Vol.2, Iss.23: Suns In Threes
The Phoenix Suns can beat you in numerous ways. A look at how Game 1 forced a different defensive look in Game 2 but a similar result.
Apologies In Advance…..
If you recently subscribed & weren’t expecting this many emails in your inbox, I am sorry. Truth is, I wasn’t really either. But who knows how much longer this dream NBA Finals run will continue for the Suns? I can promise you one thing though, I’ll be taking a decent break once it is all said & done. So for now, enjoy the flurry of content.
Letting It Fly…..
The wider NBA world is slowly learning that the Phoenix Suns are the epitome of a read & react basketball team.
From possession to possession, game to game, series to series - these Suns download the data in real time & move onto the next phase of their plan before you even realise what’s happening. Definitely before the defense can adjust.
Today, we are going to talk about threes.
During the Regular Season, Phoenix attempted 34.6 shots from deep and made 13.1 of them. The Suns were middle of the road for total attempts during the season, ranking 15th. However, they ranked 4th in the NBA for generating corner threes with 4.2 makes from 9.6 takes. A staple of their offense, where the likes of Mikal Bridges (44.6%), Jae Crowder (41.6%) & Cam Johnson (42.5%) can capitalise on the attention the head of the snake garners.
But these Suns can beat you in a variety of ways. Just ask their Playoff opponents to date. The Lakers hounded the Suns guards, kept them to below average from deep but lost the battle inside. The Nuggets also kept the Suns below their normal three averages but only because they gave Chris Paul & Devin Booker anything they wanted inside the arc. And the Clippers did the best job of any team thus far, where their switch defense really took away the deep ball for the Suns. Yet, they still lost too.
Reg Season: 13.1 3PM / 34.6 3PA / 4.2 C3PM / 9.6 C3PA
Vs Lakers: 11.7 3PM / 32.5 3PA / 4.2 C3PM / 8.6 C3PA
Vs Nuggets: 12.8 3PM / 30.0 3PA / 3.6 C3PM / 9.0 C3PA
Vs Clippers: 9.8 3PM / 27.8 3PA / 3.0 C3PM / 7.5 C3PA
Enter - the Milwaukee Bucks.
In just 2 games, they’ve found out the hard way. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Bucks did a great job limiting threes. Phoenix went 11 of 34 from deep & only made 3 of 5 shots from the corners. The Bucks lost. In Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Bucks did NOT do a great job limiting threes. Phoenix went 20 of 40 from deep & made 10 of 17 from the corners. The Bucks lost.
Game 1 Impacting Game 2
Despite taking away the three in Game 1, Milwaukee died a slow death at the hands of the snake I referenced above. This snake has two heads - Book & CP3 - who slithered their way to any shot they wanted inside the arc during the opening bout. Combined, Booker & Paul shot 60% from 2 point range on 25 shots.
So how did the results of the 1st game impact the Bucks game plan for the next game? Let’s take a look.
Book Operating Out Of Pick & Roll
Game 1 - Okay starting with a non corner 3 is not quite on brand but stay with me. The Bucks sit Lopez in a deep drop & as Booker navigates around Deandre Ayton’s screen, he has a clear runway to one of his favourite spots. You can see that PJ Tucker is reluctant to help, so with Holiday struggling to recover Book can rise up with ease.
Game 2 - Booker turns the corner & automatically you can see Lopez is sitting higher in his drop coverage. Giannis is also helping off Crowder to contain the drive, so Book goes straight at him. Jae gets a great look early, thanks to the trust from the Suns SG.
Book Pushing In Transition
Game 1 - Book draws 3 bodies in transition but with Mikal headed to the corner, Middleton seems to stunt & recover. Khris doesn’t want to leave the corner open, likely as they’d discussed. The result? Book shimmies his way to the hoop.
Game 2 - Book has a head of steam again. This time Middleton tries to blitz Book, despite Mikal sitting in the corner again. Hmmmm seems like a change to me! Book trusts his teammate once again & Bridges knocks it down.
Book Hunting In Isolation
Game 1 - We’ve seen Phoenix use the Bucks switch defense against them so far, most notably backing up in isolation when one of their guards gets a favourable matchup. Watch here as Book goes at Forbes & once again, Middleton refuses to dig in from the corner to give any help at all. Swish!
Game 2 - This time Book attacks Connaughton from the top of the key. Once again, the corner defender leaves their man to try interrupt Book from rising up. It works but Tucker has left Crowder all alone to do so. More trust, more reward.
Payne Attacking The Switch
Game 1 - Cam Payne attacks a lazy Bucks switch here by getting directly into the paint. Giannis is reluctant to leave a below average shooter in Craig in the corner. So although Cam is a below average finisher at the rim, the lack of rim protection shows.
Game 2 - The Bucks switch Giannis onto Payne this time. He’s confident but he’s not stupid. So instead of attacking, the Suns roll directly into another Pick & Roll. Milwaukee choose to blitz with 2 bigs this time, Ayton rolls & Cam P finds Cam J.
Paul Playing Off Ball
Game 1 - Book attacks in isolation again, this time on a true big. Middleton shows to the right, which forces Book left on the drive. Jrue helps at the nail, which gives Book a regulation read to Paul - who knocks it down from deep.
Game 2 - These days, Tucker is basically a big. So similar scenario. Booker is always watching & here he notices some confusion within the Bucks defense. An early kick to Paul & Holiday panics into a hard close out. Seems he remembers last game. Middleton also remembers last game & doesn't want CP3 stepping into an uncontested middy. All it takes is one step & Paul hits Mikal again in his favourite corner.
Paul Manipulating The Defense
Game 1 - We started with a non-corner three, so it’s only right we bookend one on the other end. Paul was at his manipulating best in the first game & I covered this play in my last Issue. CP3 took advantage of Holiday pressing him & no big sitting in drop.
Game 2 - Now we have Lopez sitting in drop instead of Giannis guarding Ayton. No doubt Jrue has bad memories of letting Paul stroll to the paint last game too, so he chooses to go under the screen which will then allow Lopez to recover to Ayton. Problem is, Paul doesn't miss a thing. And he wasn’t missing this 3 either.
Bonus - Soul Crushers!
How did the Suns generate the rest of their corner threes? Well, a couple came on the back of offensive rebounds. Or soul crushers as I like to call them. And guess what? The Suns managed just 6 offensive rebounds in Game 1. Game 2? 11.
Bonus - Touch The Paint!
Another key difference between the first 2 games was the Suns willingness to get into the paint & move the ball. They had 54 drives in Game 2 compared to just 36 in Game 1. They also had 268 passes for 26 assists in the second win, surpassing 260 passes for 18 assists in the first.
Appreciating Devin Booker
Devin Booker went 7 of 12 from deep in this one, after going a measly 1 of 8 in the first. Perhaps my favourite Book trait, is his ability to look at how he is being defended & adjust. That is without doubt even more evident in the Playoffs, going up against the same defensive schemes night after night.
I wanted to highlight the out of the box night he had pulling up from deep. Book has taken his pull-up efficiency from 30.8% during the Regular Season to 33.3% in the Playoffs. And when a team is switching, there is no better skill to master.
We first see it here in Game 2, when the Bucks are happy to switch the much smaller Teague onto Book.
Then again here, where Book has the opposite mismatch now but creates a very similar opportunity for the same result.
This time, the Bucks miscommunicate on whether they want to switch. Often a result of previous plays like the above. Book recognises the extra inch of space. Bang!
And finally, if you throw Book at a switch defense as a screener with Paul on the ball then it creates even more chaos. Here he gets a much more comfortable catch & shoot opportunity.
Looking Forward To Win 3
I’ll keep this brief but I just wanted to touch quickly on what this all means for getting win number 3. Here’s how I think the Bucks will feel right now. We cut off the corners in Game 1 and still lost. Then we focused more on taking away the midrange and the corners opened right up. Lost again. What can we possibly do?
The answer I feel they might come to is to continue to pressure the ball handler with more aggressive Pick & Roll coverage AND to stay with the shooters. Why haven't they done that already, you ask? The answer is Deandre Ayton.
The Bucks have limited Ayton to just 12 buckets through 2 games so far. But it might be time for them to challenge DA to beat them. It might be all they have at this point, even if it’s not an overly effective approach in these Playoffs - just ask the 2 Los Angeles teams.
But when they look back over the tape, the below clips might give them some hope. The big playing high, the guard fighting over the screen & everyone else staying glued to their man.
For Phoenix fans, hope sits in the comfort that Ayton hasn’t played 2 bad games in a row for quite some time. I’d expect the Suns to capitalise on what they have done all season. This team just takes whatever you want to give them.
If you want to watch all 20 of the Suns threes with sound & no breaks…..
Short & sweet. Here’s some other recent content from me: