Suns’ James Jones: Getting defensive stops is only way to win in NBA playoffs

Dec 22, 2021, 5:55 PM

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against Mikal Bridges #25 of the Ph...

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on November 30, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Warriors 104-96. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Previous Phoenix Suns teams may have been built to get into the playoffs, but this 2021-22 edition has been constructed to win in the postseason.

After falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in last season’s NBA Finals despite being up 2-0 in the series, Suns general manager James Jones is using that experience to help him craft a team capable of bringing home the franchise’s first Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And even in the high-powered offensive game that is today’s NBA, the Phoenix GM is all in on the mantra of offense wins games, defense wins championships.

“Our guys love defending and we’re a defensive team,” Jones told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Wednesday.

“We have some closers, some clutch players, a plethora of shooters. We’re stacked offensively, but where our team really comes together is on the defensive end.”

Jones added that the Suns are defensively anchored by the likes of centers Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee, along with wings Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder.

“Those guys, they live for defense. And when you have that, it’s a good recipe,” Jones said. “Because as you start to level up in this league, you start to play against the best teams in the playoffs and you get to the Finals like we did last year, you play against the league’s best offensive players. And the only way you win is getting stops.

“So we’re focused on that every night. We’re trying to develop the capacity to get stops every night, every possession because we know it will serve us well come playoff time.”

When it comes to playing defense on the Suns, look no further than Bridges.

The fourth-year pro is coming off of a 2020-21 campaign in which he received the most votes of any player without being named to one of the two All-NBA Defensive Teams.

This season, Bridges is averaging 12.3 points, four rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals per contest.

“He is our engine,” Jones said. “We ask him to guard the other team’s best player, we ask him to play 38 minutes defensively at full tilt and then make shots and be a threat offensively. And he’s embraced it.

“He has the mentality of the next play: How can I make the next play the most impactful play of the game? A lot of the time that’s defensively, but offensively he gives us a boost too and it’s infectious.”

With his defensive performances this season — most notably forcing Warriors PG Steph Curry to have a career-worst shooting night in Phoenix’s win over Golden State on Nov. 30 — Bridges has thrown his name into the hat as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Coincidentally, the Suns host the Warriors at Footprint Center at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day as the two teams boast the best records in the NBA.

“We know that defense requires a tremendous amount of energy, time, preparation,” Jones said. “You’re always reacting to your opponent, so you have to embrace it. And because he does that, he embraces the tough part of the game, it fuels our guys and it’s infectious.

“You see it from Chris (Paul), Devin (Booker), across the board, these guys want to play defense with Mikal. And when they’re playing with him at that level, we’re a tough team to beat.”

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