It’s a long-standing cliché that NBA teams relying heavily on fast breaks during the regular season won’t be able to carry that over to the playoffs, when the pace of games dips to a crawl and opponents prioritize transition defense. For one game in New Orleans’ first-round series vs. Phoenix, the Pelicans appeared to suffer from the postseason’s natural slowdown, only scoring two transition points. Game 2 was a completely different story.
Highlighted by third-year power forward Jaxson Hayes running by the Suns for three third-quarter dunks and rookie wing Herbert Jones converting a back-breaking layup ahead of the field with three-plus minutes left in regulation, the Pelicans totaled 16 fast-break points, a swing factor in their 125-114 victory.
“That’s what we do,” rookie forward Trey Murphy III said. “We’re a young team, so we’ve got to use our athleticism. That’s one of the things that separates us from a lot of teams, that we have a lot of athletic guys. Getting out in transition is a way we can get easy points.”
“Playoff basketball it’s hard to get transition buckets, so I wanted to be able to get us a few easy ones down the stretch,” Hayes said of his focus.
New Orleans’ 98-68 edge in rebounding over Phoenix through two games helps Pelicans players leak out more and run after a defensive board has been secured. The Suns likely will focus even more Friday on making sure they have players back who can prevent Hayes and others from scoring on fast breaks. Phoenix head coach Monty Williams described his team’s transition defense in Game 2 as among the worst he’s seen since he took over the Suns in 2019-20.
Hayes sounded philosophical on the up-and-down nature of his 2021-22 season, which has turned in a very positive direction since he was moved into the starting lineup in February: “It’s been a pretty crazy season for me. Playing at the beginning of the year, then sitting out quite a few games, going to the G League, then making my way back to the starting lineup. It’s been a lot of experiences, a lot of learning lessons throughout the way. I wouldn’t change it.”
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
NEW ORLEANS (8TH SEED IN WEST, TIED 1-1)
Game 2 win at Phoenix
CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas
Reserves: Larry Nance, Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, Naji Marshall, Devonte’ Graham
Notes: This starting group went 7-3 in the regular season and is 3-1 in the postseason, for a total record of 10-4. Two of those 10 wins occurred on Phoenix’s home floor (Feb. 25 and Tuesday). … McCollum leads New Orleans in minutes through two games (83), followed by Ingram (78) and Jones (72). … Jones, Murphy and Alvarado are all rookies. Phoenix does not have any first-year pros in its rotation.
PHOENIX (1ST SEED IN WEST, TIED 1-1)
Game 2 loss vs. New Orleans
Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Reserves: Cam Johnson, Cam Payne, JaVale McGee, Landry Shamet, Torrey Craig
Notes: Booker (hamstring) is listed as out, along with Dario Saric (knee), who has missed the entire season due to an injury he sustained during the 2021 NBA Finals vs. Milwaukee. … The above starting group went 31-7 in the regular season and is 1-1 in the postseason, for a total record of 32-8, but it will not be intact in Game 3 due to Booker’s injury absence. Beyond their five common starters, no Suns player has been in the first string more than 17 times (McGee) this season.
FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
STAY HOT FROM DISTANCE
New Orleans outshot Phoenix from the three-point arc in Game 2, a big factor in the Pelicans pulling off the road victory. The Pelicans were 17/30, a rate of 56.7 that is their best for any game of 2021-22. The Suns went 13/35, with seven of those makes coming from Booker prior to his third-quarter exit. Paul and Bridges drained two apiece, while bench perimeter threats Johnson and Shamet sank one each.
KEEP ATTACKING THE GLASS
During the regular season, New Orleans (third in the NBA) ranked 10 spots ahead of Phoenix (13th) in total rebounding percentage, an advantage that has carried over to this first-round series. The Pelicans have won the board battle by a 98-68 margin, with Valanciunas pulling down 38 of those rebounds.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Booker is sidelined for Phoenix, but the New Orleans defense must make sure no other Suns break out for a big performance Friday night. Phoenix has numerous wing players capable of significantly increasing their production, such as Johnson, who registered a 38-point game vs. New York in March, highlighted by nine made three-pointers. Another on-the-rise Sun, Bridges tallied 17 games of 20-plus points during the regular season.