EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns have uncharacteristic defensive performance vs. Nuggets

Oct 21, 2021, 3:35 PM | Updated: Oct 22, 2021, 9:19 am
Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., center, is pressured by Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne...

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., center, is pressured by Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne (15) and Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Every NBA team needs to play through their defense, but for some, that can only mean so much based on what they are capable of.

The peaks for certain teams on that end are different. The Phoenix Suns, though, can be elite and were for most of last season. So, on nights like Wednesday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets when Chris Paul and Devin Booker didn’t have it going and the offense was clunky, they are still capable of beating good teams if their defense is rolling.

Remember that absolute grind of a Game 4 in the Western Conference Finals, an 84-80 final? That’s as good of an example as any.

When Phoenix’s defense hit its stride last season, one that finished sixth in defensive rating, it was rare to see them give up open shots based on a breakdown defensively. It’s really hard for defenses to scramble and recover but the Suns were the best team in the league at it.

With that in mind, it was glaring to see the majority of the shots Denver hit in the second half. A few didn’t even require a pass, and there were more of these types of defensive possessions in the first half too.

There is no great defense without doing the required work in transition, and that’s where you could argue the Suns struggled the most on Wednesday.

In that first video on the last clip, that 3-pointer for P.J. Dozier came off some botched switching, which the Nuggets really went after when the Suns’ JaVale McGee was on the court in a matchup on small-ball 5 Jeff Green.

Head coach Monty Williams said Thursday’s practice was mostly watching film and cleaning up communication, specifically mentioning those pick-and-pop situations for McGee that he wants a cleaner switch on.

“Understanding how to play with JaVale in pick and rolls,” he said. “That’s something that our guys have to get used to. We have two bigs that dominate the paint. We want to allow for them to stay in the paint as best we can. We have to switch the pick and rolls, it’s got to be like clockwork and that didn’t happen last night.”

When Williams pointed out some of these plays in the video session, all he saw were nodding heads from his players, a literal nod to their understanding of the mistakes and how correctable they are.

One example he brought up was giving up 3s on the strong side, something Phoenix and any other good team pretty much never does.

The last one of those was the dagger from Denver’s Will Barton.

“That’s just scheme … That’s something we hardly ever do … There’s not a team in the league that gives up that 3,” Williams said. “We gave up three of them last night.”

Again, to go back to where we started, defense is mostly about being on your Ps and Qs once your group has proven capable of doing so. The Suns had too many lapses in doing that against the Nuggets. They’ll get back to doing that, and when they do, it will make a world of difference.

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Phoenix Suns have uncharacteristic defensive performance vs. Nuggets