The young blazers on 3 days rest and coming off a disappointing loss to the 76ers came into the this game understanding it meant the difference between a 3 or a 5 game lead on the streaking Suns. They might be a young team but their leaders stepped up and made sure to take advantage of a Suns team that looked tired and a few steps slow after playing at a playoff intensity level for the past several weeks.
Still though, this was a winnable game for Phoenix but against a bigger, more active team the mistakes were too much to over come. The two main factors being turnovers and over reliance on the zone defense.
The Suns were sloppy with their perimeter passes and in the critical 3rd quarter gave up the ball 7 times leading to 15 easy Blazer points and were only able to score 2 of Blazer turnovers. That 13 point difference was huge in a quarter that saw the Suns outscored 35-22.
Defensively, the Suns once again showed their fundamental flaws by giving the Blazers their highest scoring total of the season surpassing their previous high of 124 which they put up on the Suns last time the teams played.
I said in my preview that the Suns would win this game on the defensive end and in a sense I was right. They needed to win this game on that end and instead lost it there.
Here's what I said before the game about the Suns defense:
Gentry will almost certainly not go to the zone in the first half. He seems to want to let the game develop a bit before giving shooters open looks as opposed to risk getting them hot early. With the Blazers offense so dependent on 3's anyway, I am not sure this will work tonight. Fortunately, the Suns will not need to use it as much against the Roy-led squad who doesn't run a ton of pick and roll and doesn't have centers that can shoot from range.
Wrong. Gentry went to the zone early to protect Barnes who was getting abused by LaMarcus in the paint (another preview point) and Hill who started on Roy but finally looked his age and wasn't able to stay close enough to him to make a difference.
Don't. Leave. Rudy.
That advise obviously wasn't good enough as Rudy, who let's not forget is a very experienced and proven basketball player far beyond the
two years few months he has in this league, exploded for 4 of 5 from behind the arc in the first half. I am not sure if "exploded" is fair though since he was left wide open as the Blazers did a great job attacking the zone and forcing the Suns to collapse and then finding Rudy all alone in his favorite spots.
Ben from Blazers Edge had this to say about Nash's defensive play which was exposed by Steve Blake. That is painful to type and yet Ben is absolutely correct in this assessment:
During Thursday morning's podcast I mentioned that Steve Nash has lost a step and I was sure I was going to get emails from Suns fans. 17 hours later. Zero emails. Not a peep. I think what we saw out there tonight might explain why no Suns fans rushed to his defense. He looked sluggish, not particularly interested, and totally unconcerned whether his passes, no matter how intelligently conceived, actually found the mark. Multiple times his turnovers led to leakouts. Tough stuff to watch if you're a Suns fans, particularly given the fond memories.
Ben, Suns fans are no longer defensive about Nash's defense. It is what it is. Those turnovers are all too familiar this season as well and yes, difficult to watch because of the fond memories and also just difficult to watch.
Nash did have a solid shooting (half) night going 5 for 9 (11pts) in the 1st half to go with Shaq's 6 of 9 (14pts) to keep the game close until the third quarter collapse.
And finally this from the preview:
The offensive question mark is our favorite whipping boy Matt Barnes. Will he think that 18 second half points (and 1 of 2 from 3) qualifies him to bomb away from long range? Or will he remember that he scored (almost) all those points off the dribble where he can take advantage of pulling LMA way out on the floor and then drive hard on him
I know I am not the only one who audibly moaned when the Suns first shot of the game was a Barnes three point attempt. To his credit, that was the only 3 he attempted. When he was able to get by Aldridge, LMA was recovered to block his shot a few times from behind. He was just too small for this match-up which forced Gentry to go with more Swift who was better but is still not ready to step up in a game like this and really help the Suns overcome.
This was by far the best game I've seen LaMarcus play.
- Credit to Nick Batum for his deflections and hitting open shots. I question the box score which only gives him 1 steal. It certainly felt like he had about 4.
- The enigmatic rookie Greg Oden had a solid defensive game with 3 blocks including two in sequence on Tucker and Swift in the 2nd quarter. I still think he's going to be a bust as a #1 overall pick in a great draft but that doesn't mean he can't play basketball.
- The Suns bench wasn't able to deliver once again and frankly it is not fair to ask them to keep winning games for the team, especially on the road against a team as big and deep as the Blazers second unit. Dragic struggled going 2-9 and actually looked a bit overly aggressive and Tucker has not lived up to the high billing I've given him.
- The Suns have done a good job overcoming the loss of Amare's size and Barbosa's experienced bench punch but in this game both were finally exposed by a good team.
- I credit Gentry for going to his bench bigs which helped as the Suns actually had a 1 rebound edge and were +7 in second chance points but Lopez and Swift weren't ready or able to come into a game like this and be effective.
- I also give Gentry a lot of credit for throwing in the towel early and understanding that he needed to rest his starters as much as possible. How many times have we seen other coaches go back to the starters in the fourth quarter despite being down by 20 hoping to get a win and forgetting the bigger picture.
Tough loss for the Suns to send the streak and put the Blazers out of reach in the playoff hunt. I said all along that the Suns would need to win 3 of these 4 games this week and so a win in Utah Saturday as difficult as that will be is crucial. And as Doug Collins pointed out, the game Sunday in Sacramento which is the 4th in 5 nights is one that worries you as well.