Chris Paul is finally back in action for the Phoenix Suns after missing 14 consecutive games due to a heel injury. It was a return that fans were excited to see, but the Boston Celtics spoiled Paul’s return.
In an attempt to bounce back from the embarrassing loss they suffered at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, Paul’s return was a glimmer of hope. Their on-court leader had missed significant time off the court, yet somehow, the squad was able to sustain its status as the top team in the Western Conference.
On Wednesday night, the Celtics stole the spotlight as they crushed the Suns to win 125-98. From the get-go, Boston dominated Phoenix with their on-court defensive prowess.
The Suns’ stars couldn’t find their stroke, as their shooting woes from the previous game were still evident. These struggles held them back from competing at a high level against one of the best teams in the league. They’ve fallen to the second seed, which isn’t terrible. But they’ll have to address their issues soon.
Before that happens, let’s look at the three takeaways from CP3’s first game back with the Suns.
Chris Paul still hasn’t found his rhythm
The 2022-23 NBA season was supposed to be a revenge season for the Suns. However, that hasn’t been the case for the team, as their leader continues to struggle to be effective. During Wednesday’s bout, Paul only registered four points, four assists, and four rebounds. It’s not clear whether CP3 was referencing Jay-Z’s 4:44 album, but it didn’t help them get the win. Additionally, he had four turnovers that hurt the team badly.
Looking at his season stats, he’s been playing poorly so far. The 12-time All-Star is averaging 9.5 points, 9.4 assists, and 1.7 steals while shooting an abysmal 36.8% from the field and 27.3% from distance.
Paul’s scoring numbers are the worst in his 18-year career. He doesn’t have his usual shooting touch. He started slow shooting the basketball this season, but there were some games before his injury where the six-foot guard shot well on the floor.
It could take a while for him to start getting his groove back. For now, the Suns will have to find a way for Paul to get his points without making the team’s field goal percentage suffer.
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Teams are starting to figure out how to defend Devin Booker
During Paul’s absence, much of the facilitating responsibilities fell upon Devin Booker. Throughout the 14 games, he conducted the offense and led the team in scoring. That stretch helped him capture the Player of the Month award after averaging 29 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. He led Phoenix to a 15-6 record in that time. Booker’s efforts paid off as the Suns became the top team in the West again, despite losing key starters.
It ended after the Suns lost to the Mavericks on Monday night, as Doncic outperformed him. Not only did the Slovenian wonder stuff the stat sheet, but Dallas defended Booker pretty well during that outing.
It was a similar case when the Suns faced the Celtics. The defense became more physical with the three-time All-Star, giving almost no room for air. It’s also notable that the defenders from Phoenix’s past two games weren’t shy in sending double teams to get the ball out of Booker’s hands.
Head coach Monty Williams could draw up new plays for the former Kentucky Wildcat to be a more versatile scorer. The Suns will have more instances where they’ll face impressive defensive teams and will need a better counter.
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Deandre Ayton’s inconsistencies starting to show up again
The start of the 77th season was shaky for Deandre Ayton. Coming off a problematic playoff performance that almost cost him his future with the Suns, the big man had a lot to prove early on. Good thing for the team the former No. 1 pick had put it all behind him and just focused on being a reliable piece for the team. Ayton showed up big time in the first two games of the season.
In his first game for this year’s campaign, the Bahamian big man dropped 18 points and ten rebounds to help the Suns beat the Mavericks. He followed it up with a 26-point performance, which had fans excited for what was to come.
But Ayton started to slow down and started playing with less aggression. the 6-foot-11 center even had a stretch of six-straight games where he didn’t reach double digits in rebounds, averaging just 5.8 in that span. DA bounced back stronger and put up All-Star numbers during his last ten games, averaging 20.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.
After Phoenix’s match against Boston, his passiveness on the court started showing again. Ayton had just eight points, seven rebounds, and a block. The big man only attempted seven shots in a game where scoring was a huge hurdle.
These issues could appear again in the postseason, which is why addressing them now helps brew some solutions. The year is still long, and the Suns have enough time to improve on areas they need to improve. Whether or when these changes take place will be a key factor to keep an eye on as Phoenix continues to navigate the rest of its season.
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