How the Suns can keep the momentum going.

May 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams during second half against the Denver Nuggets during game two of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams during second half against the Denver Nuggets during game two of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Suns began the arduous task of clawing themselves out of an 0-2 hole by winning game 3 on Friday night.  After the Suns’ sieve-like defense cost them game 1, they’ve strung together much better efforts to keep the Nuggets’ offense in check. Similarly, their non-existent offense came around as the bench finally woke up in a complete team effort to take game 3. They now head into a pivotal game 4 in Phoenix with a much better idea of how to play this Nuggets team.

After Jamal Murray and the rest of Denver’s supporting cast torched the Suns’ defense in game 1, Phoenix adjusted to take away those secondary options. They left Deandre Ayton, Bismack Biyombo, and Jock Landale to guard Nikola Jokic one-on-one with no help while staying connected to the other Nuggets.

Phoenix’s defense gives the Suns a chance

This plan has worked as intended in limiting Jokic’s teammates, as almost all of them have struggled to get going from 3. In game 1, the Nuggets had 33 open and wide-open attempts from deep, but with the Suns defenders staying home in game 2, that number dropped to 23.

The Suns stayed with this game plan in game 3, holding the Nuggets to only 26 of those attempts, but that supporting cast, especially Murray, was still able to have a huge game. Much of this is due to the decrease in the minutes of Josh Okogie and Torrey Craig. They’re two of the best defensive players on the team, and while going for more offensive-heavy lineups was the correct move, their defense was sorely missed.

Landry Shamet hadn’t played in that game 2 but was back playing big minutes on Friday. He didn’t provide the Suns with anything on either side of the ball and finished with a team-low -10 +/- to reflect that. Murray especially went right after Shamet when he was in the game, just as he did in game 1. There’s no reason for Shamet to take away minutes from the best defensive players on the team if he’s not making shots.

On the offensive end, the Suns surged back for their best performance of the series. Kevin Durant played significantly better than he had been, and the Suns’ much-maligned bench gave them a big boost after scoring only 4 points in game 2; Phoenix got 22 bench points in game 3.

Has Williams found something with the Suns’ spacing?

Monty Williams has been throwing players and lineups at the wall to see what sticks and finally found something with TJ Warren and Terrence Ross. Until now, he has been reluctant to use either of them in the playoffs, almost assuredly because of their deficiencies on the defensive end. But with nowhere left to turn, his hand was forced. They delivered in a big way, especially Warren, who closed the game and hit numerous big shots.

As importantly, they both held up remarkably well on the defensive end, and I think that goes back to the defensive game plan the Suns are using in this series. Since the Suns are doing less helping on Jokic, their players are not in rotation nearly as much, which is where Warren and Ross have struggled the most. If they can stay home on the perimeter, their life becomes much easier on defense, and playing them becomes much more tenable.

Warren and Ross have earned bigger roles as we advance, and Monty should continue to call on them. His constantly cycling through bench players has been part of why the unit has played so poorly this postseason, as it’s been hard for anyone to get into a groove.

The biggest change on offense might’ve been the pace that Phoenix played in game 3. With CP3 out due to injury, Cam Payne and the other Suns pushed the ball in transition much more without their floor general to set the offense. The Suns’ pace skyrocketed from a snail-like 95.25 to 102.50. For reference, the slowest pace in the league this year was the Cavs at 96.27, while the fastest was the Warriors’ 102.54.

Payne playing faster is a great way to get a stagnant offense going, especially against a slower Denver team. Expect the Suns to keep playing fast as long as Paul is out, and it might be a good way to change things up when he can return.

The Suns quickly fixed their defensive issues following game 1 of the series. They responded just as well on offense after game 2. If they can stay disciplined in their game plan on both ends of the floor, they can get right back in this thing and even the series at two.

Next. Booker was historically brilliant in Game 3 win. dark