The Phoenix Suns survived a must-win game 3 at home at Footprint Center, and the game took on a different look than what we have seen so far in these Playoffs.
Head Coach Monty Williams dug into his bag of adjustments and pulled out Jock Landale, TJ Warren, and Terrence Ross to come off the bench in game 3.
The Phoenix bench finally produced enough to allow the superstars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to hold down the scoring and draw attention with multiple double teams.
The point guard position was not much of an adjustment as much as it was a necessity, as Cam Payne has always played behind Chris Paul as his backup and has played very well as a starter when Paul is out injured.
The Suns were able to keep up a fast pace and force the Denver Nuggets to catch them and match up in transition after misses and makes.
The Suns outscored the Nuggets in the fast break department 23-11 and that was mostly because of Payne pushing the pace at warp speed.
Jock Landale was the story of the night as he stood in and battled Nikola Jokic head-to-head and made things a bit difficult for him, he didn’t stop the Joker but he did make him work for the points he scored on him.
On the other hand, Deandre Ayton got out of his game when he picked up his 2nd foul that seemed like a cheap fantom foul against the Joker in the paint, after that he played a very passive style that most of the Phoenix faithful are so much used to seeing.
The Center was supposed to be the X-factor in this series and has yet to show up for the party, after carefully watching the tape it is clear that Ayton doesn’t want to get embarrassed by the Joker and is playing him with a “too much respect” approach, while Landale is playing like his hair is on fire and challenging everything in and out of the paint.
We have said it before, Ayton scoring the Basketball is not the problem, nor is his overall skill set, the problem this guy is having is thinking in his head that he is playing harder than anyone else on the court.
Ayton was asked early in a press conference at practice about a play that show him pretty much watching Joker tip the ball to himself several times eventually Durant got the rebound, and Deandre said “ I don’t know what you want me to do right there” in other words it was nothing he could have done.
There was a lot he could have done in that situation, starting with jumping to get the ball yourself, or box out and allowing teammates to rebound, simply trying and block the shot attempts, or finally just selling all out and hustling to get that possession for your team.
Deandre appears as if he is playing the game in quicksand, his anticipation skills are lacking as he waits until the action is placed in his lap, instead of going into the fire and bringing the fight to the opponent.
Jock is under-sized and not as athletic but he makes up for all of that with heart and desire to compete, and Deandre just thinks he is competing at the highest level.
Late in the fourth quarter Ayton was pulled by coach Williams, and it was an impressive move from a coach who is always loyal to his starters, but knowing how important this game was, had to make the change to the guy that was in there to fight for every inch of the paint (Landale).
The Suns got the 121-114 win as they lost their momentum every time Deandre Entered the game, the Nuggets began to get easier inside drives to the rim and the Joker got easy tips and buckets.
TJ Warren had the most important 5 points of his tenure as part of the Suns, as he made a big 3 from the corner and a floater that kept the Suns in the lead while Booker and Durant were being doubled.
The first time Booker threw the ball in the corner TJ missed the first attempt, and Booker came right back to him with trust and TJ knocked it down with confidence.
Going forward this could be the recipe that will give the Nuggets much to think about, and perhaps Monty will stay with what is working and play Landale more along with Warren and Ross.
Landrie Shamet was on the court for close to 25 minutes and was not a factor from the offensive side of the ball, but was a major catalyst on h defensive side of the ball and I believe that is the reason Monty continued to go to Shamet.
Shamet made Murray work hard for his points and although he scored 32 points, it was not enough to change the outcome of the game.
It was again refreshing to see Monty coach for X’s and O’s rather than loyalty, and it paid off for his team down the stretch.
Devin Booker was the main reason the Suns are back in this series, as he scored 47 points on a whopping 20 of 25 shooting night which is unheard of when it comes to shooting the basketball.
Kevin Durant had a quiet 39 points and 9 rebounds and also went to the free throw line 16 times making 14, and he was the only Suns player the entire game to make it to the free throw line except when Booker went in the last few fouling seconds of the game to put it away.
Things are looking good for game 4 if the Suns can bring the same game plan, but add a little more scoring from the bench because it no way that Booker is going to shoot that 80% from the field again.
Too much responsibility is on Booker and Durant to score and defend, so someone else has to dominate their match up and one would think someone with the name “DominAyton” would be the one to take on the load and relish in that role.
Ayton needs to get an aggressive mindset to everything he does on the court, and not just pick his spots when its comfortable for him.
On tape, Ayton appears to be afraid.
I don’t know if it’s afraid to fail, or afraid of the opponent embarrassing him, or maybe afraid to take hard contact and getting hurt, whatever it is, it’s very evident that he is intimidated by something that makes him hesitate and not know what to do when the ball comes his way.
Fear brings anxiety, and anxiety makes one very uneasy about themselves and things going on around them, and this is how Ayton looks on the court in this series.
The only way to get rid of this passive attitude is to play as hard as you can on every possession, taking no time off to stand around and watch, but to anticipate and react and just simply go for everything coming off the rim on the boards and attack the trim on offense as if it had the next money bag hanging from it.