The Drive with Jody Oehler

The Drive with Jody Oehler

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Biggest Game 3 Questions

There are lots of questions facing the Suns heading into their Game 3 showdown against the Pelican, let’s sort through them:

Is Deandre Ayton up for this?

  • Here’s the challenge with Ayton: When you need him to show up, he almost always does. His biggest, best games of the season are often against the biggest and best centers the Suns face. Then just when you think you can comfortably rely on Ayton, he kind of lets you down. Ayton was strong in Game 1 counteracting the Pels bigs with 21 points and 9 rebounds and then in Game 2, Ayton was passive. The Suns need Ayton to be a presence, even if he can’t single handedly solve the Suns size issue. I believe Ayton will show up in a big way on Friday night but you can never be too sure.

Can Cam Payne find his form?

  • Simply put, Cam Payne has been bad. He’s been less of a spark plug off the bench and more of a wet blanket. Payne is struggling with his confidence and clearly in his own head. He’s missing badly on good looks, missing open cutters and failing to help the Suns bench be a real advantage. When Payne was at his best, the Suns bench is capable of not only protecting leads but extending them. This lightens the load for Paul and Booker. It drives the energy of the team. Right now, Payne is not doing any of that. If they want to win this series and win a championship, they need more Champagne Cam Payne than Stale Beer Cam Payne.

Was this the exact thing the Suns needed?

  • Sometimes you need to hit the rumble strip on the highway to remind yourself “Oh shit, I’m driving a 2,000 pound car 80 MPH with other fast traveling cars just a few feet away” in other words, wake up dumbass or it will all be over soon. This game could end up being the Suns rumble strip. The Suns are not an arrogant team, that would be impossible with Monty Williams and Chris Paul leading things. They are a team of human beings though and it is human nature to get comfortable. After Game 2, the Suns don’t need any other reminders that no one cares how many games you won in the regular season. No one cares what you did last season. No one cares what awards you should win or who is a finalist for what. The only thing that matters is the next game in the playoffs. It's not a homer fantasy that the Suns snap out of Game 2 and go on to win the series and if they do, you’ll be glad they hit the rumble strip now instead of continuing to rest their eyes until later in the playoffs.

Will Jae Crowder snap out of it anytime soon?

  • Last postseason, Jae Crowder started the Suns first round series against the Lakers a dreadful 2 for 20 from 3 point land and the Suns trailed 2-1 after three games. In Game 4, Jae Crowder hit a few shots and a few days later he was salsa dancing on their grave. I think Crowder will snap out of his slump soon. In fact, he hit one of the Suns last FG’s with about 3 minutes left - a wet, 20 foot jumper. It’s the kind of shot that could carry over and I would bet on Crowder hitting a few big 3’s in Game 3.

Is Chris Paul too old for this?

  • Late in this game, the entire basketball world was waiting for Chris Paul to rise up and turn back the Pelicans rebellion. Instead, CP3 looked every bit his nearly 37 years old by the time the buzzer sounded. In an era of old guy athletes accomplishing previously unheard of things, have we taken CP3 for granted? Charles Barkley said something really interesting on the post game show on TNT; basically, Barkley said he recognized the fatigue in Paul’s game tonight from his own career; that in the later stages of your career, it’s really hard to get to that extra gear in back to back games. Sometimes it takes two or three games to ramp back up to that level. If the Suns are going to win anything this year, they’re going to need a healthy, fresh Chris Paul. Two games in to round 1 and he already looks gassed. The Suns need some breathing room and fast because a 37 year old point guard is still a 37 year old point guard, even in 2022.

Can the Pelican actually keep this up?

  • Lost amidst the doom and gloom of the loss and Devin Booker’s injury is the fact the Pelican’s shot 56% from the field and 57% from 3 point land in Game 2. There’s no chance that is sustainable for the rest of the series. The Suns are still the more balanced, talented team but the Pelicans don’t care. The most dangerous part about this Pelicans team is how similar they mirror last year’s Suns team. CJ McCollum is CP3-lite, the savvy veteran offering structure to all the young players who were kind of unstructured before he arrived. Brandon Ingram is the “Good stats/bad team” guy shedding that label on the biggest stage of his career, a la 2021 Devin Booker. Willie Green is literally running large sections of the Suns offense he photocopied out of the Suns playbook and Herb Jones, Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado are the young guns who don’t care what you think about them they just want to win, just like Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Deandre Ayton. So yes, the Pelicans can keep up their fearlessness but they can’t keep up their shooting which still gives the Suns a major advantage over the best of 5 series conclusion.

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