PHOENIX – Jock Landale was ready when he was called upon.
The Phoenix Suns’ backup center was used lightly through the team’s first eight playoff games. He played just 28 minutes and was the backup for center Bismack Biyombo.
But there was an opportunity for Landale to produce in the Suns’ 121-114 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series Friday night at Footprint Center. Landale had nine rebounds in 22 minutes and was forceful, which led to coach Monty Williams’ decision for Landale to close the game over starter Deandre Ayton.
“You couldn’t point out anything that he did from a high-level, skill perspective,” Williams said. “But he just scrapped. And even when he was guarding Murray or guarding the smalls, he just competed. Guys have tough games, and DA didn’t have his best tonight. But it’s great to be able to have your brother out there that can pick it up for you.”
The Suns struggled on the glass in the first two games. They were out-rebounded by 11 in Game 1 – Denver also doubled Phoenix in offensive rebounds that game, 16 to eight – and then two in Game 2.
Ayton is one of the Suns’ most important players but has not performed well in this series. He blew an open shot at the rim that most people felt he should have dunked. There was also a play in the fourth quarter where he was stripped after a defensive rebound that led to a layup from Denver center Nikola Jokic.
#Suns Deandre Ayton was visibly upset with being pulled down the stretch of Game 3.
Chris Paul tried to dap him up but Ayton ignored him.@Sports360AZ #NBATwitter #SunsTwitter https://t.co/SrQyYKzOhM pic.twitter.com/SRUh7ZreYR
— Eliav Gabay (@eliavgabay) May 6, 2023
Unlike Ayton Friday night, Landale was strong with the basketball. He had two offensive rebounds and ran the floor, which contributed to the Suns’ 23 to 11 edge in fastbreak points.
“When we got the ball, whether it was a rebound or turnover, he was out,” Williams said. “I thought that put pressure on their transition defense.”
Landale was not the only bench player who contributed well. Wings T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross, who had not yet played significant minutes in this series, scored seven and five points, respectively.
Warren had a game-high plus-20 in 26 minutes and had five consecutive points in the last 2:30 that sealed the game for the Suns.
“It’s something we felt like that gave us a little bit of a jolt,” Williams said. “Not just from a scoring perspective, but big body. I thought he made a couple of plays, just because he’s so big and strong.
“And then at the end, he’s a guy that’s not afraid to take and make a shot.”
The Suns’ rotation is not perfect. Phoenix had 22 bench points Friday, which is better for its offense.
The Suns have also played backup guard Landry Shamet when he has struggled. Shamet was a team-worst minus-10 in 25 minutes.
Williams also said he played a lineup to close the game the Suns had not played before this season based on “feel.”
Phoenix may not have these things ironed out this postseason. But if it can get just enough, it might be what it needs to at least extend this series and make it competitive.
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