EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Lakers-Suns Game 3 preview: Creating more offense with limited CP3

May 26, 2021, 2:23 PM | Updated: 2:37 pm

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns high fives Chris Paul #3 and Mikal Bridges #25 after scoring ag...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns high fives Chris Paul #3 and Mikal Bridges #25 after scoring against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of Game Two of the Western Conference first-round playoff series at Phoenix Suns Arena on May 25, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Look, I’m not going to ignore the dark cloud hanging over Phoenix Suns fans’ heads right now, but Chris Paul’s struggles through his shoulder injury are not the end all be all for them.

The Los Angeles Lakers have not rounded into form yet, part of why Tuesday’s Game 2 loss stings for the Suns and also why the series is far from over.

The Suns have proven their competency as an offense all season and they need to find it as they travel to Los Angeles.

Here are two areas to watch for Game 3 to see if that can happen.

Claiming the edge from range

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Suns are the better three-point shooting team of the two. It is not particularly close.

Yet, through two games, Phoenix is only shooting 31.5% from deep, failing to take advantage of the Lakers at 28.8%.

The Suns hit nine 3s in Game 1 and eight more for Game 2, totaling 17 over two games. They had only three two-game stretches all year where the number was that low and just 12 games where they failed to hit double-digits.

Paul is limited, but the Suns’ ball movement and play through Monty Williams’ 0.5 philosophies have not made them reliant on the Point God to create the majority of their looks from 3.

Jae Crowder is 1-of-13 (7.7%) while Mikal Bridges is 4-for-9 (44.4%). Crowder has been streaky his whole career and that’s not going to change, so he’s going to start hitting some, but creating more looks for Bridges and him having a quick trigger will be key.

Bridges’ marksmanship at range opens up his scoring inside that line, where Los Angeles has contained him.

Bridges is 2-of-9 (22.2%) on his two-pointers in the playoffs after shooting 64.7% on them in the regular season and he attempted six total shots in Game 2.

The Lakers’ defense is great at using its size and length to recover to some of his go-to spots.

Crowder, Bridges, Cam Payne (4-of-10), Devin Booker (3-for-10) and Cam Johnson (4-for-9) are the only five Suns who have taken more than one 3 in the series.

While the Lakers’ size advantage makes this difficult, maybe the Suns could open up the rotation a bit more with Jevon Carter or Langston Galloway to add even more shooting to start bombing away. Paul’s injury status could make that easier to do as well.

Regardless of if it’s going all out with shooters or sticking with what’s going now, the Suns are making it much more difficult on themselves if three-point shooting is a push.

And it looks like what the Lakers want.

As Empire of the Suns’ Australian correspondent David Nash noted, it lines up with Deandre Ayton’s ability to get clean looks right at the basket.

You know that help on Ayton we’re used to seeing from the defenders on shooters?

Watch them on these Ayton buckets. It is far, far more a quick tag and recovery back to the shooter or being a step late than a full commitment.

That’s a philosophy the Suns will need to create a counter for.

Finding more creators

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Payne has been terrific this year but it not realistic to expect what he did in Game 2. He was the main reason the Lakers were not up 15-plus in the first half and then he exploded in the second half.

It would be a superhuman effort from Booker to keep holding the offensive load he has for the first two games and not wear down by the end of the series.

Given Paul’s limitations, looking elsewhere for creation will need to happen.

If Paul plays or not, that could be E’Twaun Moore’s music.

Moore is a good catch-and-shoot threat on top of bringing some scoring punch as a combo guard. He can be the guard version of Williams’ “connector” as a great ball-mover to get that thing whizzing around.

There are also getting more out of what Dario Saric can do, something Williams mentioned after Game 2. Yes, Saric played terribly, but he can be used as a playmaking 5 and the Suns want to use him that way when he’s on the floor.

Remember, he mopped up the Lakers’ switching back in March.

And how about some post touches for Ayton?

Again, instead of Booker running into the great level of resistance he will continue to see, mixing in other ball-handlers and offense will smoothen everything out. This is far less about running the offense through other guys and more about getting everything to flow better.

The Suns were 11-11 this year when recording under 25 assists, a feat they achieved both in Games 1 (24) and 2 (21).

A decent barometer for execution is assist-to-turnover ratio. The Suns led the league at 2.15, but it’s at 1.55 through two games. For the Lakers? A 1.87 after a 26th-ranked 1.62 in the regular season.

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