Most every guy in the Phoenix Suns 10-man rotation dives, scrums and leaves everything they've got on the floor. No deficit is too big to overcome. No game is over until the final whistle blows. Down 26 to Cleveland? No problem. Down 10 to Denver? No worries. Down 18 to Chicago? Let's go!
What's become a blueprint for this team - get down big, then fight back like a whirling dervish - is both a good thing and a bad thing. The ability to fight back is admirable, but some deficits take too much effort to overcome. By the time you get back to tie it up, your tank is already empty.
Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair all airballed long jumpers in the overtime period. When you couple that with losing your two best big men of the night - Scola fouled out with 24 and 14, Morris left with injury after getting 8 and 10 - you just don't have enough left to close the deal.
But all these accolades of effort and scrappiness stops at eight of the ten players in the Suns regular rotation. Paging the heartbeats of Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley - the Suns starting wing players who didn't factor into the comeback attempt last night.
More on Beasley in a moment.
Jared Dudley is the surprise entrant in the doghouse. The former "Junkyard Dog" and winner of the Majerle Hustle Award has become a watcher. I remember a Jared Dudley that changed games with his level of effort. Back in the spring of 2010 as a member of the bench unit that propelled the Suns to the WCF, Dudley was cited as a catalyst of energy on a second unit that did, basically, the same thing today's second unit is doing. Dudley was the face of Suns hustle.
Now that Dudley is a starter, has he forgotten what earned him his old nickname "Junkyard Dog"? It's as if he's decided it's more important to practice jump shots than to dive and fight for rebounds the way he used to. Is he trying to pace himself to be fresh in the fourth? Well, I have to break it to Jared - if you don't hustle the whole game, you won't be playing in the fourth period very often. When was the last time Dudley made a key hustle play in the fourth? Heck, when was the last time Dudley played meaningful minutes in the fourth?
Whatever the reasons, whatever the circumstances, Jared Dudley's teammates have clearly passed him up in the hustle department. Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair, P.J. Tucker, Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris. Even Jermaine O'Neal, until a family death took him away from the team for a bit.
"If we just keep competing like this, we'll find a way to win," Gentry said.
Carlos Boozer mentioned Tucker by name after the game as a gamechanger on the offensive boards. Tucker had 7 offensive rebounds, including the game-tying bucket off an offensive rebound with mere seconds left.
P.J. "Garbage Man" Tucker has stolen the show from Jared "Junkyard Dog" Dudley, and now it's up to Dudley raise his own bar. He needs to decide that every single minute, every single play counts. There's no time to save your legs, or you'll be saving them on the bench.
Now to Michael Beasley, the other half of the floating tandem. Beasley is not a surprise, though. He came to Phoenix with a reputation bereft of all-out effort. He came to Phoenix with a mindset that's its better to shoot a contested jumper than to scrap inside with the bigger boys.
But never has it stood out in such stark display as last night's game. Beasley was on the bench watching the all-out hustle of the guys on the floor. He saw them come back from 18 down to tie up the game and send it to overtime. He saw that scrapping and clawing had done wonders on the scoreboard.
Then Markieff Morris got hurt, Luis Scola fouled out and Jermaine O'Neal was not yet ready for game action. Uh oh. All the big guys who could pair with Gortat were suddenly gone. And all eyes turned to Michael Beasley to help cap off this amazing comeback.
First play - a poor defensive effort, leaving Luol Deng open for the openest jumper in an hour.
Second play - an offensive turnover in which he committed an offensive foul AND threw a pass right to a Bulls player at the same time.
Third play - beaten in the post by Carlos Boozer
Fourth play - a good drive to the basket, but he made only 1 of 2 free throws.
By the time Beasley made a shot, the Suns had been outscored 8-1. This time, the game was over.
Here is where it gets interesting for the maturation (or not) of Michael Beasley.
It's one thing to watch on the sidelines while the team rallies, telling yourself that everything's okay and coach is just playing the hot hands in crunch time. And if you had the chance, you could do just as well or better than them.
It's another thing to get your chance and to fail.
And it's quite another - and much worse - to let your team down due to lack of effort and execution. After your teammates had done everything they could to get back in the game, to know you had brought none of that on the offensive and defensive ends at the most critical juncture of the game.
What will Beasley do about it? Will he realize what it takes to succeed on this team? Will he understand, finally, that's its not just about scoring when it's convenient?
And lest we forget, Alvin Gentry had two starters on the bench when Luis Scola fouled out.
Gentry could have subbed in the 6'8" Michael Beasley or the 6'7" Jared Dudley. Both undersized at having to defend either 6'9" Deng or 6'9" Boozer, so neither was a great defensive option.
I daresay, given the nature of the game and what had worked against the Bulls so far, that if Gentry had the "Junkyard Dog" waiting to sub in, he would have done that in a heartbeat.
But no. His choices were ineffective Jared Dudley and inefficient, but potentially explosive, Michael Beasley.
We need the "Junkyard Dog" back!
And we need Michael Beasley to raise his level of effort to match the rest of his team.
Or those guys are going to be left behind as the bus picks up speed.