EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns-Clippers Game 4 preview: Phoenix regaining its offensive flow

Jun 25, 2021, 4:06 PM | Updated: 6:49 pm
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during t...
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the second half of game three of the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center on June 24, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, center Dario Saric and wing Mikal Bridges all agreed after practice on Friday that the team did not play like itself in the Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

That came across in a few different ways. The most obvious was the Clippers outworking the Suns in the third quarter, a 34-21 edge that was the game’s defining stretch.

But outside of that, Phoenix struggled offensively in a way it hasn’t in quite a while.

The Suns have failed to record a 30-point quarter in each of the last two games, something they are usually good for doing at least twice in a game more often than not. The Game 2 occurrence broke a streak of 24 straight games, regular season and playoffs, that the Suns reached 30 in a quarter.

It was no surprise to hear pace come up a few times postgame and on Friday, because with the Clippers’ successful effort to make this a very physical series, that’ll slow things down and make the whistles come out more.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker had nearly all-time low shooting nights on the season, and with that came their inability at times to get to their spots thanks to a strong defensive performance from the Clippers.

Those two got stopped a few times before getting where they wanted to go, which not only slowed the game down, but also forced turnovers.

We’re at the point in this series now where the Clippers are pointing at their elbows when they hear the Suns call out their elbow sets. They know what’s coming even more than before, and it’s allowing them opportunities to limit more defensively.

Paul couldn’t go right here since Los Angeles’ Terance Mann stopped him and that threw off the Suns’ rhythm from there.

Booker learned the valuable lesson against the Los Angeles Lakers that he will be able to still find shots against playoff defenses, but he just needs to locate those windows that were a little tighter than before.

The two-guard is a high-end shotmaker, so it’s hard to complain about most looks Booker gets for himself. But there’s also some where an extra dribble could open up another pass or barreling into the big at the rim could mean free throws.

And Booker, to be clear, will make that play. He almost never gets tunnel vision and will make his own observations watching back the film to see where the openings are, because they will be there.

He and the team made some successful adjustments of their own in Game 3 too. Booker started some actions higher up the court, which created angles for him to go full speed around a few screens.

More of getting downhill like that should be encouraged, and it might be a necessity for the Suns if guard Cam Payne (left ankle) misses any time. Paul himself said after Game 3 that he noticed watching the first two at home that the team was playing with a great level of pace behind Payne.

Williams said Friday he was hopeful for Payne to be ready for Game 4. If he can’t go, someone else will need to push it in his place.

Williams spoke on the team’s shot quality as a whole.

“I didn’t mind the shots that happened in the flow of our offense,” he said. The ones that hurt us — and it wasn’t just Chris and Book — (were) the ones that we got a bit bogged down and we had to take late-clock shots. Those are the ones that limit your ability to have other options. You tend to be out of rhythm because the offensive rebounders are in and out of the paint because they don’t know when that shot’s gonna go up, and then when it does go up, you’re so worried about transition defense.

“When I looked at the numbers from our team in Phoenix, the data, our shot quality wasn’t great last night but it wasn’t terrible.”

Williams said the hope for the Suns is to increase the pace of Game 4, another way in Game 3 the team was not playing like it normally does.

The coach mentioned being “more violent” in their actions with more self-imposed physicality.

And there were two plays in the third quarter where that was evident.

Both involved Ivica Zubac, who was great on both ends of the floor Thursday and has to feel good about his defensive effort after the way he’s attacked as a dropping big.

Here’s Zubac getting a good contest on Paul before running the floor.

And here’s a great read to recover on Deandre Ayton before creating another basket with his hustle.

Those are the types of sequences we’re used to putting together for the Suns and there were many more of them from the home team on Thursday. That’s an uphill battle Phoenix has avoided facing just about all season, and if the Suns start to now in this series, they’ll be in real trouble.

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