After yet another blown lead in the fourth quarter, the Phoenix Suns finally blew their cool to the media. All season long, they've been staying neutral on post-game interviews, but last night was just too much.
"Even though we were up," Suns forward P.J. Tucker said of the Suns game-long lead. "They still were in the game the whole time and they didn't panic. I think teams know that now, just keep it close and we'll do something dumb to let you win it."
The Suns had leads of 15 in the third quarter, which they promptly lost, and then again a 9-point lead with 7:18 left in the fourth that they coughed up as well. Even later in the game, the Suns grabbed a two-point lead with 1:31 left but then the Suns turned it over on three consecutive possessions to let the Bucks ran away with a win.
BBallBreakdown had a scathing take on the late-game playcalling.
Here's the killer possession with the Suns down 2.
Hornacek doesn't call a play, just runs motion offense. MCW rips Suns heart out with this steal. https://t.co/MCU6Inesst— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 21, 2015
According to Hornacek, this isn't necessarily true. In the postgame, he said he called some actions in the huddle designed to get Brandon Knight the ball with space to move, but it totally broke down at the outset.
"We were supposed to have a high pick ‘n' roll and then into the pick on Brandon (Knight)," Hornacek said. "(But) we went right into the pick on Brandon and that didn't set anything up. They (the Bucks) were able to get help and if you come off the pick first then you drive that guy with you and then Brandon can come over."
Hornacek trailed off for a moment, disgusted.
"Brandon had just made a couple shots so we wanted to get him curling off there," he continued. "Catching the ball and attacking there and if the guys pulled in then he was going to kick it out for three's to somebody. But we didn't set the first one so they never really jumped out and we couldn't set a good screen."
Hornacek was so frustrated during that post-game presser he kept folding and unfolding the stat sheet as he talked, and then crumpled it and threw it in the trash on the way out. I've never seen him so frustrated.
Whether the Suns call good plays in timeouts or not, it's clear that what's expected in the huddle is not always what's executed. Maybe that's because Hornacek just calls for initial actions, and then expects the guys to make smart plays after that. The way Hornacek described the play call alluded to this. He calls the initial actions (pick, then p-n-r, then pop to Knight) then expects Knight to read and react to the defense.
Here's the final offensive possession with the Suns down 4. Again, bballbreakdown hangs it on Hornacek.
Suns run elevator, but Hornacek doesn't understand that cutter needs to set a screen first for it to work. https://t.co/kvA0DcHeXg— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 21, 2015
Again, here's an example of the Suns calling the initial actions in the huddle and expected smart reactions by his ball handlers as the play unfolds.
Hornacek himself was a smart player. He spent his entire career playing next to two of the best point guards in the history of basketball: Kevin Johnson and John Stockton. Maybe he expects too much from his players. Maybe he gives them too little structure.
Either way, while Goran Dragic might have made more smart decisions than bad ones, it seems that Bledsoe and Knight are struggling with those same freedoms.
Bledsoe looked defeated as well. He didn't give his usual 'that's a great team' comment when asked how the Suns lost another one. He was honest, if unspecific.
"I don't know what it is, honestly," said Bledsoe. "We definitely have to find a way to win games like this. All games aren't going to be pretty, but at the end of the day, we have to find some type of way to get the job done."
But it was Tucker who really laid the wood on the Suns. He wasn't focusing on late-game execution. He focused on the game as a whole. Players and coaches always know that games are won and lost earlier than the final minutes. To Tucker, it was lost at the outset.
"I don't even think it's the physicality," Tucker said. "We let things happen to us rather than be proactive and do things and stop things from happening to us. We kind of sit back and let teams get more physical with us and not hit them first, especially early in the game, so teams get comfortable and we get relaxed, even when we get leads.
"We were up 13 points and I think they got seven or eight stops in a row and we still game back with nothing. For us it's got to start on defense. We get stops, we run easy baskets and the game comes easy. When we don't get stops, it's going to be a long night."
They all say it starts with defense, but the Suns are just not stopping anyone on the perimeter from getting going. And that includes Tucker, as well as Bledsoe and Knight.
"We've been unlucky," Tucker said, "But still even with the unluckiness; it's still 85 percent us killing ourselves and not teams doing it to us. We're doing it to ourselves, there's no other way to put it. Teams are just beating us and making tough shots we want them to take, that's one thing, but we're getting beat on simple stuff."
On to Utah, for a game tonight.
"We just have to keep playing, it doesn't get any easier," Tucker said. "We're going into Salt Lake City and they're right there, in the same position. They're still going to play, it's one of the toughest places to play in the league and they're going to come and fight. If we don't put our hardhats on, it's going to be a long holiday."
If the Suns lose by 20+, Hornacek's career as Suns coach could very well be over.
At the least, I think his days are numbered as long as they keep losing stupid games like last night. It might not be his fault, but the team just isn't executing the way a well-coached team would execute.