I've seen this NBA playoffs before; it was called Game of Thrones. At its best, GoT had too many characters doing too many things and too many plot twists to keep track of but kept you enthralled nonetheless.
Last night's injury to Giannis in the Easter. Conference Finals was the "Red Wedding". Even when I knew to expect anything, I still didn't see it coming from a mile away. Let's just hope this postseason ends better than Game of Thrones .
So let's state the obvious that none of us have any idea what is going to happen tonight in the Suns vs. Clippers Game 6. Frank Kaminsky could end up dropping 20 points and the game winning 3 and it would barely raise an eyebrow. But I do know that things have to change for the Suns to avoid a way too uncomfortable Game 7.
Here are four adjustments I'd like to see Monty Williams and the Suns make:
1. Tighten your rotation
- Now is not the time to get experimental with who you trust. The Suns crow barring Abdel Nader into their playoff rotation defies any logical explanation. Dario Saric being allowed to Dario all over the court at this stage of the season doesn't make any sense. And Cam Payne only playing 13 minutes during a potential series clinching game at home boggles my mind. Here is the rotation balance I'd like Monty Williams to find: Rely on all five starters, plus Cam Payne and Cam Johnson. When Deandre Ayton needs a break, Torrey Craig should play the small ball five. Craig has taken almost as many losses on the perimeter this series than the Diamondbacks have in the month of June. But as a small ball five? He could be lethal. That's it. 8 guys. Sink or swim. Ride or die.
2. Push the tempo
- The Suns have scored fewer fast break points than the Clippers in every game this series but Game 1. That can't continue tonight. One of the Suns greatest offensive strengths during the season was making teams defend the entire court every possession. They could push, they could slow it down, they could beat you from outside or inside. The Suns effectively have shrunk the court for the Clippers defense. In Game 5, the Suns tried to use about a quarter of the court and allowed the Clippers to switch and collapse at will. In order to avoid Los Angeles's defensive traps, the Suns need to get their wings and athletes in transition. Much of that is on Chris Paul, who was often trailing the play in Game 5 which led to more backwards passes than outlet passes. That has to change in Game 6.
3. Carry Chris Paul
- CP3 isn't right. Whether its COVID, his shoulder or his confidence, the Suns leader has not looked right since returning to action in Game 3. Did he reinjure himself rough housing with his kids? Did he spend the 9 days off watching the 2015 Clippers 3-1 series collapse on a loop? Paul voluntarily brought up his previous playoff failures in an on court interview with Rachel Nichols after a Suns game 4 win; his past failures were immediately on his mind after a win, not a good sign. After Paul carried this franchise from the bottom of the barrel to the Western Conference Finals, it's time for his teammates to return the favor. What better way for all those teammates who credit CP3 for this leadership, wisdom and mentorship to show their appreciation than by picking him up when he needs it most. Paul can't be the rock for this team right now. Even the toughest amongst us occasionally needs a shoulder to lean on. Paul will start, Paul will finish but the heaviest lifting should be done by his teammates.
4. Meet the urgency of the moment
- The Suns flat start to Game 5 wasn't bad coaching or leadership; it was human nature. You can't fake urgency. You can't manufacture desperation. The Clippers came out and showed the Suns what real urgency is. Even before Giannis was down in a crumpled heap, the Hawks were showing the Bucks what real desperation was. And now the Suns and Bucks get to try and turn the tables. Can the Suns tap into their inner panic and instead of it leading to their own demise, use it to propel them to the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years? Can the team summon the ability to out work and out hustle a Clippers team with a proven track record of resiliency? If they can, Game 6 will be theirs and the rest will be history.