Back in July, I penned a little piece of commentary on the Suns' offseason called "No Franchise For Old Men" about how the Suns shouldn't have made re-signing Steve Nash and Grant Hill a priority. Um, yeah. About that...
Grant Hill (19 points) carried the Suns early and Steve Nash buried the Clippers late (24 points, including the game-winning lay-up) to secure an opening night win in Los Angeles. Throw in Marcus Camby's Clipper-leading 23 points and it was practically "Space Cowboys" night at the Staples Center. Actually, the old guys leading the way was pretty typical for what was in almost all ways an atypical game.
For a team looking to impose their style of play on their opponents, the Suns did not do a very good job of running. 2 fast break points in the entire game is not a stat you want to see from an alleged run and gun team. The Suns looked a little lethargic out of the box and never really got running at all. Credit the Clippers with some good transition defense and the twin towers of Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman for significantly clogging the lane once they were back. They recorded several early blocks and changed shots.
Despite the inside presence of Camby and Kaman, the Suns more than held their own on the glass with edges in both total rebounds (36-35) and offensive boards (10-7) with Grant Hill leading the way with 13. (Side note: I hate "what ifs" but you have to wonder what kind of career Grant Hill, and the rest of us, were deprived of due to his injuries. If this guy is balling like this in his late 30s, what would he have done at full speed in his prime? Just freaking sad and scary to think about.)
I'm not sure if Amar'e Stoudemire was tentative or just looked tentative. On at least 3 different plays, he received the ball deep in the post. 1 year ago, those were thunderous dunks. Tonight, they were either blocks or fouls on hesitant moves to the rim. This doesn't concern me much as he's still playing his way into shape, but it's a situation worth monitoring. Hopefully, rounding into shape for Stoudemire will include improving on his 5 rebounds in 40 minutes.
If you're looking for bright spot in the Suns' game tonight, look no further than the play of the bench. The second line provided a great spark and outplayed the heck out of the Clippers second team. Don't let their relatively anemic point totals (21 points total) fool you. Louis Amundson did his irritant banging thing and Jared Dudley was everywhere, notching 7 boards in 23 minutes. Goran Dragic was more than capable in reserve of Nash shooting a perfect 3 for 3, and dealing 3 assists with no turnovers in 11 minutes of reserve duty. And Earl Clark's first NBA performance bore a lot of similarities to his pre-season performance: he looks great when driving but struggles with his jumper. He did demonstrate his versatility on the defensive end, performing effectively on a few different players.
Defensively, the entire squad has a ways to go. There will not be many nights, the Suns can afford to give up almost 56% shooting and walk away with a win. If it hadn't been for some late offensive heroics by Nash, they might not have done so tonight. It also helped that the Clippers shot better from the field (55.8%) than they did from the charity stripe (55.6%).
This really was a loaded game for the Suns and I am not really doing it justice here. I think this team is far from firing on all cylinders and for them to be effective and truly make a run at the playoffs, they have very little margin for error. They clearly missed Jason Richardson at both ends of the floor tonight. Leandro Barbosa did not look comfortable as a starter and didn't seem to find his stroke until he was playing with the second unit.
I expect a similar performance Friday night versus Golden State and hopefully a much more aggressive and cohesive game once J-Rich returns versus Minnesota. That's the Suns' de facto 3 game learning curve, because after that they become Road Warriors in a brutal stretch of schedule that has them playing 18 of their next 23 games on the road.