Suns Need To Improve Their Defense To Get Back On Track

NBA ARTICLES » Suns Need To Improve Their Defense To Get Back On Track
Suns Need To Improve Their Defense To Get Back On Track

Bruce Brown drove to the basket as DeAndre Ayton guarded him in the first game between the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets. The action took place in the middle of the second quarter. After Ayton’s attempt at the shot was unsuccessful, he was forced to watch the game from the bench.

He could have easily raced back to get the rebound, but instead, he stood back and watched Nikola Jokic attempt to score off the miss. Jokic did not make the first basket that was presented to him. Despite being told to relocate, Ayton did not leave his position on the sidelines. Jokic made a second attempt to put the ball in the hole. To this day, Ayton has stayed in his previous position. Jokic tapped the ball to himself to gain a better look at the hoop, and ultimately, Ayton recognized that it was a live play and joined in on the action.

This moment does an excellent job of summing up the kind of effort the Suns have been putting out throughout the playoffs thus far.

The issue wasn’t discovered for the first time during the second round. It’s been there the whole time. This became a noticeable problem as early as Phoenix’s first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns suffered a shocking defeat in the first game of the series, during which they enabled the Clippers, competing without Paul George, to rack up 115 points and win the game. Things didn’t get better after that. Even though LA was missing their two best players for the last three games of the series, they still scored 120 points on average against a healthy Suns team. Kawhi Leonard was one of the players that did not participate.

During the first round, the Phoenix Suns allowed an average of 118 points for every 100 possessions they were in control of. They gained five points compared to their total throughout the regular season. If their regular season defensive rating were carried over into the playoffs, they would have been classified as the fifth weakest defense in the league.

The Suns would have been wise to learn from their mistakes after experiencing a number of close calls against the Clippers, right?

The video now going viral showing Deandre Ayton viewing Nikola Jokic from the sidelines demonstrates that Phoenix’s defense should be tighter than it is.

The Nuggets dominated the first game of their rematch with the Suns in the conference semifinals by scoring 125 points and winning by a comfortable margin of 18. During the game, the Suns gave up an astounding 128.5 points per 100 possessions, which enabled the Nuggets to score many points. Denver successfully scored 47.5 percent of its shots while hitting 16 three-pointers at a rate of 43.2 percent.

Jamal Murray led the way for Denver with 34 points and six 3-point field goals made. He was one of six Nuggets players to reach double digits in scoring. Jokic could have had a better game, scoring 24 points but only converting on 42 percent of his shots. On the other hand, he pulled down 19 rebounds, including eight on the attacking end of the court.

That Ayton moment happened right in the middle of a run by the Nuggets in the second quarter that completely changed the game’s trajectory. During this period, Denver dominated Phoenix by scoring 37 points to Phoenix’s 19.

The Suns entered Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets with a different type of defensive zeal than they had shown in the previous six games of the playoffs, during which they had been repeatedly exploited defensively. They pretended that Murray was Steph Curry right from the beginning of their relationship with him. Murray’s rhythm was disrupted in the first game due to Phoenix’s decision to match him up with a larger and more aggressive defender. In the first three-quarters of the game, he was off to a terrible start, making just one of his first ten shots, which was a significant drop from his performance in the first game.

The Suns also attempted to make it easier for the Nuggets to execute their offensive plays however they saw fit. Because the Suns were blocking their path to their specific positions on the floor, the Nuggets were running their actions a few feet away from where they would normally be. Consequently, the Nuggets were only able to score 40 points in the first half of the game. The Suns’ defensive effort in that half was their finest of the whole postseason, and it was their greatest performance overall.

They were unable to maintain this pace, which is unfortunate. The second half of Phoenix’s defensive performance was marked by a decline in the team’s physicality and effort. The Suns did not put up much of a fight against the Nuggets in the third quarter, so Denver was able to score 30 points. This sparked a game-changing run in the fourth inning, opening the floodgates for further scoring opportunities.

Late in the fourth quarter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope nailed a clutch three-point shot, which allowed his team to take a comfortable eight-point lead. This 9-2 run ended when Murray stepped back, and Jokic made a jump shot from midrange. This gave the Nuggets a double-digit lead with under two minutes remaining in the game.

During the second half of Game 2, Jokic was a destruction machine for the Suns. Most of his points (26 of 39) came in the second half, with 18 coming only in the third quarter alone. Murray got his game back on track by scoring six points and dishing out five assists in the second half. Caldwell-Pope got 11 points in the second half, including perfect shooting from beyond the arc when he made all three attempts.

At least for one half, the Suns showed that they could play an elite level of defense that is on par with that seen in the playoffs. Now, they will need to maintain the same level of performance throughout four complete games. They can no longer defend with a half-hearted effort while playing basketball anymore. They are currently at a point in the series when a sweep by the Nuggets is halfway possible.