Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, the Phoenix Suns take the spotlight.
Context: The Suns do it again.
Following an impressive victory in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals, the Suns defeated the Bucks in Game 2 to take a 2-0 lead as the series shifts to Milwaukee.
Devin Booker led the way for the Suns in scoring with 31 points. Chris Paul came back down to earth after a historic Game 1, but he still put up 23 points and eight assists. Similar case with Deandre Ayton, who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds following a historic Game 1 of his own.
The Bucks were able to make things interesting at several points in the game, but the Suns always had a response. There was one particular run the Suns went on near the middle of the fourth quarter that helped them regain control heading into the final stretch.
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: Paul brings the ball up the court for the Suns following a dunk from Brook Lopez.
Sharing the court with the 11-time All-Star are Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Ayton. Bridges and Crowder space the floor by parking themselves in opposite corners, Booker positions himself in the paint and Ayton makes his way towards Paul before he even crosses halfcourt.
It's time for some pick-and-roll.
Paul runs his defender, Jeff Teague, into Ayton's screen, which is set several feet behind the 3-point line with his feet almost parallel to the baseline. Teague works his way around Ayton's screen while Lopez drops after meeting Paul at the 3-point line to take away his pull-up.
While that's going on, Booker makes his way to the elbow to set a back screen on Lopez.
Worried about Lopez getting caught up in Booker's screen, Jrue Holiday switches off of Booker and onto Paul.
The problem? Teague is still trying to recover to Paul.
With Holiday and Teague in the same vicinity as Paul, Lopez has to make an impossible decision. Does he recover to Ayton, who is in the middle of rolling to the basket, or switch onto Booker, who is popping out to the perimeter with nobody defending him?
Lopez has some help on the backline, but it's clear Pat Connaughton doesn't want to venture too far off of Crowder in the corner.
Lopez recovers back to Ayton, but Paul is able to slip a pass to the big fella on the roll, leading to a layup.
Why it matters: It's a fantastic play, first and foremost.
Known as "Stack," "Money" or "Spain pick-and-roll," this has become a staple for many NBA teams. The reason it's so effective for the Suns is that it weaponizes their three-best players at the same time, as I detailed earlier in the season. Not only do you have Paul turning the corner in a pick-and-roll, where he's been picking defenses apart for over a decade now, but you have Ayton rolling hard to the basket while Booker operates off-ball, putting him in position to attack the defence in rotation.
It's not that it's impossible to stop, but it requires all five defenders to be on the same page and move on a string, because all it takes for one of Paul, Booker and Ayton to get a high percentage look is one small mistake.
Where Paul's genius comes into play is that he will punish teams for making that mistake.
Case in point: Phoenix went to its Spain pick-and-roll again a minute after Ayton's layup in the fourth quarter of Game 2. The result this time? A pick-and-pop for Booker after Giannis Antetokounmpo and P.J. Tucker botched a switch.
The Suns then went to it again on the ensuing possession. (If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I guess). The Bucks switched the initial screen between Paul and Ayton, leaving the 6-foot-3 and 205-pound Holiday on an island against a 6-foot-11 and 250-pound center.
You can probably guess what happened next - Ayton rolled hard to the basket and Paul rewarded him with an alley-oop.
With another 3-pointer from Booker sprinkled in between, that capped off a 10-2 run that helped the Suns turn a five-point lead to a 13-point lead.
Six points for Booker, four points for Ayton and three assists for Paul.
Milwaukee is far from the only team this season to be picked apart by Phoenix's Spain pick-and-roll, but it's one thing seeing a team like Sacramento struggle with it early in the season and another to see it leave the best defensive team in these playoffs scrambling at a pivotal moment in a stage as big as the Finals.
With how much trouble it gave them in Game 2, it's safe to assume the Bucks will be better prepared for it in Game 3 and beyond, but time will tell if they can come up with the answer.
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