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The overlooked key of the Suns’ surprising 3-game win streak

“Communication and defending.”

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Devin Booker stressed these two words at practice earlier this week when asked how the Suns can play the “right way” consistently following a 124-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Before this win over the Pelicans, the Suns had been alternating good wins and bad losses seemingly every game. 

Now, including this victory over New Orleans, they have won three straight against quality playoff teams by sizeable margins.

Phoenix (46-31) currently sits a full game ahead of the Pelicans for the sixth seed in the Western Conference with only five games left after defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves, then the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, 97-87 last night. Just two nights prior, they blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers, the No. 3 seed in the East, 122-101.

The 87 points allowed to Minnesota were the fewest Phoenix has given up in a game this season. The Suns held the T-Wolves to 38.8% shooting and forced 19 turnovers. 

The full effort combined the two words Booker thought the Suns should focus on: defensive communication. 

“We did great,” Suns’ guard Grayson Allen said postgame of the team’s defense. “A lot of deflections, steals. A lot of making guys pick the ball up earlier than they wanted too and getting it back out to shooters. It helps when you got a team like that drives the ball really well.

“This was one of our best communication games of the season, everyone talking on the backside, loading up, talking about who has the low man, who has the first pass out to the three-point shooter. It was great, all-around defensively.”

As the leader of the team, Booker has established himself as the one to show the rest of the team this, according to Allen. 

“We’ve been harping on (defensive communication) all year to be better,” Allen said. “Book has probably been the most vocal on the court defensively for most of the year, but that’s turning into everybody talking.”

Coach Frank Vogel went in depth on how this communication has opened up everything for the Suns. 

“(Communication) is one of the habits we’re on our guys all the time (about) talking more, calling out coverages, just talking to each other. ‘I got ball.’ ‘’I got a screen coming this way. ‘Help left, help right.’ ‘I’m the low man.’ All those things just strengthen the guys around you knowing what’s around. If they’re on the ball, if they’re on the weak side, communication helps everything.”

To Vogel’s point, there are a lot of things the Suns have been doing well on both sides of the ball you could point to, but a lot of it stems from this communication. 

The Suns have an incredible team defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 102 through this three-game win streak. In comparison, their defensive rating on the season is 114.0. The best in the NBA for any team this full season is 107.7 (Minnesota).

“We had seen flashes early in the season of what we can be defensively, offensively,” Suns’ superstar Kevin Durant said. “I just think with 77 games played, we are getting more and more comfortable with each other. Understanding our roles individually and bringing it to the team. Coaching staff has been emphasizing how important these games are, so us guys are just digging down even deeper to be better as individuals.”

Final 10-Game Stretch Now Down to 5

With the prior inconsistencies of the Suns, their last 10 games of the season had been a big discussion point, as they had the hardest last 10 games of the season of any NBA team since 2015-16. Now, they are halfway through the gauntlet with a 4-1 record, better than most would have thought. 

However, Vogel made a point that this is not the ultimate form Phoenix can reach. 

“We want to play our best basketball come playoff time,” Vogel said. “Right now, we really have to just focus on the next game.  We played three good games. We’re continuing to strive for greatness. We’re far from perfect, so got to keep trying to get better.” 

The next game for Phoenix? Another matchup against the Pelicans Sunday and a chance to go up a full two games in the standings over them while owning the tiebreaker.

Then, the Suns play a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Clippers starting on Tuesday with first matchup at home and the next on the road. They close out their regular season on the road against the Sacramento Kings and another matchup versus Minnesota.

“We got to play well to beat these teams,” Vogel said. “The next five are not anymore, or just as challenging as the last five have been, and we have to play at this level to win those games.”

Suns strong defensive display shuts down Timberwolves, win 97-87

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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