Phoenix Suns have to Start Winning this Quarter to Beat the Mavericks

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

The 2021-22 Phoenix Suns were the league’s best team, by far, at the conclusion of the NBA’s 75th regular season. There were many examples and reasons as to why they were both dominant and able to consistently sustain such dominance across the league, regardless of their opponent.

One key point being the versatility they have in methods of dictating games.

Phoenix dictates in a multitude of ways, on both ends of the floor, using the sum of their parts in unison as well as key skillsets from specific entities of the machine that they are, to achieve the desired result any moment in a game may offer.

In a lot of ways, the Suns have evolved into master tacticians with a compilation of players adept at “time on tasking,” being ready to execute when said moments call them to action. This starts at the top with Head Coach and newly announced Coach of the Year, Monty Williams. Then, adjacent to him in this mentality are Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

The latter of the three received plenty of recognition for his assertiveness from tip-off in scoring and applying pressure. Doing so in ways unique to him, Booker often puts the Suns in the driver’s seat of games, subsequently dictating tempo and flow.

Book finished second in points scored per first quarter this season with 9.3 points per period, with efficient .493/.389/.872 shooting splits, as the key cog in Phoenix’s early exploits.

As a team, the Suns averaged a healthy 29.1 points per first (8th). They did so, collectively, shooting 49.1 percent from the field (2nd) and amassing 2.2 steals (5th), effectively rendering quarter ones as one of the most apt barometers in gauging the Suns level of play in any given game.

They did so oftentimes stringing together stops defensively in a sustained manner, causing deflections along with aforementioned steals, which then allowed them to seamlessly flow into play offensively.

That flow came in the form of transition baskets between Mikal Bridges and Booker, semi-transition empty corner actions, flow into their multitude of pick-and-roll or dribble-handoff play, as well as hit-a heads up the sideline for triples or generating rim pressure. It also included early seals from the likes of Deandre Ayton and Bridges in rim-running.

Each of these entities enables the Suns to dictate pace, generate their flow, and establish their personal rhythm while imposing themselves on the opposition right out the gate.

As the playoff series shifted to Dallas, we saw the Suns struggle to dictate out the gate.

Devin Booker’s playoff-leading exploits (averaging 9.7 points, most amongst players remaining) were stalled in Game 3, though they returned in Game 2. Deandre Ayton, who’d established a new dynamic for himself in Booker’s first round absence in early assertiveness (7.5 points per first, 4th among players remaining), saw rather pedestrian returns in both opening frames. Then, Chris Paul’s typical feel was thwarted by uncharacteristic turnovers as well as foul trouble.

Even more, each of these entities also spilled over to the defensive end. The Suns allowed just 26.9 points in opening quarters in the regular season, ranking 5th in the league with a 4th ranked +2.2 to show for it.

These playoffs, prior to being blitzed for 29 in Game3 and 37 in Game 4, the Suns were 6-2 in first quarters, second among remaining teams with a +4 mark, and allowed just 25.1 per which is 4th among remaining teams.

They presently allow 26.7 per first, and are now a +1.1 there for the playoffs.

Of note: the last two opening frames, the Suns lost the turnover battle, and even went without forcing any turnovers in Game 3. The winner of the first quarter of each game this series has gone on to win each game so far, and in alignment with that, each home team won both each opening frame and game.

The Suns have to get back to doing the little things individually, that snowball collectively into their early dominance of setting a tone. No individual can be singled out for the team’s lacking attention to detail early on in each of the past two games, as this team is much more of a machine than going for the “low-hanging fruit” and blaming it solely on one person.

So specifically, at the helm, I’m expecting the early touch and feel Paul has shown his entire career in floor generalship, in tandem with Booker’s early scoring pyrotechnics, Ayton’s new-found affinity for first quarter staking in the paint, and the Suns’ overall level of pride and competitive fever on the defensive end to look a whole lot more like the team we’ve grown accustomed to in Game 5, in front of the home crowd.

The Suns were 47-3 when leading after first quarters this season, including a 24-1 record when leading after the first at home. These playoffs, through 10 games, they’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter and 1-0 when tied. They’re also 1-4 when in games where they don’t win there.

The Suns have shown all season that they can win in a multitude of ways, but maybe their most surefire route in doing so suggests that they must get back to their early exploits—dictating and establishing dominance from the tip-off and putting themselves in the drives.

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That must be done on both ends, allowing each side of the court to play off of one another, in that perfect harmony of flow that they establish when doing so.