Don’t doubt the Phoenix Suns’ bench in the 2023 NBA playoffs

The Phoenix Suns’ bench is perceived to be a weaker part of their team entering a much-anticipated postseason run. 

It is very hard to back up an impressive foursome that includes guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker, forward Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton. Paul, Booker and Durant have combined for 28 All-Star appearances and Ayton, who was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, is perceived to be one of the NBA’s best big men. 

But the Suns’ bench has done it with high energy over the last two games, which has perhaps shut down a notion that it is a part of their team to be ignored. 

Phoenix’s efforts in its last two games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, who each needed a win to improve their respective postseason positioning, were tremendous. The Suns were expected to have no shot against either team but instead led at halftime in both contests and were in a position to win down the stretch. 

The Suns’ last two regular-season games had no bearing on their postseason positioning. Paul, Booker, Durant and Ayton all rested as the team secured the No. 4 seed with its win over the Denver Nuggets Thursday. Competitive efforts would have been enough for the Suns to close their regular season positively. 

They gave more than that. Facing the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis Friday, Phoenix held the two at one point to a combined 5-of-18 shooting. Davis shot 4-of-12 in the game without Ayton, which is positive for the Suns since Davis has been a troublesome matchup in the last two seasons. 

Impressively, Phoenix took early leads in each game even though it did not perform well offensively. The Suns shot just 42.1 percent in the first half against the Lakers and 36 percent against the Clippers Sunday. 

What seemed to be the difference was the Suns’ inability to lay down against a superior foe. Against the Lakers, Phoenix took shots in rhythm but just could not get many open looks to connect. The Suns were very aggressive in the first half against the Clippers Sunday and had 22 of their 51 points in the paint at halftime even though they were without Ayton and backup center Bismack Biyombo. 

The Suns were more shorthanded Sunday than Friday. They did not have Payne and Biyombo due to a back and knee injury, respectively, suffered against the Lakers as well as forward T.J. Warren, who missed the last three games of the regular season with an undisclosed illness. 

It forced center Jock Landale, who played just over eight combined minutes in the Suns’ last two games and did not play in the previous three, into action. He had 11 points in the first half and was aggressive against Clippers center Ivica Zubac, who was perceived to have an advantage in the game since he had averaged a double-double entering it.

That did not happen. Landale went to work from inside the paint and outside to the 3-point line. He stretched Zubac out of his comfort zone and opened more opportunities for the Suns inside. 

Backup forward Darius Bazley had a thunderous dunk over Zubac in the second quarter that sent the Suns’ regular starters on the bench into a frenzy. They believe in their guys, and we might have to also. 

Not to be lost from Sunday’s game: backup guard Saben Lee, a local product from Tempe Corona Del Sol who signed two 10-day contracts with the Suns and later earned a two-way contract, had a career-high 25 points with nine assists. He was very aggressive and nearly had a poster dunk of his own in the first half and tried to throw down another one when his team had its final offensive possession against the Clippers. 

Here is a look at how the Suns’ bench has performed with lineups with Terrence Ross and Warren, each of whom are newer players for the team. Ross was bought out by the Orlando Magic and signed by the Suns as a free agent in February and Warren was traded along with Durant to the Suns in a blockbuster deal that sent beloved forwards Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, along with estranged forward Jae Crowder, four first-round picks and a pick swap. 



This graphic shows the Suns’ advanced offensive and defensive stats for lineups in which Ross and Warren, respectively, have been on the floor, that have seen each player have at least 10 possessions with four listed others. Warren got more playing time once Durant suffered a left ankle sprain and was sidelined for three weeks and was very beneficial for the Suns. 

Even better for Phoenix: It is not a statistically weak bench team. The Suns have five active bench players (Payne, Ross, Landry Shamet, Damion Lee and Torrey Craig) who average at least 7.5 points per game. 

The Suns were tied for the No. 11 scoring bench in the regular season (36.2 points per game). The Clippers have the third-best scoring bench (41.5 points per game), while another top contender in the Western Conference – the Golden State Warriors – had the seventh-best scoring bench (37.9 points per game). 

Phoenix is certainly not weak with its bench. Suns coach Monty Williams has multiple players he could employ at different times. Given how they looked in the last few games, many of them have stayed ready. 

That is a testament to what the Suns have built this season, even with injuries and a huge trade for Durant. Do not take Phoenix’s bench lightly this postseason. 

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