Facing a foe in consecutive games is no easy task. You become familiar with each other, you get sick of that one dude who keeps elbowing you in the ribs, and it is easy for tensions to be high. The avenging team (the Suns in this case) almost always comes out hot for the next game, channeling their disdain for the previous loss. To no surprise, the Suns did just that in the first quarter, scoring 33 points with zero (!) turnovers.
But then, like most nights, the starters had to take a breather, and Brandon Knight and well, Alex Len took over from there. Phoenix’s twelve point lead eventually evaporated thanks to some spirited work in the paint from Kenneth Faried and a classic bucket-getting half from Danilo Gallinari.
By the end of the half, the Suns were up 61-59, but the early momentum had been lost.
Some assorted thoughts:
- The coaching staff made a conscious effort to feed T.J. Warren the rock in the first quarter, running the same action over and over to get him one step ahead of Gallinari. Returns on this venture were spotty, with Warren shooting a meager 2 for 6 on his shots in the first quarter. Regardless of the results, I enjoyed the ambition to involve Warren as the focus of the offense; sometimes it can be too easy to fall in love with the Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker show.
- There was a sequence in the first quarter (7:13 left I believe) where Bledsoe ran a pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, but rather than Chandler rolling to the basket, he set another screen to free up Booker near the free throw line, who had looped around from the baseline. Though seemingly minuscule, that is an interesting wrinkle to keep the defense on their toes while also pinning Booker in position to attack. The end result was a near and-1 from Booker. (I wish I could grab the clip to show you guys, but League Pass’ blackout rules put a stop to that.)
- One of my favorite things to do while watching the game in person is observing Bledsoe maneuver his way through a collision course of screens. Since he is able to juke the screener and stay in front of his man, the defense isn’t forced to bend to its limit, forcing an offense to audible on the fly. Now, Bledsoe isn’t able to do this every possession, but given his responsibility on offense, it is impressive he can summon the energy to do it at all.
- Booker absolutely bullied Denver’s guards in the post in the first half. It’s easy to forget how young Book is because normally we associate pristine post play with veterans, but he knows how to get to his spot and strike accordingly. The Suns will wisely have Booker screen on Bledsoe’s man at some points to facilitate a switch and allow him to feast on opposing point guards. What a weapon.
- Early in the third quarter, Booker picked up his third foul and was subbed out for Brandon Knight. From then on, the offense struggled to keep pace with Denver, producing movement that didn’t provide a pathway to scoring and a ton of disgruntled facial expressions. Poor Bledsoe had to take it upon himself to hoist inefficient jumpers late in the shot clock as a prayer. This was where the game was lost.
- Thankfully, Leandro Barbosa came into the game to make it all better. (Kinda.)
- It’s hard to understand why this team does not play better together defensively. Whether it is due to a lack of focus, confusion about rotations, or other factors, the personnel does not match the production on the defensive end. I understand that younger teams tend to struggle on that end, but you would think that Chandler, Bledsoe, and P.J. Tucker would be able to cover up mistakes more often.
- A loud portion of the fan base will relish in tonight’s outcome, hoping it will spearhead a spiral down the standings towards a higher draft pick. Although I understand the logic, I have a hard time sharing that sentiment. Rooting for a team to lose is a weird place for a fan to be in when there are still months left in the season. Tanking should be an initiative for late March, not January.
Tough loss tonight. Thanks for hanging with me both on here and on Twitter.