After a slow start, the Suns were able to claw their way back against the second-best team in the East despite a 47-point performance from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Devin Booker (30) and Chris Paul (28) combined for 58 points to lead a second-half charge.
The beginning of the game looked like a typical Bucks win, with the conference favorite being in control for seemingly all 24 minutes.
However, after a few halftime adjustments, the Phoenix Suns took over the game with some smooth shooting and improved interior play.
Much of their first-half struggles came on the defensive end, allowing the bucks to shoot 54.2% from 3-point range in the opening two quarters, and committing seven turnovers that let the Bucks to jump out to a 70-59 lead at the half. Late in the third quarter, however, the Suns high-powered offense came alive, cutting the lead to just three at the end of the third following back to back 3s by Devin Booker and Cam Johnson.
They quickly took the lead at the start of the fourth, and barely looked back, able to hold off a late-game push by the Bucks. Although it was a great team win, there were clear holes in the initial game plan, saved by a strong second half from Phoenix’s backcourt stars.
While only one game in the season does not prove the Suns abilities or flaws, it presented a few major takeaways:
The Suns perimeter defense must improve.
If the Suns want to continue to be a legitimate playoff contender, they have to fix the holes in their perimeter defense that plagued the team during the first half. In an era that favors outside shooting, the Suns cannot allow a team to shoot higher than 50% from 3 on a consistent basis.
This allowed Bryn Forbes, a lower-level rotation player, to erupt for 14 points in the first half alone while starting in place of Jrue Holiday.
Deandre Ayton cannot commit useless fouls.
After a decent first half, Deandre Ayton struggled in the third quarter on defense, reaching a quick four fouls and allowing Giannis to seemingly live at the free-throw line.
With slightly undersized frontcourt depth, the Suns relied on Frank Kaminsky and Jae Crowder to take over the paint for Ayton.
Luckily for the Suns, Jae Crowder corralled 14 rebounds, and Kaminsky was able to put up a solid 14 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists to make up for Ayton’s foul trouble.
The Suns are going to need this type of support and depth for the playoffs when foul trouble could result in the end of a season.
The Suns are a legitimate contender.
Chris Paul’s and Devin Booker’s ability to will their team to come back against an established NBA team with a reigning back-to back MVP proves the Suns’ abilities to overcome adversity and finish games strong.
They continued their win streak with a true test, and were able to push through early struggles and adjust get back into the game.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that Monty Williams has taken a massive step forward in these past eight games, finally finding ways to win against very well-organized teams.
Again, one regular season game does not mean the Suns are instantly a Western Conference favorite, and it’s hard to tell if they will continue their superb play moving forward. However, it shows huge improvement, as the team continues to get accustomed to playing with one another.
Games like this help solidify the Suns’ position as a legitimate team in the West, and a scary team to potentially face in the playoffs.