Behind an outstanding fourth-quarter performance from a seemingly-healthy Chris Paul, the Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets in the first game of their Western Conference semifinals and proved to everyone their first-round win over the defending NBA Champion Lakers was no fluke.
If anything, Phoenix's performance thus far in the playoffs might be a precursor for greater things to come, even if some aren't giving the Suns a great chance to win it all.
Right now, WynnBET has the Suns with the fourth-best odds to win the NBA Championship at +750 (bet $100 to win $750). The Nets (+110), Jazz (+375) and Clippers (+500) are all above Phoenix. Looking at the stats, one wonders if any team besides Brooklyn should be ahead of Phoenix.
Right now, the Suns defense is killing it. They lead all playoff teams in fewest points per game allowed (98.6), lowest field goal percentage allowed (42.2) and lowest 3-point shooting percentage allowed (30.8). They have the second-best defensive rating overall and just held the Nuggets to their second-lowest scoring output of the playoffs.
Their offensive scoring output leaves a lot to be desired — 12th in PPG (106.6) — but that's just because they're playing a slower style of basketball. They're only taking 82.3 shots per game, 15th in the playoffs. That's important because against high-scoring teams like the Nets, Jazz, 76ers, Nuggets and Clippers, the Suns deliberate style of play should slow down their opponent and disrupt their offense. Case in point Game 1 against the Nuggets, who were held to 46.7% shooting.
With Paul as their general, Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton have taken big steps forward in their maiden playoff voyage. Both have upped their scoring output and Ayton has become an issue for opponents in the paint -- he just shut down Nikola Jokic. Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne and Mikal Bidges are also averaging in double-digits scoring, giving Phoenix six players who can score on any night.
Paul remains the closer on this team (he scored or assisted on 20 of the Suns' last 34 points in Game 1 against Denver), but it's the defense that's making the biggest difference. That will the key to standing toe-to-toe with the Clippers or Jazz in the next round and, presuming they keep up their torrid shooting pace, the Nets in the Finals.
No, the Suns aren't the sexy pick to win it all and playing great defense doesn't guarantee anything. But Phoenix has proven its first-round win was no joke and could wind up being the surprise winner from the west.