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Bolstered by bench, Suns face defensively deficient Rockets

Sportsnaut
Oct 19, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo (18) reacts against the Dallas Mavericks at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After they were resoundingly dispatched by the Dallas Mavericks last postseason, the Phoenix Suns were forced to reexamine and shore up the weaknesses that rendered them vulnerable.

One aspect that needed addressing was their bench, with the lack of production from the reserves leaving too much responsibility for their talented collection of starters. Five games into this season, the Suns appear to be armed with a deeper bench, and the results have been positive.

Phoenix, which will host the Houston Rockets on Sunday, had three reserves score in double figures in its 124-111 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday: Torrey Craig (13 points), Cameron Payne (12) and Bismack Biyombo (11). Biyombo added 13 rebounds to record a double-double in just 23 minutes while Craig grabbed six rebounds — four offensive boards — and Payne chipped in five assists. Six reserves logged at least 15 minutes in the victory.

“They just played with aggression,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Sometimes you think of aggression, you’re just jacking up shots, but I thought the screening was at a high level with Jock (Landale) and Biz. Defensively we were scrapping after 50-50 balls, Torrey’s rebounding, Landry (Shamet) fighting over screens. Those kinds of things for that group can help them have 50-plus points, which isn’t typical of that group.

“I just told them that tone of aggression that they set, that’s a bar that we expect from them.”

That collective production should continue to allow the Suns to survive the occasional off night from a starter or two. Chris Paul missed 6 of 7 shots and posted seven points along with five rebounds and nine assists. Mikal Bridges did tally 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting, but the work of the reserves enabled the Suns to cruise despite relatively pedestrian efforts elsewhere.

“They work so hard,” Bridges said. “It’s only five games into the season and you can see how tight they are. They’re all unselfish; everybody wants to see the other guy score. They looked great.”

The Rockets’ defensive woes continued in earnest on Friday in Portland. The Trail Blazers shot 53.3 percent overall and produced a 60.6 effective field goal percentage in their 125-111 home victory.

The smaller Rockets proved unable to prevent Portland center Jusuf Nurkic (27 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks) from rampaging inside. They also were helpless to slow Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons, who paired 30 points with seven assists while sinking seven 3-pointers. Portland rolled despite the absence of guard Damian Lillard (calf), a loss that should have benefited the Rockets.

Instead, Houston continued on its early trajectory of poor defensive executions stalling occasionally promising offensive form.

“Yeah, we should have been frustrated,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We should have been frustrated with the way we played, especially in the first half. It wasn’t even that we weren’t playing hard, it was just that we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do and putting a lot of pressure on our offense because of our defense.

“It wasn’t a good night and we’ve got to do better.”

–Field Level Media