Suns vs Pelicans Game 1 takeaway: Chris Paul takes over to help lead Phoenix to victory

To cap off Day 2 action, the top-seeded Phoenix Suns hosted the No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans. On paper, the Suns were a heavy favorite but, as we saw this weekend, anything can happen in the playoffs and the Pelicans knocked out two teams last week to earn this opportunity. New Orleans raced to make this game interesting in the second half, cutting the deficit to six points, but Chris Paul and the Suns weren’t going to give up Game 1 as the defending Conference champions West tightened up and came away with a 110-99 victory.

Earlier, the Miami Heat made it easy for the Atlanta Hawks, 115-91 to take a 1-0 series lead. Then the Celtics defeated the Nets, 115-114, thanks to Jayson Tatum’s incredible layup. In Game 3 of the day, the Bucks and Bulls played out a thriller that ended in a 93-86 victory for Milwaukee.

NBA playoff schedule, scores

  • Miami Heat 115, Atlanta Hawks 91
  • Boston Celtics 115, Brooklyn Nets 114
  • Milwaukee Bucks 93, Chicago Bulls 86
  • Phoenix Suns 110, New Orleans Pelicans 99

Here’s the full playoff bracket and weekly TV schedule.

Here are three key takeaways from what turned out to be the final game of the playoffs’ opening weekend.

1. Kneel before the God Point

As we age, we tend to reduce our job responsibilities. In a perfect world, we’ve found enough success through our golden years to hire the right young people to carry the load so that we can step in only when necessary. This is where Chris Paul’s career is right now. He’s cultivated such a deep youth pool in a machine so finely tuned that he can keep pace for most of a game, but when he needs to turn it on, he’s got more than enough power. gasoline in the tank to do so.

That’s what happened in this game. The Suns led most of the way because of their stellar defense. His teammates made up most of the scoring. But when New Orleans cut the deficit to six in the fourth quarter, Paul became the scoring god again. Here is that streak of consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter:

With the Suns up seven, we got the following:

  • Chris Paul 3.
  • Chris Paul attends.
  • Chris Paul 3.
  • Chris Paul 3.
  • Layup by Chris Paul.
  • Chris Paul sweater.

That pushed the lead back to 14. Game over. That’s basically what made the Suns so special this season. In the first three quarters, their net ratings rank sixth, seventh and third respectively. On the fourth? He jumps to first by a country mile. They played 130 clutch minutes this season and won them by a total of 107 points. When Chris Paul kicks off, the Suns go from great to historic.

2. Phantom Defenders

Here’s a wonderful statistic, via ESPN’s Andrew Lopez: The Pelicans shot 4 of 18 on uncontested shots in the first half. These are the shots that defenses can’t affect…or can they? The Pelicans obviously missed most of the shots that Phoenix also affected, but their defensive strategy was so aggressive that it changed the way New Orleans operated even when possessions were going well.

The Pelicans play an unusual number of non-shooting threats for a playoff team. Herb Jones and Jaxson Hayes can largely be left alone in depth. So does Jonas Valanciunas and Naji Marshall, who can both do 3s, but not often enough to impact a defense. The Suns took advantage of this by sending as many defenders as possible to the ball. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum barely found an open eye throughout the half.

When they found them, they rushed over. This is what happens when a defense plays an ultra-aggressive style that an offense is not suited for. Even when they had space, in their head they knew it was fleeting and affected their shots. The Pelicans of course adjusted and had a solid offensive half. A similar story unfolded in their play-in win over the Clippers. But the Suns are on a different level of defense. They are so good that they manage to contest shots they don’t actually contest.

3. Dance with Nance

New Orleans doesn’t exactly have a good option to use at center against Phoenix. There are only a handful of big men in basketball who check every defensive box you have to check against them. Jonas Valanciunas is too slow. Jaxson Hayes is too raw. Larry Nance Jr. is too small. Each has drawbacks. All three will play significant minutes.

Hayes and Valanciunas lost their minutes by 11 points apiece. Nance lost his by just three. It’s a small sample, but the Clippers game was somewhat similar. The Pelicans came to life offensively only after they grew small. Nance isn’t Valanciunas’ goalscorer, but he can cover as much ground as Hayes and allow better scorers to play elsewhere. His game is just as valuable. His 14 points and three assists aren’t enough to show just how impactful he can be offensively.

Nance only played 20 minutes in this match. Valanciunas got 31. As the series progresses, we’re likely to see those two numbers flip. Nance sacrifices the rebounding advantage brought by Valanciunas, and he’s so small that DeAndre Ayton can get away with almost anything against him one-on-one offensively. But in these high-leverage games, it seems the Pelicans need Nance’s versatility on the floor as much as possible.