While the Suns are having fun from long range, their defense is what has carried the team all year.
Over the past two games, the Phoenix Suns have drained a franchise record number of three-pointers. They set a new franchise-high with 24 threes on Saturday after tying the previous franchise-high of 22 the night before in a pair of big back-to-back wins on the road over Western Conference rivals New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Suns are now 19-10 on the season, winners of 11 of their last 13 games. These last two wins, by a combined margin of 49 points, have vaulted the Suns up the league leader charts. They now post the league’s eighth-best offense (up from 14th a week ago), 6th best defense (up from seventh) and fifth-best net rating (up from seventh).
Saturday’s 31-point win over depleted Memphis is their biggest margin of victory this year, but the whoppingest whopper of a number is that, from the fourth quarter on Friday through the first two quarters on Saturday, the Suns outscored their opponents by 60 points. Imagine tuning into a game at the start of the fourth quarter to see the Suns leading by 60?
Along the way, point god Chris Paul passed Oscar Robertson for sixth all-time in assists, but all Paul would talk about is the game:
“I’m just trying to pile up wins.”
The Suns are piling up wins all right. This is the fastest a Suns team has reached 19 wins since the height of the Seven Seconds or Less years. For reference, the young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were barely hitting middle school back then,
The Suns are now fourth in the Western Conference, one spot ahead of Monday’s opponent the Portland Trailblazers who have also been on a winning tear lately.
Saturday could have been a letdown game, much like the Washington Wizards or Detroit Pistons games earlier in the year. Memphis was missing several key players, but still had Suns-killers Ja Morant and Jonas Valenciunas in the lineup. But these improving Suns did not play down to the competition.
“I told them just play the way that we play, no matter who they have in their lineup,” coach Monty Williams said.
When the coach or any of the players were asked about the great shooting exploits, though, they all turned to defense as the reason the Suns are winning. Not their offense.
“Shooting is hard to predict, but defense travels,” Williams said.
“We are starting to find a groove. Our defense fires our offense,” backup guard Cameron Payne said.
“I think we were really good defensively,” said backup center Dario Saric. “We had amazing three point shooting night, but defensively we were there too. If you play good defensively, you get more space to run the fast breaks, get easier points.”
“Defense is what travels,” point god Chris Paul said in his media time, echoing the same exact words of his coach.
The Suns are sixth overall on defense among the 30-team league, and now are one of only three NBA teams with top-10 offense and top-10 defense at the same time.
On defense, the Suns play it safe. They don’t gamble for steals (29th in the league). They don’t sell out to block shots (27th). Both of those highlight actions can leave you vulnerable and put your teammates into a tough spot if you miss when you lunge for them.
What they do is play sound, efficient defense. After 29 games (just over 1⁄3 of the season), they are:
- 10th in opponent field goal percentage allowed
- 10th in points-in-the-paint allowed
- Seventh in contested shots
- 3rd in three point attempts allowed
- tied for first in three-point makes allowed
- Second in assists allowed
- Sixth fewest opponent steals allowed
- Second fewest opponent blocks allowed
- Sixth highest defensive rebound rate
And nearly all those numbers are even better during this 11-2 run.
Nothing glitzy or fancy. But that all adds up to making it difficult for the opponent to score, which improves the Suns chances to win games. Monty Williams and his staff have devised a scheme over his last two years to make an impact on defense without gambling too much in the process.
It helps to have Chris Paul, one of the best defensive point guards of his generation, added to a defense-minded core of Mikal Bridges, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, and Deandre Ayton, one of it’s best interior defenders. The rest of the roster focuses on defense as well.
“The coaches have sweet dreams,” Dario Saric quipped. “They get 10-15 players who are ready to play at any moment, who are ready to step up.”
Indeed, 14 different players have appeared in at least 12 of the 29 games, and that last one is Dario Saric who missed a lot of time with COVID and an ankle injury. Of those, 13 of them average at least 10 minutes of game time, meaning they aren’t just the mop-up crew.
Two of the Suns most important bench players — Cameron Payne and Dario Saric — missed a lot of time this year but are now back to healthy and having fun.
NBA net rating leaders (minimum 10 games played, 15 minutes per game) pic.twitter.com/BYrXZfOzIC
— Xin Varlock (@XinNBA) February 21, 2021
Dario posted 15 points in a win over the Sixers, his former team, last week and last night Cameron Payne drained FIVE threes in front of some friends and family who were in attendance. His last three bombs were the Suns 22nd, 23rd and 24th threes of the game.
“Nah, I didn’t know,” Payne on whether he knew in the moment that his threes broke the franchise record. “It was fun, man. The last one, I looked right to them. They were having as much fun as I was.”
Payne’s calling card, especially since joining the Suns last summer, is defense first, passing second, and shooting a distant third. But on Saturday, he looked like a marksman.
Enjoy these days, Suns fans! This team is set up for not only regular season success, but playoff success too.