Magic spells down Suns as Nash struggles in return

Lets get this over with right away. The over-hyped Superman vs Superman Jr. battle was a bust. Unlike when LeBron and Wade hooked up for their epic battle Monday night, when these behemoths lock horns they are dependent their team mates getting them the ball.

The result was both of the Monsters of the Lane having some nice moments and both spending far too much time concerned with the refs. I suppose that on stat lines alone Shaq won the battle but Howard gets scoreboard for the win.

Here's the numbers:

Shaq: 19 pts, 11 reb, 3 st, 2 blk, 4 TO, 4 PF, 35 min

Howard: 21 pts, 8 reb, 2 st, 1 blk, 5 TO, 4 PF, 30 min

Are we done with that now? Good.

The real story of this game was something we talked about the yesterday after the big win over the Lakers: How would Nash fit into the Seven Seconds or Shaq game plan?

The answer so far is not good. Needless to say this was one game back but it was pretty obvious from the start that the great energy and hustle along with the joy and chemistry we had seen in the last two wins over Toronto and LA were missing.

The team looked flat emotionally.

Before you warm up your tar and sharpen your pitchforks, I am not "blaming" Nash for that. It is fair to assume that Nash coming back would disrupt the rhythm and flow just like losing Nash did for the first game he was out (a blow out loss to the Lakers).

The first half was the Nash Show with his jumper falling he scored 15 of his total 20 points to lead all scorers. He had 5 assists as well. His shooting along with Richardson's gave the Suns 56 points and  tie game.

In the second half the Suns came out strong and scored 5 times on their first 7 possessions in about 3 minutes and then only scored 6 more times in the rest of the period and 2 of those were off turnovers.

What I noticed during that time was the Suns playing Nash off the ball and having success going inside-out and then going back to having Steve run the show in the half court and resulting in 4 turnovers in 5 minutes before Nash was pulled with 4:30 to go.

I realize that the fourth quarter was where the Suns lost this game being outscored 33-18 and turning the ball over thanks in large part to the Magic tight defense. The ground work was laid in the 3rd however and that was the period that best demonstrated the bigger issue with re-integrating Nash and so that was the period that I charted closely.

 

Nash played about eight and half minutes in the 3rd and during that period the Suns had 16 offensive possessions during which they scored on 7 and had 4 turnovers.

Two of those scores were in less then 7 seconds and one of those was off a fast break from a steal.

Here's a break down of those 16 possessions

Time possession began Score (Suns - Magic) Play Time remaining on shot clock / Result
11:43 56-58 JRich lobs to Shaq for a dunk. Nash set a pick in the lane to free Shaq* 9 sec / Score
11:11 58-58 Hill entry pass to Shaq who passes out of double team. JRich gets into lane and misses layup but scores on the put back 2 sec / Score
10:28 60-58 Barbosa quickly attacks the rim, misses lay up 18 sec / Miss
10:10 60-58 JRich steal pass to Hill to Shaq for lay up and foul 19 sec / Score
9:45 62-60 Nash pick and roll with Hill. Hill missed 10 ft jump shot 13 sec / Miss
9:15 62-60 Barbosa uses Shaq high screen for open jump shot 10 sec / Score
8:53 64-62 Nash uses Hill screen to drive and kick to open JRich for 3pt 20 sec / Score
8:17 67-64 Nash to Shaq in the high post, Alston strips Shaq 8th TO
7:55 67-66 Nash to Hil who tries to hit Nash curling off a screen. Bad pass 9th TO
7:23 67-68 Nash to Shaq deep in the paint. Shaq miss 19 sec / Miss
7:11 67-68 Hill steals, misses layup. Recovers loose ball and is fouled
6:59 67-68 Nash to Hill to JRich back to Nash who launches contested 3. Poor offensive execution 8 sec / Miss
6:14 67-70 Nash and Hill pick and roll. Hedo tips bonce pass away 10th TO
6:02 67-72 Out of time out. Hill lobs to Shaq for a dunk. Nash set a pick in the lane to free Shaq* 12 sec / Score
5:20 69-72 Nash horrible lob pass attempt to Shaq 11th TO
5:05 69-74 Nash pushed into lane and finds JRich with great pass for dunk** 20 sec / Score

* This is a very effective play the Suns have run with all three of their point guards. By having the 1 set the screen on the other team's center, Shaq gets open for an entry pass even if the guard switches on the pick he can't deny the lob pass to Shaq

**Part of the Suns Run and Gun "rules" seems to be that after the other teams scores quickly on a fast break they want to inbound the ball and push up court before the defense gets set. We've seen this for years in Phoenix and is often why the Suns get a quick score after giving one up.

Smart teams that scout this though can pressure the inbound enough to delay the "made break". This is one of the things that teams like SA has been able to do for years to slow the Suns.

Looking over that part of the 3rd quarter you can see clearly that the only two scoring possessions that Nash created where both with less then 5 seconds off the clock. In the half court sets he was most effective playing off the ball and contributed by setting screens on Howard which is not an enviable task.

The Suns were outscore by 3 points while Nash was in. For the rest of the quarter the Suns defense was much better as they held the Magic to 4 points in 4:37 minutes while scoring 10 themselves. Of those 10, 5 were off turnovers. JRich and LB each had 2 off isolation drives to the rim and 1 was from a technical free throw.

Defensively, it was hard not to notice Rafer Alston getting by Nash at will causing the defense to collapse and result in either a foul or an open look. Rafer had 8 free throw attempts in this game versus a career average of under 2.

This doesn't mean the Suns are better without Nash. Clearly, they need Steve to be great in order to have the best chance to win. It does mean that in this game he wasn't great and it visibly hurt. The team tonight took a step back and will need to respond.

 

The story by the numbers:

In Sunday's win over the Lakers the Suns won the points in the paint battle 64 - 48 while in this game the teams were tied 42 - 42. That's a drop off of 22 points and the FG% showed it as well (56% in the win, 44% in the loss)

The Magic got to the line 21 more times then the Suns. They were far more aggressive and took advantage of a Suns perimeter defense that once again looked horrible after showing some signs of improvement recently.

Last thought:

I get Gentry wanting to start Barbosa, Richardson and Nash but the Suns simply are not at their best with Grant Hill at the power forward. Gentry said this himself in a radio interview on Monday.

It will be very interesting to see what the team has to say about this game and more importantly how they react on the floor tomorrow night against a dangerous Miami Heat team.

One more last thought...

When Dragic first came to Phoenix I was seriously concerned about his very pale Euro complexion. White skin like that doesn't do well in Phoenix even in winter time. Some people burn when you say the word "Sun".

Fortunately for Goran (especially given his employer) he is one of the types that with proper exposure and careful use of high SPF cream gradually darkens to a nice golden brown. Like an under cooked Turkey.

Quote of the Game:

Magic center Marcin Gortat

(On Shaq) “I got to be honest with you, when he stepped onto the court, this dude is huge. I just realized that I’ve got to go home and eat like five chickens and put a lot of weight on. It’s going to take a couple months, but seriously. There was the first contact and I’ve got to say, I’ve got a lot of respect for him, but he’s getting old. I can’t compare him to Dwight because Dwight is No. 1 right now.”

“I knew that I was going to have help from the small guys. So I just tried to stay between the basket and Shaq. Basically, I’m capable of taking charges so I knew if he was going to try and beat me down, I was just going to flop. And I’ve got five fouls to spend so I was pretty confident the next couple of possessions he really wasn’t going to be scoring.”

 

Box Score * 3rd Qtr Collapse* Game Quotes

 

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