The main concern for the Phoenix Suns title hopes after the Kevin Durant trade has been the supporting cast around the big three.
Tonight in game 1 of the start of the first round of the Playoffs, the Suns drop to the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers 115-110 at home in FootPrint Center.
There are 11 new players on the Suns going into this postseason, and many of the new guys do not have much playoff experience which could be a sign that the playoffs could be too big for the reserves off the bench.
The Suns starting unit carried the load including Torrey Craig (22pts) who started the game over Josh Okogie, and it must have been a matchup situation for Head Coach Monty Williams.
The bench for the Suns is probably the weakest of all the teams in the Western Conference, and this Clippers team is surely one of the deepest squads with guys that can fill up the scoreboard from the three-point line and defend.
When the Suns starting unit was in the game it was close, when the reserves entered the game the Clippers went ahead by as many as 16 points and looked like a mismatch of benches.
There is no question that the Suns have the best starting five, but in a physical series and against a high-power shooting team like the Clippers, the bench will be paramount to getting out of the first round.
The Suns bench scored 10 points on a total of 3 0f 12 from the field and not one three-pointer from guys that are known for timely threes.
It’s very ironic how Suns management always seem to not make the right move at the trade deadline every year and it always comes back to haunt them in the postseason.
This time it was having the chance to add shooter Eric Gordon, who was a big key addition to the Clippers unit, he was a problem to handle from start to finish on both ends of the ball scoring 19 points. He has been so good that instead of a role player, he has become the starting shooting guard and player 30 plus minutes per game.
The Suns reserve highest minute output was 23 minutes from Landry Shamet, in which he had barely an impact on the game resulting in a -14 and not one three-point basket from a guy known for filling it up from downtown.
The rest of the reserves were a mystery as far as minutes distribution, as Monty subbed guys in and out and not one guy gave him the confidence to keep them in there more than 3 minutes at a time before bringing a starter back in the game.
Kevin Durant play 44 minutes and has 27 points and wasn’t as sharp to start the game, this was due to the very physical play of the Clippers guys guarding him including his former teammate Russell Westbrook.
They pushed Kevin and the Suns around the first quarter and also Zubac in the paint against a (lost at times) Deandre Ayton who could not find a way to get his body on a block out of the Clippers big man.
Playoff games have moments where the level of competition gets so high and intense that it can cause scoring droughts throughout the course of the game, and the Suns are known this year for scoring lulls.
At one point at the end of the first quarter going into the second, the Suns were on a 6-minute stretch where they just could not score a basket and had missed 15 of 22 shots at one point that lead the Clippers to run out to a 16-point lead.
The scoring drought should not be that long in a playoff game, work that the starters built.
Guys off the bench, Shamet, Okogie, Wainright, Ross, and the two big guys Biombo and Landale at times all showed the Playoff moment just may be a little too big for them to handle.
This points the finger at Head Coach Monty Williams, who seems to think he has time to figure out his rotations during this playoff run, Coach played 11 guys in this game, and usually, by then the Playoffs rotation drops to about nine guys.
The most alarming part is that he chose not to play the guys off the bench that had some playoff experience and have performed well in those moments.
Damion Lee was a key contributor on a Championship team the Golden State Warriors and he gets no chance to come in a drop timely threes as this team needed desperately last night.
Then there is T.J Warren who had a very good showing in the bubble playoffs and can still get his own shot when needed, if you were going to continue to experiment with the rotation at least play all the guys available to find out who can withstand the pressure of making big shots in the playoffs.
There was a moment late in the third quarter when the Suns Starters came back and went on a 15-0 run and took the lead by 9 points, and the ball moved around having the Clippers scrambling, the big dagger three that could have extended the lead was given to a wide open Ish Wainright and that shot had no chance of going in.
Devin Booker has not been the sharp shooting mid-range assassin he is known to be but played a very good defensive game in his matchup where he was one-on-one most of the night.
But he took advantage of that by driving to the rim on the offensive end, but the referee obstacle continues to test this team’s resolve, and the calls just continue to somehow go against the Suns.
Another area where the reserves have not done their part, that is the foul department, the Suns committed 25 fouls and of that, 20 were from their starters which says that they were in the game longer than they should have and also that the reserves were not physical enough.
Speaking of physical, the Clippers outrebounded the Suns on the offensive boards alone 14-6 and that is where they truly lost the game apart from the reserve’s poor performance.
Timely offensive rebounds by guards are a no-no if you are a Sun’s big man in the paint, it’s one thing to lose a rebound to a big, but when guards outrebound on the offensive end that is a sign of a lack of physicality.
Ayton has to play bigger and more physical in the paint simple as that, in terms of his activity and anticipation and inviting contact, and not shy away from it.
The fadeaway shot is Deandre’s favorite shot to go to, and at times it becomes very predictable to the defense, the Playoffs require him to go to the body of his man and either draw a foul or get a three-point opportunity at the line.
There were times in last night’s game where the playoff moment required physicality in the paint, and Ayton had a chance to grab a rebound (which he did) and go straight up strong and draw a foul, but hesitated with the pump fake to make sure no contact was around then he went up for a shot.
Immediately you can see Devin Booker demonstrate to Ayton saying in a motion that said “just go straight up” and the big man shook his head in agreement.
The Playoffs are physical and will only get more physical as the games go on, the Phoenix Suns need to get more physical, and not in terms of fighting to foul, but in terms of playing through contact and also dishing out some.
Game two is right around the corner and the Suns have to get a bigger contribution from their bench, the starters are going to play heavy minutes, but they will not be able to keep up this pace and make it to the Championship without the aid from the bench.
The bench has to be a strong point for a title, and the time to figure it out has come and gone, it’s time for the Suns staff to simply go with experience and live or die with the guys that the big lights do not affect them at all.
Let’s be real, the Suns are the better team in this series, and if they had gotten any bigger contribution from their bench they would have won that game having not seen the greatest of performances from their big 3 stars.
Although Damion Lee and TJ warren may be defensive liabilities at times, they bring more scoring punch when it’s time to rest Durant and Booker, and it also will help to get Cam Payne back to alleviate some of the work load from an older Chris Paul.
If those things can get fixed, I can see the Suns still winning this series in 6 games.