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Stephen’s Study: Fourth quarter woes persist for the Phoenix Suns

Zooming in, again, on Suns process issues on both sides of the floor in the closing quarter.

Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns and fourth quarters continue to not align, as they saw yet another blip in their process against the Los Angeles Clippers. The team allowed 37 points to the Clippers while scoring just 20 themselves in the fourth, leading to a 138-111 loss. It has been a reoccurring issue that has been historically bad.

Starting with the close to the third quarter, the Suns saw things rapidly stagnate, flatten, and come undone. It all started with an inexplicable and unacceptable foul on a Paul George “prayer” of sorts, by Devin Booker.

This sort of instance, in a run where the Suns were making up some ground amidst a Clippers shooting skid, allowed the Clippers the opportunity to reset and regain themselves headed into the final period. This enables the Clippers to push their lead to double-digits.

We now get into their opening possession of the fourth, and see the Suns immediately displaying a large portion of what plagues their fourth-quarter offensive process — indecision and tentativeness.

They pair their Elbow action with “Veer,” as Eubanks sets a screen for Beal on-ball, then immediately sets a wide-pin for Durant. Meanwhile, Okogie respaces on the now strong side of the floor, to create as much space as possible.

Notice that the Clippers are in small ball, so defensively, they’re just switching with high-side denials.

Durant gets the catch here, but it’s a stagnant one, and, as we see Leonard load up on the strong side block, Durant’s tasked with problem-solving.

As Durant processes, he sees the numerical advantage on the second side, with the Suns in overload there, in a 4v3. The quick skip sees both Eubanks and Okogie — two non-spacers and non-shooters — leverage the scenario with two pin-ins for Gordon.

Gordon, however, catches this one flat-footed and static in a non-threatening position, so there’s no advantage created from that

That leads to a boomerang from him back to Beal, for another stagnant catch, who’s then forced to create late in the clock, to no avail.

Minimum movement of players, the ball, or the defense, and possession is bled away with the shot clock working against them.

This possession is perfect initially, from Okogie’s point-of-attack work to the switch and double that hit on Leonard. Issues come as Durant then kicks Okogie out as he corrals the tempo on the double — but loses his leverage momentarily, and Leonard now has access to his sweet spot at the free throw line for the middy.

Good possession, but the Suns have compiled plenty of those if you’ve read and listened to my work, it’s the completion of task portion that they lack in a sustained manner, case-in-point above.

This was by far the most muddy possession, but also the most clear in magnifying their issues in the process.

Durant is top-locked on the wide pin from Eubank, then Leonard stays attached as he navigates over. Durant ultimately screens for Beal, then sees a switch and heavy denial from Coffey.

Meanwhile, underneath that, Okogie and Eubanks exchange, but they’re non-threatening in space so Harden loads up in support, in that gap.

The obvious here is, first, to quickly kick it to Durant before Coffey gets into the passing lane for denial, with Leonard switched off him — exactly what you ultimately desire in your process.

Secondly, Beal, the Suns best and most effective driver, driving right with Coffey hugged on Durant — conceding a middle drive — would be as optimal as a “next” result as creatable. It is easier said than done on Leonard, but, even more importantly, exemplifies the Suns lack of concision, decisiveness, and flow at times in fourth quarters.

They’re solid here initially up top, and Gordon is great in nailing the low rotation — one I’ve emphasized for this team since Christmas day — being early to jam the roller and flatten that out.

The issues come however in execution after the initial stop, not unlike before after the double on Kawhi.

It’s almost as if they stop playing defense, as Theis kicks it back out to Harden, there’s zero subsequent rotation back after flattening them out, and Hardens conceded a wide-open and uncontested topside three.

Okogie overhelps here. Bookers in charge of the first pass out her, then Gordon in x-out with that in accordance, after covering for Eubanks in his recovery to the roller.

Highlighting a lack of trust, and decisiveness — keeping them from carving out an identity.

This is another glaring one etched into my memory from last night.

There’s a handful to unpack here, so follow me below as I do so with voice, over film:

It’s not pretty, and void of flow, cohesion, and connectedness.

That kick from Booker to Eubanks — a non-spacer — is a context both in help for opponents and process for the Suns that I've spoken to when in Eubanks is subbed for Okogie, Metu, Little, and, in their match-up with Dallas, even Gordon and Allen as I spoke on recently, in some contexts.

Solving that portion of it with my Okogie analysis in instance, or better structuring lineups to counter this help, and generally omit the catch and hold instances on display in this piece, are all ways to mitigate here.

(Quick reminder to like the video above, and subscribe to my youtube page, to see all of my film sessions)

Suns are now in small ball as Vogel looks for a spark in this rut as they’ve scored just five points nearly halfway through the quarter.

After “Elbow” with Okogie screening for Booker, they flow into “Angle” pick and roll, with the entire side emptied for Booker and Durant.

Booker doesn’t have a plan, however, with the Clippers switching it, and the Suns — 2nd in total fourth-quarter turnovers (141) and 3rd in turnovers per 4th (3.8) — concede yet another for the Clippers to score from.

Here they go with “Ghost” action with Allen as the screener in movement, to bring Harden to Booker. Clippers put 2 to Booker and rotate out as he terminates the dribble.

The issue here is flow is stagnant again at the inception, and as Allen catches, George applies pressure from an angle that blocks Allen’s view as Beal works to pin in for Gordon off the 45, with the defense unbalanced.

Flows again stagnant.

As it works over to Durant eventually, he’s then tasked to create late in the clock with the defense having barely shifted again.

Minimum ball movement and player movement were at the root of the rough 73.3 offensive rating they had over from the end of the third to the 5:12 mark of the fourth.

Then they compound by not getting back defensively.

Lastly here, still in small ball, they see the Clippers go “double away” for Powell.

As he curls the staggers you see Booker communicate to late-switch the curl, as he takes over for Powell and Gordon should be working to get into Theis’ legs.

The latter doesn’t occur in any capacity, and that’s the sign for Vogel that it’s curtains for this game.

As we can see again from the film, so many of these instances compiled are fixable and adjustable — from the lack of flow instances on offense that have netted them the second least assists in fourth quarters (183) and the least on average in closing (4.9 per) to missed rotations defensively and a general lack of execution.

It is for these reasons that I harp on patience.

While understanding it is January, that’s not in context to how much time has been spent with the big three in rotation — adding 20 more minutes from last night to finally cross the century mark, and now at 108 in minutes together.


Film Session

We saw a lot of the positives, in addition to the negatives spoken on above, in closing against the Grizzlies on Sunday.

A film session with great relevance to what was seen in last night's loss.


If you’ve been following my work, we’ve visited these numbers a few times before:

Nonetheless, give them time to adjust and generally run their course, as play, connectedness, and process will all get better — while working through these rough patches — even if changes on the margins eventually occur.

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