For the first time in a long while, the Phoenix Suns looked like the team that dominated the league last regular season when they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night. Devin Booker went to work in the first, scoring 14 points as the Suns opened up an early double-digit lead. The Suns kept it going from there and registered a wire-to-wire win.
Outside of Devin Booker’s scintillating performance, it was a balanced attack for the rest of the Phoenix Suns roster in the team’s 112-95 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Notably, several of the bench players stepped up to make this a complete team win. Torrey Craig had arguably the best performance of all the Suns supporting cast in this one. With Cameron Johnson saddled with foul trouble, Craig ended up playing 25 minutes, logging eight points to go along with nine boards. His rebounding was particularly impressive as he took advantage of a small Clippers lineup to exert his influence.
After the game Monty Williams mentioned that the he plans to keep Johnson’s minutes in the mid 20’s despite him being a starter now. If that’s the case, then Craig is the clear option to pick up those remaining minutes. He fits more of the Jae Crowder mold as a small-ball four rather than a typical small forward, so getting some time with the rest of the Suns starters in place of Johnson, and less time as a three, seems like the best way to use him this year. Either way, with Crowder out and seemingly no trades on the horizon, Craig is going to have a much larger role on the team this season, and this game was the first indication of that.
Jock Landale managed to stay out of foul trouble in this game, and non-coincidentally had by far his best showing. Landale registered a near double-double, scoring nine points to go along with ten rebounds in 17 minutes of action. Landale didn’t just defend without fouling, he defended really well in general.
This wasn’t an easy matchup for him either, since the Clippers continually went small when he was in the game. Landale did a much better job of staying down than he did in the first two games, and used his length to disrupt shots instead of his body. Defense is going to be the key to Landale’s effectiveness all season; His offense looks tailor-made for the Suns system and today’s NBA, so if he can hold up on defense he’ll give the Suns a capable backup.
What I found most encouraging was the Suns ability to dominate despite Chris Paul once again failing to factor as a scorer. Paul scored just seven points against the Clippers, this after scoring six points in the opener and ten against the Trail Blazers.
He’s still racking up big assist numbers, but so far it seems like the Suns are wisely toning down CP3’s usage early in the season. This won’t be tenable if the Suns have to continually play in tight contests like their first two games, forcing the starters to play big minutes. But if the Suns can win these cruise control games while Paul himself is playing to that standard, that can give them the leeway to keep him as fresh as possible throughout the season.
Despite being only game three of the regular season, I think this game showcased a lot of the things that are going to make the Suns successful this year. We know what Booker and the rest of the Suns starters are going to bring to the table each and every game, but it’s the others that will make or break the season. Having a performance like this against a solid Clippers squad is a great start.