Vol.2, Iss.22: The 'We're In Good Shape' Encore
Back in February, the Suns backcourt clicked for the first time against the Bucks. Let's take a look at how Game 1 of the NBA Finals felt like déjà vu.
One Down, Three To Go…..
I feel like I’ve said this a lot lately so forgive me, but I did NOT expect to back again this soon. However, my mantra with this Newsletter has always been to send you something when I felt compelled to write it. And to not force it when it isn’t there. It’s fair to say this Suns team is making sure that it’s always there right now. Thanks for continuing to read, listen, like, comment, retweet, quote tweet & share!
Can We Get An Encore…..
About THAT mantra.
When Devin Booker throws you a lob like this, you definitely feel compelled to slam it down. Even if it costs you a few hours sleep. Please bear with me here & let me explain.
February 10th, 2021 - Game #24 Of The Regular Season - PHX 125 - 124 MIL
For the first time ever, Booker & Chris Paul had just scored 25+ points each as the Suns eked out a victory over the Bucks. The win felt important. Not because it took Phoenix to a 15-9 record or a 4 game winning streak. But purely down to the fact that it felt like the first time that Book & CP3 had managed to dominate a game together.
The two combined for 58 points, 9 rebounds, 10 assists & shot 21 of 41 from the field.
Naturally, I chose to document it in Vol.2, Iss.7.
And why was that Issue titled ‘We’re In Good Shape’? Well, when Booker was asked what he was thinking when Giannis had the last look from mid-range to win the game - he answered “We’re In Good Shape” with a dead serious look on his face.
Now, let’s fast forward all the way to the NBA Finals in Phoenix.
July 6th, 2021 - Game #1 Of The NBA Finals - PHX 118 - 105 MIL
Phoenix takes a 1-0 series lead, on the back of Booker & Paul scoring exactly 50% of the Suns points.
This time, the duo had 59 points, 6 rebounds, 15 assists & shot 20 of 40 from the field.
But why call this the encore? Again, let me take you to Book’s post game interview after Game 1. This time he was asked what kind of confidence the team gets when Chris is rolling from mid-range the way he was. Book gave a typical thoughtful answer before again ending with those 4 magic words - “We’re In Good Shape”. This time though, D-Book had a cheeky look on his face directly afterwards. Almost as if he knew what he'd just said.
So that’s why we are here but it doesn’t end there.
If you read that previous Issue, you will recognise the format below. If you haven’t, perhaps go take a look before you continue on. Because I am about to show you that it’s not solely about a funny call back to a Devin Booker quote. The similarities certainly don’t stop there.
Let’s take a look at how two games in February & July followed the same blueprint.
Q1 - Establish Book & Ayton Early
Last time I wrote about how the first term was all about establishing Booker in a rhythm & how Deandre Ayton was often the extra beneficiary of a lot of what Phoenix run. It should therefore be no surprise that this time around, Booker & Ayton scored 18 points between them while Paul had zero.
We start with an early look at Milwaukee switching the Pick & Roll. Ayton slips his screen & immediately seals Tucker in the paint with his enormous frame. Watch as CP3 threads him the ball & then makes fun of PJs stature versus DA.
Next up, we heard post game that Willie Green challenged Paul to cross the halfway line before the 20 second mark on the shot clock. Why? Cause when you push ahead to Book, there’s an inviting lane waiting for him to get to the rim.
Phoenix start with a Horns set here & Book flies off a butt-screen from Jae Crowder. Holiday tries to go under the screen but runs directly into Ayton, as Lopez switches out on Book. As Book backs up, DA just has to dive down the lane to catch the lob.
D-Book then becomes chief initiator when CP3 heads to the bench. Look where Book is on the floor, ball in hands, with 20 seconds still on the clock. A beautiful lefty feed to Cam Johnson in the corner, followed by a push & trail assist to Cam Payne.
Q2 - Hit Them With The 1-2 Combo
The second term is where the stagger really starts to have an impact. Paul gets a little run with the bench unit, where he can start to look for his own shot. Then when Booker returns to the floor, the looks get even easier for CP3. Paul added 11 points of his own as he started to heat up, with Book & DA scoring 4 apiece.
After Paul abused a few Bucks bigs on the switch earlier, Book decided it was his turn. Watch as Booker directs Johnson to go from side to side, which allows Paul to sink down into the near corner. It was possibly my favourite moment of the whole game because it essentially took 2 Milwaukee help defenders out of the play & left Lopez on an island by himself. Then there’s the immaculate kiss off the glass.
A deer in the headlights once again, but Book attacks Brook for the benefit of others this time. One dribble at Lopez’s front leg, cross back through the legs & splices through the lane. Holiday manages to help & recover. Giannis on the other hand.
Here comes the Chris Paul barrage. The Suns run a double screen on the ball to confuse Milwaukee’s plans of when to switch. Holiday pinballs out to blitz Paul but leaves Lopez all on his lonesome when Ayton rolls down the lane. No chance!
Q3 - The Third Is Reserved For CP3
Back in February I reserved Q3 for CP3, despite Booker outscoring him by 2 points in the term in that game. The reason why? Paul played 5 fewer minutes & added 2 more assists than Book. Fast forward to last night (or is it rewind?) & while some things changed, some certainly stayed the same. Paul played 3 less minutes than Booker but outscored him 16 points to 6. There was zero doubt this time, it was QCP3.
Let’s get to the real fun, shall we? CP3 was on a big Bucks hunting tour throughout the penultimate quarter. Whether it was more Lopez, some Bobby Portis or even Tucker - it just didn’t matter. Nor did it matter if it was from 2 or 3. Kill shots all over the court.
When the Bucks weren’t switching, they went back into their deep drop coverage. But with Paul in a mood like THIS one, it was just more bloodshed. The chemistry between CP & DA has come so far. Watch as Ayton is right there the moment Paul makes his move. And even better, he picks up the reward for effort.
By this stage of the quarter, Paul was calling whoever he wanted to set the screen & taking no prisoners. The moment he backs up, poor Bobby is toast. Two shooters to the left, one to the right & Ayton in the dunker spot. Also known as, “you’re on your own Bob!”. Another lesson for Portis - you reach, CP teach.
A neat hand off by the Suns here to further hunt the Bucks poor defensive communication. Portis switches out, even though it doesn’t look like Holiday wanted to. Tucker & Holiday scram switch on Ayton at least, allowing Jrue to help out on the Booker drive. Problem is, you left the red hot Point God alone in the corner!
Q4 - Finding The Perfect Balance
Time to land the plane. Despite some slight turbulence, the Suns brought this one to a soft landing. With Ayton in tow, Phoenix’s star backcourt once again found the perfect balance of attacking versus deferring. Paul (5), Booker (5) & Ayton (4) scored 14 of the Suns final 26 points. With Cam Payne (7), Cam Johnson (4) & Crowder (1) contributing the rest.
Something a bit different to end the final quarter with here. Instead of a GIF, we have the ‘Game 1 - My Play Of the Game’ video on Twitter. No words necessary. Just right click, select open in new tab & turn your volume up to follow along.
Welcome back! Late in the 4th was D-Book’s turn to abuse the weakest link in the Bucks defensive chain. Another switch & Book waltzes to one of his money spots. Apparently Bryn Forbes is 6’2, which seems generous. Either way, doesn’t matter.
Nothing quite compares to Chris Paul seeing an opposition big in the middle of the open floor & deciding he’s going to draw a foul. A vintage CP3 crossover straight into ripping the handbrake up & wearing Giannis like a backpack down the lane.
Down 13, the Bucks decide to go with Giannis at C & abort the switch scheme. Well, at least Jrue decided that. Not sure about Giannis. Either way, Paul wasn’t about to let the Bucks stumble into some confidence heading into Game 2. Beautiful feed to the rolling Ayton & a perfect ending to a helluva night from CP3 + the young star duo.
Now to end, let’s talk about #TheFullStagger.
Making sure one of Booker & Paul are on the court at all times is something I spoke about all season long. It was actually in the 1st edition of ‘We’re In Good Shape’ where I wrote about the Suns flashing the blueprint of how they were going to play in the Playoffs. Phoenix went on to carry a 10-3 record during the Regular Season with #TheFullStagger lineup.
In the Playoffs, they are now 6-1 with it. Including a win in Game 1 of the Finals.
Last night, the minute allocation followed a trend I’ve been tracking while the Suns have been experimenting with different options. The Booker & Paul minutes together went up to 31, with Booker on his own for 11 & Paul going solo for just 6.
Whilst the early February flash was just a sign of things to come. After watching what the Suns did to the Bucks to open their quest for an elusive NBA title, it feels like we’ve now come full circle.
‘Suns in 4’ might be the catch-cry for fans right now. But I might remember these Suns in 4 magic words for much longer - ‘We’re In Good Shape’.
If you want to watch everything again with sound & no breaks…..
Rushed this one out for you, so not a heap of other content to share. Here’s a quick roundup of post Game One things I’ve seen + two quick little plugs for myself: