3 tweaks for the Suns to take back momentum from Pelicans

Apr 25, 2022, 7:28 AM

The Suns are in a rut.

With the exception of the first half in Game 1 of their first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix hasn’t looked like the dominant, 64-win regular-season club. It matters that Devin Booker was lost in Game 2 to injury.

But the themes that Pelicans have leaned on since the first two quarters of this series keep reoccurring. When you have four games of evidence and a series tied at 2-2, it might be time to take some issues on the Suns’ end seriously.

They’ve allowed too many offensive rebounds and missed too many three-point attempts, especially in the last two games.

At some point though, it might come down to Phoenix going more into adjustment mode rather than hoping old trends from the regular season fall into place.

What adjustments could be made by head coach Monty Williams after a 118-103 Game 4 defeat on Sunday?

Blitzing Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram is a problem. He’s scored 37, 34 and 30 in the past three games, with that lowest output Sunday coming in the first three quarters.

He’s a matchup problem. Phoenix needs Mikal Bridges on C.J. McCollum, and Bridges is historically better chasing smaller guards than oversized wings.

Jae Crowder has mostly gotten the assignment on Ingram. It went well in Game 1, with Ingram scoring just 18 points. Since, not so much for Phoenix.

The Suns, though, have let Ingram get to his comfortable spots. He can get his mid-range off over most anyone, whether that’s in the middle of the court or working along the baseline.

Watch the film though, and the Suns have let him get to his spots too easily — especially off screens.

Watch above as Ingram forces a switch. Off the left wing, he peels off another screen as Cam Johnson goes over the top, but Suns center Deandre Ayton sits level at the free-throw line. That’s all fine for most players, but for Ingram, it’s an easy rhythm jumper to get the Pelicans’ scoring going.

Later on, Ingram this time goes baseline. For most players, that’s what you want.

But like Phoenix’s own Devin Booker, it’s a comfy shot for Ingram, even if Ayton is cutting off the baseline.

Ayton’s not completely dropping and asking for open jumpers. Then again, he’s not hard hedging either.

It wouldn’t hurt for the Suns to get more aggressive with hard hedging and blitzing Ingram, at least at random here or there. Keeping him from turning the corner and facing the hoop square will force him to make decisions.

And while he very well could pick apart Phoenix’s defense with the pass if a player like Ayton meets him level with the screen — he’s that good — it’s worth at least trying when the Pelicans are in some of their less-apt shooting lineups. Such as the starting lineup.

Send Ayton to stop Ingram from getting his hips square with the hoop and see if scrambling in help doesn’t lead to a better outcome.

Picking up the pace

Chris Paul credited his then-coach Willie Green for urging the Suns point guard to push the pace more during Phoenix’s playoff run last season.

Green, now on the opposing sideline, is doing a masterful job of stopping Paul from doing that in this first-round series.

Paul was fractions of a second away from earning eight-second backcourt calls several times in Game 4 before Jose Alvarado finally drew one from Paul. The Suns point guard has been bringing the ball up at an apprehensive pace with Herb Jones and Alvarado threatening him for 94 feet this series.

Finally, he got got on Sunday.

Phoenix has either lived with the Pelicans’ pressure milking clock or asked Crowder, among others, to act as a play initiator. That’s taken the pressure off Paul.

Pace remains a problem. The Suns are not only getting into their sets slowly but struggling to get into their offense at all. Despite the field goal percentages looking good inside the three-point arc all series, the Suns aren’t running their .5 offense.

In Game 4, the assists piled up with New Orleans forcing Phoenix’s wings to make reads.

Broken plays or pick-and-roll actions are benefitting Ayton and JaVale McGee. So yes, the numbers and assists-per-field-goal ratios look good. The operation, however, is not exactly about the team running its offense well.

When it is, the timing is off. And we can trace that back to the sluggish pace and physicality presented by New Orleans.

So how can the Suns combat Green knowing that a slog is no good for the Suns?

Part of the free-throw discrepancy (42-15 in favor of New Orleans in Game 4) could be cured by having Paul and others put in a little more urgency and downhill attacking while simply bringing up the ball.

Don’t trust that against Jones and Alvarado? Send some screeners to the backcourt and create some action off those players getting lost in the backcourt.

Be aggressors. Ingram is getting his by facing his hips toward the hoop and attacking. The Suns need to do more of that themselves.

Green’s guys have baited the Suns into something else. Again, it’s efficient. But it’s not the team’s offense that allows role players to find their spots.

Looking deeper on the bench

At some point, the Suns have to react to how their players have been performing. Aside from Paul, Booker and Ayton saving the Suns in a couple of instances, how many Phoenix players can say they’ve even had one average game?

Maybe Crowder and Bridges for their defensive efforts, possibly McGee for his big Game 3.

Otherwise, average or better efforts haven’t been there.

The Suns have been gashed on the offensive boards and left too many known shooters open. There are brainfarts and effort issues aplenty.

It’s time for Williams to use threats to get some of the regulars locked in. Aaron Holiday would add three-point shooting punch and is capable of running the offense. Bismack Biyombo would be less of a liability on defense than McGee and compete on the glass.

Heck, if it’s about throwing a weird lineup at the Pelicans, give Ish Wainright a peek to get a small-ball unit on the court to switch on defense and push the pace on offense.

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