How Chris Paul Can Bounce Back in NBA Finals Game 5


Phoenix Suns point guard, and leader Chris Paul needs to improve after a nightmarish Game 4.

Much to the dismay of his fellow players, coaches, and the entire Phoenix Suns fanbase, Chris Paul pushed another victory just beyond his team’s reach in Game 4 of the NBA Finals two nights ago. His five turnovers were the catalyst to a Milwaukee comeback from nine points down midway through the fourth quarter, with his final one punching a nail into his own coffin.

Devin Booker‘s performance for the ages (42 points!!!) went wasted. Foul trouble eventually slowed him down, and Paul needed to take over the fourth quarter. Needless to say, he failed. 

Unfortunately, Chris Paul did not lead the Phoenix Suns to victory in Game 4.

Quoting the late, great former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, the Milwaukee Bucks are who the Suns thought they were—and they let them off the hook! Paul’s turnovers were just one of the many reasons why the Suns could not put away Milwaukee in the fourth quarter. Paul was not the only player turning the ball over, as Milwaukee scored 24 points off Phoenix’s 17 turnovers for the night.

Milwaukee also dominated Phoenix on the glass, ending with 17 offensive rebounds. PJ Tucker’s aggressiveness on the boards got Booker his fifth foul just as the fourth quarter began, which took him out of the game both literally and figuratively. Booker only scored four points in the final period, making him a non-factor down the stretch.

Even though Milwaukee only shot 40.0 percent from the field and 24.0 percent from 3-point range, they scored 109 points because they dominated both the rebounding and turnover battles. In Game 4, they scored nearly half of their points off of made free-throws as well, and Suns turnovers.

That is remarkable. Again, Milwaukee is who we thought they are: an aggressive, hyper-athletic defense with only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton carrying their offense. They are not a good 3-point shooting team, nor have they run masterful plays to create open looks. They score their points by brute force alone.

At the end of the day, Milwaukee will always win the rebounding battle because they are much bigger than Phoenix at every position, except for Deandre Ayton’s matchup with Brook Lopez. Even so, Lopez has not played very often and Giannis has imposed his will on the glass. He dominated Ayton in their head-to-head matchup on both ends, as shown in this Giannis montage.

Nobody on Phoenix can suddenly stop Giannis in Game 5. Milwaukee will certainly win the rebounding battle again. But if Phoenix is to win this game, they must win the turnover battle. That starts with Paul taking care of the rock as the team’s point guard—and ends with him living up to his moniker as the “Point God” for the Suns.

Why Chris Paul is struggling on offense for the Phoenix Suns

Jrue Holiday is making life difficult for CP3, picking him up full-court and grabbing him at every single opportunity. Milwaukee is sending Ayton’s man up to trap Paul at every opportunity as well, forcing Ayton to then catch the ball at the 3-point line, where he can do very little. Not to mention, Paul is playing with torn ligaments in his right hand, which partially explains his late game turnover.

On that play, Paul tried to crossover multiple times to shake off Holiday with no avail. Holiday is clearly trying to get Paul to go side-to-side, instead of straight to the basket. Paul often likes to go side-to-side when orchestrating the offense, but against Holiday—he just needs to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line.

How the Phoenix Suns can Chris Paul get back on track

Paul is just trying to do too much for the Suns right now. He has to go against tendencies in his personality, against his leadership style, and even against what made him the “Point God” to lead the Suns to a Game 5 victory. He was able to dictate his own offensive flow to absolute perfection in Game 1 against PJ Tucker and Brook Lopez, as shown below.

But Holiday is too quick and too physical to allow Paul to do this. He just has to attack the basket as soon as Holiday tries to bump him off his spot.

The more aggressive Paul is when attacking the rim, the more the officials will be forced to incur the wrath of 20,000 fans if they omit from calling a foul either on Holiday, or the help defender sliding in.

Further adjustments for the Phoenix Suns to kickstart Chris Paul

If I were the Suns, I would also stop using Deandre Ayton as a screener for Paul, since Milwaukee is double-teaming him as soon as he turns the corner on his screens. Even when Paul did not turn it over, his passes to Ayton on the pick-and-roll often put the former Arizona Wildcat in a bad position. Ayton ended up catching the ball at the 3-point line, which is not ideal considering how he is such a strong finisher at the basket.

I would put Ayton under the rim and have either Booker or Mikal Bridges set the initial screen, which either gives Paul a step on Holiday, or a direct matchup with either Tucker or Middleton on the switch. Booker or Mikal Bridges have the capability to attack defenses in a 4-on-3 setting, whereas Ayton is strictly a finisher at this point in his career.

If Milwaukee switches, Tucker (Booker’s primary defender) does not have the quickness to stay in front of Paul. Middleton is a very good defender, but he will be overtaxed defending either Paul or Booker while carrying Milwaukee’s suddenly anaemic offense. It is why he is either guarding Bridges or Jae Crowder when he is on the court at this point.

Moreover, head coach Monty Williams got Booker several open looks in Game 4 via misdirection and screen-the-screener actions. Check this set out where Ayton caught the ball at the elbow and then immediately pivoted into a dribble handoff.

He can run the exact same set for Chris Paul! Booker can initiate offense as well. Milwaukee will overreact to Booker’s 42-point game by double-teaming him every single time. When that happens, Booker will be forced to give up the ball.

Paul will then get to pilot a 4-on-3 attack against Milwaukee’s defense after this happens. The Suns can even run a Paul/Booker pick-and-roll to force Jrue Holiday to switch onto Booker as well.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, there are several avenues to get Chris Paul going in Game 5. However all of the strategies and analysis in the world cannot measure a man’s will to win. Like with Booker in Game 4, Paul has to be legendary enough to make the Phoenix Suns one game away from their first-ever NBA championship.

Can Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns find the will to win Game 5? Let’s find out! The pivotal contest tips off at 6:00 p.m. MST.



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