The Suns' offense operates like spokes on a wheel. All five guys in the Phoenix offensive system represent an individual spoke on that wheel - a lane to the basket.
Every player on D'Antoni's squad - right down to the pivot - can do three things remarkably well: dribble-penetrate, pass the ball, and shoot the ball. So when Steve Nash slashes down the lane and is met by a larger body, he kicks it out to a nearby teammate on the perimeter...who then slashes down the lane until he's met by a larger body, at which point he kicks it out to a nearby teammate on the perimeter. And when one of those guys has either (a) a clean lane to the basket or (b) an open look, he shoots...and 47.8% of the time (or a league-leading 56.9 TS%), he scores.
Sounds easy, right?
Only if you have the personnel. Only if your guys know where the other guys are on the floor at a given moment. Because D'Antoni's system doesn't really throw complex sets at you so much as seemingly insurmountable matchup problems. For instance, Boris Diaw is bigger than your swing guys, so he can shoot over them. Okay. Then we'll stick one of our post guys on him, right? Well, Diaw is quicker than any of your 4s or 5s, so if you try that Boris will either take Mr. Big off the dribble or, at the very least, draw him out to the perimeter thereby leaving a vacuum in the middle, one easily filled by a cutting Shawn Marion.
The only way to defend the Suns is to put your quickest, longest team on the floor and let them cut those spokes off as far away from the basket as possible. And that's what Mike Dunleavy did last night - he looked at the matchups, realized that with Shaun and Vlad he had two guys who could play both quick and big at their positions and threw Quentin Ross out on the perimeter for good measure.
The result? After the first quarter, the Clips were able to keep the Suns a comfortable distance from the hoop. When the Suns dribble-penetrated, they were contested at 15 feet and had to kick it back out earlier than anticipated...before the recipient could get set on the perimeter. And because we had our "quick and long" team out there, the Suns had trouble spreading the floor, which means that Clipper defenders had less ground to cover on the rotation.
On the offensive end, the Clippers used their size. Elton Brand scored 34 points on 23 shots.
34 points on 23 shots.
The sooner the Clippers realize that there isn't a team in the Western Conference with an answer for Elton Brand, the sooner they'll win their first playoff series.
Sure, the supporting cast was draining shots from beyond the arc, but it's a lot easier to hit from 23 feet when the entire Suns defense has to collapse on Elton Brand in the post. Turn Vlad's 3-6 from three into a 0-6, and you still have some cushion.
It's the great law of basketball reciprocity:
It's impossible for Team A to have a matchup advantage without surrendering a similar advantage on the other end to Team B.