I was hoping to see a team resembling the one that played the Lakers tough in May. My last in-person game experience was Game 4.
Tonight's game was nothing like that. 70% of the rotation players return, but this was truly not the same team. 70% of the arena was filled with people, but this was truly not the same atmosphere.
As far as the atmosphere is concerned, that's totally understandable. Preseason is preseason, and the Warriors are not exactly rivals.
But the team being completely different? That was unexpected. I can only think of 2 plays all night that made me feel like "home". Nash hit a running 3 on a first-half break (his patented two-footed jump shot at the arc on the run) and Dudley hit an open 3 to a roaring crowd when the Suns really needed it at the beginning of the 4th quarter.
What made Dudley's 3 feel so good was that the crowd was on its feet and cheering coming out of the break, and for some unexplained reason kept cheering all the way through the offensive possession and right into Dudley's 3 at the crescendo. Right out of the playoffs. Sure, the noise might have been piped in a bit but the crowd was standing and cheering throughout.
Other than that, everything about this game felt different.
The Pick and Roll
Nash ran pick-and-roll on nearly every play, but I'm pretty certain it was 5 minutes left in the FOURTH before Nash was able to cleanly feed the roll man heading to the basket. Every other time, either he was smothered or the roll man was triple-teamed (or so it appeared) and he instead kicked it to an open guy at the 3-pt line. If this continues all season, with no easy pocket passes on the roll, Nash will wear down faster than usual.
But at least there was always a waiting 3-pt shooter close. Maybe this is the new scheme. I don't remember Nash having an open 3-pt shooter on the near wing every time he ran the p-n-r with Amare. Maybe he did, but Nash didn't need that outlet last year nearly as much as he did tonight.
And there were certainly no high pick-n-rolls starting out past the 3-pt line with the roller having a head of steam toward the basket before a defender could body him up. Lopez doesn't have the speed and Warrick doesn't have the sand to withstand a hit and finish the shot.
Yet another part of the game that looked nothing like last season.
Nash kept kicking out to the open 3, but the shooters only made 20% of them. You can see why Nash ended up with only a handful of credited assists all game.
Oh, the 3-pt shots themselves were familiar alright. Guys spaced around the arc, able to step into the shot and take it with no one in the shooter's face because the defense was still packed in on the pick-n-roll. Nash still gets the respect here, folks. Just because there's no Amare, the defense still HAS to respect the roll man and pack in a bit. No one wants to give up dunk after dunk.
So the 3s were open. Wide open. Yet the part that looked nothing like last season was this: everyone kept missing them (5 for 24 on the night, after starting 1-for-9 and 2-for-18). It was getting ridiculous. Channing was frustrated.
I'm thinking that the guys are pressing out there, which never works when it comes to making shots. You need to be in a rhythm, and you can't stop and think about it. Just take the shot with confidence.
This will come around, I'm certain. Channing's shot looks just as clean as last year, as do JRich's and Duds'. They're just clanking right now.
Finally, another thing that looked nothing like last season. The Suns were aggressive all night. Golden State missed some open shots too, but had a much tougher time running plays. By the end of the game, it was just Ellis and Curry juking and jiving and creating shots off misdirection and craziness. Sure that sounds like old GS, but it was clear they were TRYING to run plays, but the defense kept forcing them out of it.
Hedo looked good on defense until a bad stretch in the 4th. He was active early and at one point switched onto 3 different players on the same possession without letting any of them drive past or get an open shot. He's a smart guy. Don't worry about him unless his shot never comes around.
Robin Lopez is a defensive beast, and Channing Frye can block some shots. You read about Lopez on Seth's game notes, but I don't think he mentioned Frye's shot blocks saving the game for the Suns when it got tight. Frye was very effective.
The whole team looked pretty good and active on defense. Quite a departure from the passive days of yesteryear.
However, don't get discouraged
The Suns are different and certainly still a bit unsure of themselves, but they are still really talented and unique - a perfect combination for a quality regular season.
The Suns CAN score inside, just not on thunderous pick-n-roll dunks. Robin can finish a line-drive hook like nobody's business, and Childress can slash and Warrick can slash. The Suns WILL make 40% of their 3s (those shots really are open), which will make everything easier. And the defense can be pretty good when it's focused.
And Dragic can do all kinds of nifty things (10 pts, 4 rb, 4 ast, 1 stl on short minutes this night). He even took, and made, a one-handed running floater in the lane like a lot of the other PGs are doing these days to keep the defense off-balance. If he makes this floater consistently, he becomes so much more dangerous than before. Go, Goran!
JRich, Hill, Childress and Duds, who I didn't really mention here, played solid effective games and will make the wing positions (the 2 and 3 spots) an area of strength this season. These guys are a great combination of offense, defense and smarts.
With Goran and Steve at the 1, and Lopez and Frye at the 5, the Suns are set at four spots.
Success at the 4 (PF) is still TBD, but as long as Hedo and Warrick play balls-out and make their shots, they will be okay too.