The Phoenix Suns found a way to scrap and claw to a 7th loss in 8 games on Friday night to the Washington Wizards who were missing most of their big men for various reasons. The Wizards played really small all game, and eventually lucked into putting a W on the board.
How did the Suns find a way to lose another one, this time blowing a 10 point lead in the final 11 minutes of the game? And this time after the Suns had just blown 4th quarter leads of 16 points and 5 points in the previous two.
Coach Hornacek and staff
It's always easy to blame the coach for poor performance by his players. If the players play well, the coach looks really good. When the players play poorly, the coach looks like a fool. That's just the way the game works.
For sure, they have not found the right formula with this team to create lasting success. For now, let's focus on the 4th quarter and Hornacek's substitutions.
The same group that finished the third quarter got to start the fourth, and helped the Suns extend the lead to 10 points (88-78) on Warren's three pointer in the opening minute.
When Ronnie Price committed a shooting foul on the next play, Hornacek subbed in one of his starting guards (Brandon Knight) for P.J. Tucker but otherwise left the lineup the same. That made the Suns slightly smaller, with Devin Booker the small forward, T.J. Warren the power forward and Markieff Morris the center around Price and Knight.
Why the shift smaller? Because the Wizards had gone extremely small, with Jared Dudley, Gary Neal, Bradley Beal, Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple on the floor. Dudley was the center around four small guards. The Wizards later subbed in John Wall and Otto Porter, Jr. for Neal and Beal, staying small. The Suns continued with their lineup until the lead was virtually lost by the 6 minute mark.
You could argue that the Suns "stayed too big" with Morris at center while they lost the lead. Someone like Teletovic or Leuer could have manned the middle in Morris' place and provided more long-range shooting. But really, Morris should have provided the Suns an advantage in rebounding, while still generating offense in the paint.
Anyway, the same lineup that got the lead basically lost it before Hornacek subbed back in the starters. Once the starters came back, they simply didn't perform well against a continuously small Wizards team. But even so, better performances and a couple fewer bonehead plays by the players (mentioned below) would have still gotten the Suns this win.
I suppose putting Teletovic at center over Morris might have made the difference, especially with Dudley at center for the Wiz. But then again, Teletovic wasn't playing well earlier in the game and if he's not making threes he's of little value. Heck, Tucker might have been a good center against Dudley, but he needed some rest before returning later in the quarter.
Leuer (13 points, 2 rebounds in the first three quarters) did not play at all in the 4th. Hornacek could be discredited with not turning to Leuer at all when the Suns needed buckets (crazy as that is to say).
Also, the Suns have plenty of guards to have stayed small all quarter, but really with Markieff Morris (or Leuer) at center for all 12 minutes that's about as small as they should have gone. In hindsight, you might say Devin Booker would have been better than Tucker, or Knight, or Bledsoe even. But that's using hindsight. Those three should have been able to close a game better than Devin Booker, or Archie Goodwin or Sonny Weems.
Bledsoe entered with 6:07 left in the 4th, the Suns in the lead at 98-96. He replaced Ronnie Price, who'd just committed a shooting foul (his second of the quarter) on John Wall to help the Wizards cut the lead to 2.
He did not commit any major errors, but as the team's leader and primary ball handler, he has to be discredited with generating only 8 points in the final 6:07 of the game. Overall, the Suns were outscored 14-8 in Bledsoe's 4th quarter minutes.
- Good: Drew 4 FTs (making 3), and scored the only Suns bucket in the final 7 minutes (had 5 of Suns' 8 points in last 6 min); 0 turnovers, 0 fouls committed
- Bad: No assists, no rebounds (including that one dumb play with Morris shown later), 2 missed shots (one at buzzer); led the Suns to only 8 points in 6 minutes
Knight played the last 10:56 of the game, replacing P.J. Tucker. Knight shared the PG duties with Ronnie Price, and later Eric Bledsoe. During Knight's 4th quarter minutes, the Suns were outscored 28-18.
Knight did not factor into the final score much, with only 1 point scored on two shots and three free throw attempts in the 4th. As the Suns second leading scorer and second hallhandler, you could argue he should have made a much bigger impact. He came into the quarter with 18 points and 4 assists in the first three quarters, but in 11 fourth quarter minutes only scored once.
- Good: 1 assist, 1 rebound, 1 steal
- Bad: 2 misses, 1 foul committed (no FTs), 1 turnover, missed the first of three free throws with chance to tie game at 108-108
Warren played the first seven minutes of the 4th, making 3 of 6 shots for 7 points. He added an assist as well, on a Markieff Morris jumper. He was replaced by P.J. Tucker at the 5:26 mark with the lead down from 10 (on Warren's 3) to 2 on his watch. Overall, the Suns were outscored 20-15 in his 7 fourth quarter minutes. He jumped back in for a few seconds later in the quarter, but did not see the ball.
Warren wasn't the reason the Suns lost the game, but he was out there when the lead disappeared.
- Good: Scored 7 of the Suns 15 points in his minutes, 1 assist, 0 turnovers
- Bad: Took 6 shots to get those 7 points, had 0 rebounds
Tucker played the first minute of the 4th (no impact), then returned with the score 100-98 Suns at 5:26. The Suns were outscored by 5 points in his 5 minutes on the floor (while Warren was outscored by 5 in his 7 minutes). Tucker had scored 9 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the first three quarters, helping the Suns to their lead, but was ineffective in the 4th.
- Good: 3 rebounds (2 offensive)
- Bad: 1 foul (1 point to Wiz, Suns up 2), 1 turnover (traveling, Suns down 1), 0 points scored
Morris played the entire 4th quarter, and was generally good in the first half of the quarter and generally bad in the latter half. Kinda like all the Suns, really. But with Morris getting such backlash, this kind of game doesn't help at all. The Suns were outscored by 10 in the final quarter, on all Morris' watch.
In the final four minutes, Morris' contributions: two missed shots, two shooting fouls committed, one delay-of-game call (Wiz missed the FT) and one really stupid rebound attempt out of bounds.
Here's one crazy thing
Yo Markieff got a tech for this! (Suns 2nd delay of game, free throw position arguing.) pic.twitter.com/WicpbuZohF— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) December 5, 2015
And here's another
I always worry about teams when they can't execute simple plays like this. #PHXatWAS https://t.co/kC0uzP43Jm— Tas Melas (@TasMelas) December 5, 2015
Are those really examples of Morris tanking? No. He was trying to avoid Hollins, so the Suns could miss the FT and he could grab the offensive rebound. It just didn't work out, and he appeared to be the only one who knew what he was trying to do. On the rebound, he was going for the ball and Bledsoe didn't wait to receive it.
Both are examples of a good idea executed awfully. Could be a sign of lack of concentration, sure. But not tanking.
The awfulness comes when you realize the failed rebound allowed the Wizards to tie the game at 103-103. And the delay-of-game tech happened when the Suns were desperately trying to tie the game. You can't make those mistakes at those crucial times.
- Good: 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block
- Bad: 4 fouls committed (Wiz made 5 of 6 FTs), 4 missed shots + 1 TO and one really stupid rebound attempt (called a Wiz offensive rebound)
Lots of Suns fell apart in this game, attributing to the loss. You can pick out a few turning points in the final 6 minutes alone and blame the players. Or you can blame the coaches who allowed them to make those mistakes by putting them on the floor in the first place.
The truth is somewhere in the middle, and unfortunately might just get coach Jeff Hornacek fired unless something dramatic happens to turn the season around. The Suns have now lost 7 of their last 8 games, the most recent three losses being of the "how did they lose that game?" variety.