Suns have slowed the pace, Bled the clock and defended of late

Jan 5, 2017, 11:12 PM | Updated: Jan 6, 2017, 11:19 am
Dallas Mavericks' Deron Williams, left, works against Phoenix Suns' Brandon Knight for a shot oppor...

Dallas Mavericks' Deron Williams, left, works against Phoenix Suns' Brandon Knight for a shot opportunity in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s most easy to call out the Phoenix Suns’ offense. The lack of cohesion and lack of communication is clear when Phoenix doesn’t score.

Suns coach Earl Watson won’t talk about the offense before the defense, and from that standpoint, it’s fair for a team that is good at neither. But in the last five games in which it’s gone 3-2, there has been building evidence Phoenix just might be getting on track defensively.

The Suns have rested their legs for the defensive end, (excuse the pun) Bled the clock and kept the ball out of their opponents’ hands.

Opponents have averaged 95.2 points per game against the Suns since Dec. 29. That’s against the offenses rated No. 2 (Raptors), No. 6 (injury-riddled Clippers), No. 10 (Jazz), No. 23 (Mavericks) and No. 29 (Heat) in points per 100 possessions.

More than points allowed, what stands out is the pace the Suns are playing.

After Phoenix beat Dallas 102-95 on Thursday, the five-game streak has come along with better defense and a more controlled attack. The Suns are playing at 97.7 possessions per game over the 3-2 stretch, a major dropoff from their 103.8 possessions per game before this stretch.

Six fewer possessions per game is not insignificant by any means. For the entire year, Brooklyn leads the NBA with a pace of 103.9 per game and where the Suns have been of late would rank 19th-fastest for the year.

What’s it have to do with the defense?

For one, it stops teams from running away late in games.

The negative result? The Suns’ offense has seemingly brought games to a crawl.

Earlier this week, Watson mentioned his team’s stamina when he was discussing the coaching staff’s attempts at turning a “me-team” into a “we-team.”

“So the me-team is, ‘I’m good enough to change the game offensively. I’m good enough to score enough points to stay in the game, have an impact,’” Watson explained on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Doug and Wolf show Tuesday. “The we-team is, ‘I have to give everything I have defensively. When we get to offense, I have to move the ball and share the ball to regain some wind and some stamina.’ We have to change that mindset and that action.”

There’s no doubt the Suns could move the ball better. But dribbling it to a pulp also burns time.

Decreasing the pace would tend to give opponents fewer opportunities to score.

And while the Suns rank 10th in points per transition possession and fourth in percentage of those types of plays, according to Synergy Sports, the difference in efficiency on transition plays is likely not worth tiring themselves out and allowing an opponent to get into transition as well.

And take this nugget for what it’s worth: Per Synergy Sports, the Suns are dead last in the league by scoring 0.873 points per halfcourt possession, yet fourth in the NBA by scoring 0.854 points with less than four seconds to go on the shotclock. The latter is only behind the Raptors, Bucks and Spurs and just ahead of the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz and Cavaliers.

In other words, Phoenix might as well attempt to burn as much clock if there’s no transition opportunity. The difference between getting a shot off early in the offense isn’t so far off from holding it late, as odd and unfortunate as that makes the brand of offensive basketball the Suns are playing.

And hey, it just might be helping them play defense down the stretch.

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Suns have slowed the pace, Bled the clock and defended of late