The Phoenix Suns got off to a terrible start to the game and the series on Sunday against the Clippers, and you can blame coach Monty Williams.
Game one of the series was not the time for the Suns to make a lineup change
After starting 25 straight games since Mikal Bridges left, Jose Okogie was not in the starting line-up to face the Clippers on Sunday. Presumably, this was so Torrey Craig, a more experienced and lengthier defender, could match up against Kawhi Leonard. Unfortunately for the Suns, Williams’ gamble backfired in a big way.
The starting lineup only worked for Craig, who scored a season-high 22 points on a career night. Unfortunately, the move did not work out so well for everyone else. Instead of inspiring his team, it took the confidence out of players’ sails and cost them several ways.
Over the last two months, Okogie has been one of the Suns’ primary ball handlers. With Okogie out, Chris Paul suffered because he returned to bring the ball up the court. Whether it was Nicolas Batum, Terrance Mann, or Bones Hyland, the Clippers hounded Paul on the ball all evening, taking the Suns out of their offense and Paul out of the game.
Although CP3 had 11 rebounds and 10 assists, his seven points on just 2 of 8 shooting hurt the team as he faced tough defense all night on the ball. Instead of playing as a spot-up shooter, a role Paul had excelled in down the stretch, his game was limited to a few dribbles, a pass, and whatever poor play the Suns ran from there as the team struggled to execute with tired bodies down the stretch in the 110-115 loss.
The bench was especially bad for Phoenix after Williams changed the rotation
Worse, the unit’s effectiveness – already down an injury absent Cam Payne – was further reduced without Craig coming off the bench. The Clipper’s bench outscored the Suns’ bench in the loss 34 to 10. Terrance Mann equaled the Suns himself with 10 points, and Normal Powell added 14 points. Overall, the Clipper’s bench was more prepared than the Suns, with four players logging big minutes and making big contributions.
Alternatively, the Suns’ bench went six deep, but they played erratic minutes and committed more fouls as a unit – five – than they scored buckets – three. It was an especially disappointing night for Okogie, who played fewer minutes – seven – than he had in any game since January 30, when he logged six minutes and two points against Toronto.
Playing seven minutes and going 0 for 1 from the field was surely not the way the 24-year-old envisioned his playoff debut to go, but that is what happens when a player who has started 25 straight games is suddenly benched.
Suns fans have known that Williams is not a great in-game coach, and he struggles to make the necessary changes to counter strategic opponents. The hope was that the Suns were strong enough with what they had that it would not matter. However, on Sunday, Williams was a poor pre-game coach, costing his team the game and home court. Hopefully, the Suns can get back to basics, and the team that was 8-0 with Durant in it, or it could be another long offseason of questions in the Valley of the Sun.