Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
That was a really good game. As much as the loss left me feeling a bit gut shot, I liked a lot of what I saw. And for the record, I sadly called this in my Christmas poem with the line, "J-Rich needs to find his man on rotation." I do not like being prescient.
What I liked:
Energy - The 9-0 start was nice and featured some excellent ball movement. And, to mixed effect, there were lots of bodies flying around on defense. The guys came to play.
Shaq-a-Claus: The Big Santa set the tone early on both ends of the floor. He used his size to make life miserable for Tim Duncan (drawing several fouls in the process) on the offensive end and made him settle for jumpers on the defense (jumpers, sadly, that kept going in).
Amare Pays Attention - It's sad that Amare having is head in the game is something to get excited about, but he seemed completely present, if not dominant, throughout the game. Seems kind of odd to complain about focus and consistency from a guy who has record 20 or more points in the last 11 games (tying Dirk Nowitzki for longest active streak in the NBA) AND led the team in rebounding for the last 8 games, but sometimes he just doesn't seem like he's into it. Sharing balls with Shaq does that to you, I suppose.
Clearing the Glass: As poorly as Robin and Sweet Lou rebounded, the rest of the Suns were emphatic about getting to the glass. Matt Barnes and JSun Richard Sun were all over the boards and that translated to a 50-43 Suns edge.
What I didn't like:
Steve Nash and Grant Hill on the bench: Please, Dee Brown, be ready to run this offense soon. Very soon. Like before this game. The Suns are simply lost without Nash on the offensive end. And when Porter chooses to rest Hill at the same time, well, good luck finding a Suns point. Dee Brown can't suit up soon enough and the bar is slow, he should impress quickly.
Big Guys off the Bench: Sweet Lou rocked and incredible 4 TRILLION. Robin Lopez was good for 2 rebounds, 1 turnover and 2 fouls in his 8 minutes. For the first time since the trade, I miss Boris Diaw.
Not Exploiting Matt Bonner: I know Porter wanted to get Shaq going early versus Timmy, but why wasn't every offensive play of the first quarter going through Amare Stoudemire? Bonner can't keep up with Amare.
Turnovers: 14 to 6. 'Nuff said.
Cold Wings: Barbosa and Barnes combine to go 1-10 from the field? That's not going to win too many games. Barnesy at least got after the glass and finished with 7 boards.
Rotation, rotation, rotation: There's some work to be done on the defensive end. While the Suns looked good and high energy, some of that "flying around" was due to blown assignments.
Overall, there was a lot to like about this game. The Suns showed grit when the Spurs fought there way back into it. They demonstrated a consistency of effort that's been lacking and seemed focused throughout the game. At the end of the day, though, Pop AGAIN demonstrated himself to be the master of the mid-game adjustment. Nash's playmaking ability was basically nullified after the first quarter and while Amare ended up with 25 points, he was unable to assert himself against Kurt Thomas and Tim Duncan down the stretch. Also, I hope one of the skills Dee Brown brings to the table is the ability to keep Tony Parker in front of him
Yes, it sucks to lose to the Spurs yet again. However, I think the Suns are moving in the right direction. This squad is looking more cohesive with each game. And with a little more integration, J-Rich doesn't leave the 48% 3-point shooter alone in the corner the next time these teams meet. I just hope these Suns take this as "just a bad loss", instead of as a reason to give up hope.
Here's the post-game audio courtesy of Sports 620 KTAR.
And in other Suns news, Alando Tucker is going to the D-League for a rehab assignment and poor Goran will be following shortly behind (thanks, Phoenix Stan!).