isolated tags in their hand-off actions a few separate times.
Take here, for example.
Caldwell-Pope has to jab at the roller, and as he commits there momentarily, Durant hits Booker.
The separation generates a reaction advantage for Booker to play off. That’s aided by Caldwell-Pope electing to keep Booker middle with a “no corner” closeout – keeping him funneled towards his help.
Booker’s escape dribble to separation freed him for the rhythm pull-up, from deep.
Here, they go “Nash” (dribble handoff that flows into a double ball screen) and Gordon is now the isolated tagger.
Booker is patient to the catch, gives a jab, reads Gordon’s top foot, then attacks it off the redirect for a rhythm two dribble pull-up.
Here, Durant goes pick-and-roll towards the two-sided, rendering Caldwell-Pope again as the isolated tagger.
He does a solid job containing the initial drive from Booker, however, it then becomes isolation for Booker with a live dribble, and he exploits in space.
There would be so much handoff action, that Booker was enabled to play the role of Mikal Bridges a few separate times, faking the dribble handoff and playing into the reaction advantage, especially with Jokic loading up to be at the level of the screen.
Booker would also enjoy some solid playmaking moments out of this scenario.
Here, with Ayton, gave a great peak into just how vivid his processing and thorough his feel is.
They’ve run so much handoff action at this point that the Nuggets are beginning to anticipation.
Booker directs traffic, emploring for the playside corner to be emptied. It looks like ‘Miami’ or their ‘Nash’ action again, then Booker manipulates the anticipation and flips the play into a roll with an emptied corner for Ayton (with Gordon above the break, attached to Durant) as Jokic is at the level of the screen.
Here was another clever pass:
Booker hesitates as he comes off the pick, to A.) Gauge the tag (again, an isolated tag as he flows towards the two side), B.) Freeze the defense at the point of the screen, C.) Buy time for Ross to lift and stretch the tag and recover rotation from Caldwell-Pope.
It all leads to Ross having just enough time to lock and load, bottoms up.
The Suns need more of a steady blend as they saw in game three, of just what we saw above.
Landale simply came in with the right mindset, and brought physicality and multiple efforts to the party in his minutes.
Even more, his rim running was an irritant for Nikola Jokic.
Notice what comes from him selling out and doing the little things, here.
From the contests in transition on the first play, then rim run, to chipping in and contesting on the glass to the sprint in the second, Jock was beyond up to the task.
The first three steps in transition are the most important, notice his in comparison to Jokic, and the subsequent reaction advantages he creates via buy-in and selling out.
His motor, activity, and skill will continue to be a weapon behind Ayton.
Ross and Warren
The veteran wings came in and (finally) were afforded opportunity with the game in balance, and delivered.
Booker gives big credit to Warren & Ross staying locked in, not knowing when their minutes may come, & delivering when their number is called— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) May 6, 2023
Mentions "Big shout-out to them... That's a tough assignment. Down 0-2, playoff game, high intensity, & you're just thrown into the fire"
Movement shooting from Ross, defensive activity, and timely hits from Warren, plus creation off the bounce from both, were punctual and pleasant entities that infused the Suns bench with much-needed juice.
Monty Williams stretched past his comfortability in this one, & the results speak for themselves— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) May 6, 2023
Took the temperature of Ross/Warren & hit the right button on TJ to play late (& close), + subbed Landale in to close & sat both Okogie & Craig (sub 10 mins)
These two both outplayed the likes of Okogie and Craig, and Williams will have a task again in figuring out which two of these four will get the lion's share of the minutes in game four.
Checking their temperatures early, as he did in game four, will be imperative.
Corner three-point shooting
A pressure point both conceded, as well as by nature of the Nuggets lowman-heavy defensive scheme, is the corner three.
In 2021, the Suns went 14-for-36 (39%) from the corners against the Nuggets
I’ve mentioned that they need to find the personnel that can execute from this spot on the floor for, now, three more games.
Four is an ideal number, especially considering how the rotations are exaggerated from the Nuggets defenders in conceding this look.
This series, the Suns are 5-for-30, with just one game – the opening – that saw them convert on multiple attempts.
These lineups must be featured in game four
|Lineup||Minutes||Total Possessions||Points||Opponent Points||Plus Minus|
|Lineup||Minutes||Total Possessions||Points||Opponent Points||Plus Minus|
|Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Kevin Durant, Terrence Ross, T.J. Warren||4:29||22||20||13||7|
|Devin Booker, Cameron Payne, Jock Landale, Kevin Durant, T.J. Warren||5:15||21||17||6||11|
Half-court PPP (points per possession)
Game three was their best of the playoffs in the pick-and-roll, for their ball handlers.
As a team, they were 1.37 points per possession.
Booker was at 1.36, Durant was 1.57 – though on a lower volume.
This’ what they need from these two, as the Nuggets concede advantages outside of the primary two-man action, in giving extra attention.
Aside from their – and particularly Durants – post touches, this’ their best advantage setter. The pick-and-roll either enables them an opportunity to get downhill (given the context of it), allows them to get to Jokic – who is active and at the level of the screen with them most often, or enables them to stress the help and to play within the play.
The Suns have just two games under 10 “Stocks” this postseason, with both coming in this series. Game one (9) and game two (6).
They need their defensive activity to pick up, and resurface, in a sustainable manner.
Denver is as good as the Suns are with keeping a vice grip on possessions most often, however, the defensive chaos and event-causing dynamic needs to be a weapon.
Transition and pace have been a weapon for the Suns, the more they can get out on the break and generally control the pace, the more they sway things in their favor.