Stephen’s Study: Suns lose touch with the little things, come up short vs Dallas

Jan 27, 2023 - 10:00 PM
NBA: Dallas Mavericks at <a href=Phoenix Suns" src="" />
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns found themselves in a peculiar situation - matched up with a scrappy Dallas squad - where familiarity rings abundantly. Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic would exit around three minutes into the contest with a sprained ankle, which would throw the Suns initial gameplan and approach over the top rope. That would induce a period of adjustment to the Doncic-less team they were facing, pinning the Suns behind essentially the rest of the way, and eventually coming up short.

Let’s focus on some of those problems.

1.) Scheme vs Effort, Competing, Attention to Detail

I like to come into games with questions as to what the Suns would do should different as situations present themselves, based on what the opponent brings to the matchup.

My initial questions were regarding Luka Doncic, and how the Suns would blend coverages, engaging in scheme chess to keep him as off-balance as possible.

That went out the window as he sprained his ankle, and quickly directed towards Spencer Dinwiddie (36 points, 9 assists)

They’d struggle to contain the ball down the stretch of the first quarter, resulting in a 32-32 tie through the first quarter that left the Suns unraveled after a hot start.

“With Luka (Doncic) going down earlier, everyone on that team had to adjust,” said Chris Paul.

“They became reliant upon Spencer (Dinwiddie). He is aggressive nightly; I think tonight he basically had an opportunity to play even more free. Those other guys are used to catching and shooting and stuff like that. We never responded.”

They did not, and a lot of it came down to the Suns losing those scrappy efforts, as well as that feel in execution that they were operating in over the last few.

Williams would toggle multiple schemes, from a drop, to switches, switch-and-doubles, flat hedge traps, and even some zone.

To which, Monty and company were spent.

“I think it broke his rhythm a little bit. I mean, some of the shots he made were just unreal shots. The zone, the hits, like at some point, you got to sit down and put your chest on somebody and guard the ball. We can’t scheme the whole game and I thought we were in schemes all night to try and stop him when he had it going, but they scored 99 points. That’s below NBA averages and so, our lack of ability to convert, when we did get stops, wasn’t at the best level tonight.”

There were multiple instances where the Suns just lacked that desperation to win, as Williams alluded to, and a compilation of those efforts, especially down the home stretch, left the Suns playing from behind and finishing the game just short.

2.) Uncharacteristic Bench Play

The Phoenix Suns have had one of the better bench units on the season.

They’d finished many of the losses prior to the win streak as collective positives, compiling attentive and scrappy defensive efforts with opportunistic scoring and solid execution.

That was reversed last night, as none of that surfaced in a sustainable manner, and a majority of the starters were positive while almost all bench players who saw relevant minute totals were negative.

The group averages 37 points per game on the season, good for 9th in the league.

Even more, they’re +414 on the season, +8.3 on average.

Collectively the bench scored 11 points and was a -5.8.

Them being even half of how good they typically are, on either end of the floor, would’ve been enough to swing this one in the Suns favor.

This was a game that begged for them to give a semblance of the juice we’d grown accustomed to seeing from them, but they just didn’t have it.

3.) Operating against Switching Defenses

The Mavericks went with switching against the Suns, to which they initially had success.

However, along the way, they lost the process some, combined with a rash of missed “give me’s” that they typically knockdown.

Credit the Mavericks for the activity level volume of events they caused, and execution with their defense, in flattening out the Suns attack, but the Suns struggles - particularly in the second quarter where they shot 24% from the field and 2-11 from deep - were untimely at pivotal moments.

Lulls of this magnitude are hard to make up for, especially when conceding momentum and confidence to a team with a scorer like Dinwiddie at the helm.

One glaring issue, also to the credit of the Mavericks, was the way the corner three was eliminated from the Suns shot profile.

On the season, the Suns are the best corner shooting team in the NBA, at 45.% on 9.6 attempts per game, making for 10.4% of their shots (3rd highest volume in the NBA).

The Mavericks allowed the Suns just five attempts from there, opting to bank on defense in the channel of the floor to get the job done, and not helping or rotating off of the corners within their switching scheme.

The Suns would shoot just 1-5 from the corners, deprived of an area of offense they’ve been prolific from.

Tip of the cap:

· Chris Paul (22 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds) continues to string together highly effective play. He’s now at 53.3% from deep on 5.0 attempts per game over his last 9 games, averaging 17.0 points, 7.4 assists, and 1.3 steals. He’s +6.0 in his 3 games back.

· Cam Johnson (22 points, 8 rebounds) has been locked in on both ends of the floor since returning. In his four games back, he’s averaging 18.3 points on 57.1/54.2/85.7 shooting and is +3.5.

Up Next: The Suns will travel to San Antonio for a quick one-game road trip against the Spurs, set for Saturday evening.

San Antonio is 1-6 over the last two weeks, with a bottom-third offense (114.7 - 20th), and defense (130.6 - 30th).

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