For the first three minutes of Wednesday’s game, it seemed like this would be a perfect opportunity for Phoenix to steal a win at home. The Trail Blazers, who didn’t have C.J. McCollum due to a one-game suspension, started down 9-2 after Josh Jackson’s thunderous transition dunk.
From there, though, Portland outscored the Suns 122-67 en route to their worst loss in franchise history. In any NBA season opener, this broke the record as the largest defeat, too.
The overall performance of the Suns after the first 12 minutes was apparent. Maybe adrenaline got the best of them, but, wow, did that get out of hand fast. At one point, the Blazers expanded their lead to 58, and they allowed Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect, AKA Portland shooting guard, Pat Connaughton to score a career-high 24 points off the bench.
As far as efficiency goes, Phoenix only shot 31.5% (28-89), and it was close to 25% before spark plug Mike James entered the game and provided a scoring punch, finishing with 12 points in 11 minutes. However, James wasn’t able to ignite a rally like he could in the preseason, as he entered the game when they were down by 55.
One area that was a focal point throughout offseason and training camp, ball movement, seemed to be non-existent Wednesday. After displaying drills of 4-6 passes before a basket up in Flagstaff, it turned into either Eric Bledsoe or Devin Booker controlling it while everyone looked for cutting lanes. Their offense seemed rather disjointed from the jump to say the least.
Phoenix only finished with 9 assists in 48 minutes. They barely missed the franchise record of 7 for least in a single game set last season against Utah.
James took notice of that as well, pointing to that after the game. As he said, though, it’s natural for a team with an average age just above 24 years old, including Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley.
“I would say ball movement. I think sometimes the ball sticks in our hands a little bit and we just need to share it a little bit more. I think that will come with time," James said. “It’s the first game and I think we are a young team so I think that might be natural with a young team. We need to move it a little bit more. When we get better shots, I think that will limit as many fast break points and how many times the other team gets the ball.”
However, postgame, head coach Earl Watson pointed to a strategic failure for the main reason. After the first half, rather the first half of the first quarter, Phoenix’s offense went completely out of sorts. And as Watson alluded to below, Phoenix’s bench did them no favors after a fast start. Their bench unit had 0 points through three quarters, so that’s pretty alarming.
“I wouldn’t say lack of ball movement, I would say lack of everything almost strategically. I think at first when the game started we moved the ball great, we played together, the ball moved, excitement was high. Then we went to our bench and our subs, we went down, they took a plus eight-point lead and continued to build off of that,” Watson said of Wednesday’s performance. “We still got 27 threes, we got to continue to play the right way. That’s one thing about us, we can’t use age as an excuse. Portland came in here and they basically just kicked our butts as bad as they could, they didn’t have no sympathy. So we can’t come here thinking our age is an issue. When you get into this game, you get into this league, you have to play a certain way, in the paint, out of the paint, mindset, continue to play every possession like it’s your last.”
Even though there were fans in the stands already yearning for Tempe’s own Marvin Bagley III halfway through the first game of the season — which might be a microcosm of how fans currently feel at the moment — there still is 81 more games for the Suns to prove their young core is still one of the league’s brightest.
As Booker mentioned after Wednesday’s blowout loss, the fight wasn’t there for them. After a promising start, Portland hit them with a clean counter shot that knocked them out.
Now, Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers proves to be a key game so early in the season. How will the Suns bounce back from a performance like this?
A prove-it type game is now in the cards after Phoenix’s clunker of a home opener. Where they stand compared to other young, up-and-coming Western Conference teams will now be on display Friday night.
“We are working really hard and we go out there and don’t compete. We just got our asses kicked from beginning to the end. It was a reality check for us,” Booker said. “We got to bounce back, come in tomorrow. Luckily, it was only worth one loss, it felt like five. We got to come back and be ready for the Lakers Friday.”