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What Does it Take for the Suns to Win? (A Really Long List of Conspiracy Theories)

-Photo Credit to CBS Sports

With the loss last night, the Phoenix Suns find themselves in a precarious situation down 3-2 to the #1 seeded Denver Nuggets. While they don't find themselves in the less desirable spot of being down 3-1 like New York or Golden State, they are still tasked with winning back-to-back games, with one being at home and the other in Denver. If Phoenix wants to advance to the conference finals, then they are going to need to really reflect on what it takes to win games. From watching the series myself, a couple key factors in the Suns' success have stood out as difference makers to me.

The Need to Score

The Suns rely on a high scoring play style, specifically through the talents of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, two of the best offensive players in the league. The Suns aren't built like the Knicks or the Heat where they can both capitalize on scoring or good defense depending on the night. The Phoenix Suns are a score first, score often, score more team. This is reflected in their one-two punch of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. The Suns' duo of KD and Booker aren't built like other duos either. They aren't like James Harden and Joel Embiid on the 76ers where Harden (outside of games 1 and 4 of the Celtics series where he returned to Houston Harden) facilitates the game, while Embiid takes the lead on the scoring front. Or like Lebron and A.D. on the Lakers, where Anthony Davis could play like a DPOY and Lebron could drop a 20 point triple double depending on the night. What Booker and KD do best is score, and the rules of basketball state "If you score more than your opponent, then you win," so it's not a bad skill for them to have. However, it makes their play style sort of one-dimensional, putting a lot of pressure on them every night to score at the highest level.

I found this little stat interesting. I did some quick math looking at some of the playoff teams that are led by clear two-man duos, and I found their average combined ppg in their wins. Here are the stats. Lebron James and Anthony Davis combined for an average of 49 ppg in their three wins in the Golden State/Lakers series. James Harden and Joel Embiid combined for an average of 63 ppg (not counting game 1 where Embiid didn't play at all and Harden dropped 45) in their three wins in the Celtics/76ers series. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for an average of 41 ppg in their two wins in the same series. Finally, Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray combined for an average of 52 ppg in their three wins in the Suns/Nuggets series. These are some pretty good combined ppg averages for a duo in the NBA. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker combined for an average of 79 ppg in their two wins against the Nuggets. Let that sink in. 79! That's crazy! In game 3 they scored a combined 86 points, and in game 4 they scored a combined 72 points. That means that the only way the Phoenix Suns can actually win a game against a competent team like the Denver Nuggets is if KD and Booker combine for 70+ points. That's a lot of pressure put on Phoenix's two stars. It leads me to believe that they (pretty much nobody honestly!) cannot consistently operate at that high of a level of offensive efficiency. But if one duo had to, it would be Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.


Chris Paul left in Game 2 of the Nuggets series following a left groin strain. Strangely enough, following his leave, the Suns won their next two games. Now, I don't think Chris Paul was holding the team back. They just lost a game against the Nuggets without Chris Paul, so he wasn't the one making them lose......But, it's not like CP3 was doing all that much in the games he was healthy. In Game 1 he had 11 points, 5 assists, and 0 rebounds. In Game 2, before he injured himself, he had 8 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Those stats do not show is defensive or leadership impact at all, but the Suns still lost both of those games, so his impact in those areas was not enough to compensate for his subpar stats. I don't think Chris Paul is the problem or the solution. I do know, however, that the Suns did not win any games against Denver with him, but they won 2 out of 3 without him. Maybe Devin Booker has a better chance at scoring if he brings the ball up and controls the game as opposed to Chris Paul. Who knows. But one thing is clear, the Suns will have to adjust to playing without their veteran point guard on the court.

Home-Court Advantage

The more likely reason for the Suns' success following Chris Paul's leave is home-court advantage. Chris Paul happened to get injured right before the Suns returned home, winning both of their home games and losing Game 5, the away game. Throughout these entire playoffs, home court advantage has played a huge role in every series. I looked at the past five games of the series and found that in Denver, the Suns average 99 ppg, while the Nuggets average 113 ppg. On the other hand. in Phoenix, the Suns average 125 ppg and the Nuggets average 119 ppg. Both teams play better offensively in Phoenix, but the Suns play ALOT better in Phoenix compared to Denver. The Nuggets seems to have better overall defense at home. To finish off this series, the Suns will play Game 6 at home, and if they force a Game 7, it will be held in Denver. So far, all of the games in this series have gone to the home team, so if the Suns want to have any chance at making it to the conference finals, then they first have to capitalize on their own home-court advantage and then overcome the Nuggets' home-court advantage. A difficult task to say the least.

Jokić's Top Performances

This next point isn't something that really affects the Suns' game plan, but I found it an interesting game plan. Nikola Jokić's best games this series have all come in losses. Weird, right? In Game 3, he scored 30 points, 17 rebounds, and 17 assists. In Game 4, he scored a historic 53 points, 4 rebounds, and 11 assists. His other games have also been phenomenal, but these stat lines are out of this world. Truly an offensive masterclass from the Joker. The only possible answer to this phenomenon that I could come up with is that the Suns, when at home, are better able to hamper Jokić's supporting cast, forcing him to take the game upon his shoulders. Maybe when Jokić plays a larger role and the Suns limit the Nuggets' supporting cast's roles, then that allows the Suns to win. Maybe what kills the Suns is not Nikola Jokić himself, but his ability to get the rest of the Nuggets' effectively involved in the game. That's the running theory anyways. Again, there's no factual basis to this conspiracy theory, but it is interesting to see a player who's such a good leader that his team actually does worse when he takes the game upon himself. It's the exact opposite of what James Harden's been having to do (scoring 40+ in Games 1 and 4) in order to drag the 76ers to wins over the C's. If only the MVP took the playoffs into account.


I see the Phoenix Suns as being in a very similar situation as the Philadelphia 76ers. Both are facing extremely competent teams. Both have dealt with devastating injuries: Joel Embiid and Chris Paul. Both teams have key players that have not had the best playoff success (Kd, Harden, and Embiid). However, the 76ers don't have to rely just on scoring. They have a better supporting cast, including players like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris who can pick up the slack if Harden or Embiid isn't on it. They can also rely on defense when needed. That is why the 76ers are on the winning end of a 3-2 series, while the Suns are on the losing end.

Closing Statements

As the Suns head into Game 6, an elimination game, I am more worried that ever about their playoff success. But, I'm a stubborn guy, and I picked Phoenix to win the series in the beginning, so I'm sticking with it. Phoenix will execute the comeback and come back to win the series. However, if they do win the series, I will be extremely skeptical from here on out about their ability to win games. It seems to me like the stars need to perfectly align just for the Suns to win one game, and in a best of 7 series, that is just not feasible. Their future success in general is extremely questionable. Mikal Bridges looks pretty good now, huh.


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