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Game Preview: Suns could try efforting against Celtics to avoid more boos

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics
Dec 2, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devon Booker (1) drives on Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the second half of at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Boston Celtics

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM

Remember when Phoenix Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said that win over the Memphis Grizzlies was like a War and Peace novel?

Well after the best of (recent) times on Sunday, the Suns displayed the worst of (all) times on Tuesday against the scrappy but beatable Brooklyn Nets. They lacked energy from the veterans all the way down to the rookies. No one stepped up. They all backed down, but not even together. They backed down near each other but not necessarily together.

“We were talking about making progress and trying to take a step forward coming into this game and we definitely didn’t do that,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “We made three steps backwards.”

The most egregious of egregious

Allow me to point out a moment that, to ME — among all the egregious moments in that game — was the most telling of the cohesion within this team.

During the third quarter, the Suns had somehow pulled themselves within five points of the Nets — at 63-58 with 17 game minutes left — on an array of deep post moves by Ayton and an Ariza three pointer where he fooled everyone by actually sprinting down the court (for literally the first time that quarter) to position himself for a transition catch-and-shoot three. Timeout Nets. Five-point game.

During that timeout, Ariza was engaged and animated on the bench. He sat with his teammates in the huddle, talked animatedly with former Rockets teammate and current Suns head-scratcher Ryan Anderson on the way back on the court. Kevin Ray, who was calling the game right next to this action, attributed their body language as “a different energy” after Ayton had picked his emotion level and attacked the smaller Nets for the first time all game.

Be patient. I’m getting to the egregious part. Not there yet.

On the ensuing possession for the Nets, both Ariza and Anderson lost their man on the perimeter, and Jared Dudley nailed a three with Ariza’s outstretched arm no less than five feet away.

The Nets then took a Suns missed jumper as an opportunity to run out in transition. Ariza watched Jarrett Allen outrun Ayton to the other end for a catch and uncontested dunk. Ariza threw up his hands in disbelief.

A few seconds later, Ariza was under the basket on yet another transition runout by the Nets. He half-heartedly committed to doubling on Dudley’s drive with the ball when he noticed Booker trailing Dudley futilely, to maybe? contest Dudley at the rim. But Dudley instead saw Ariza’s man all alone in the corner and rifled an uncontested baseline pass right by Ariza to the corner for a three. Ariza stopped and slumped his shoulders BEFORE the ball hit Caris Levert in the hands.

Timeout Suns.

Here’s the payoff. To me, the most egregious moment.

Ariza never went back to the huddle. Never spoke to the 20-year old Ayton about hustling. Never spoke to the 22-year old bad-habit Booker about hustling. Nope. Ariza just walked toward the bench, then wandered away from the huddle and stood there with his hands on his hips talking to no one.

No teaching moment. No veteran moment telling the young guys what they did wrong. He just stayed off to the side, and found himself subbed out along with Ayton by the time the timeout was over.

Booker is asking for it.

“Holding each other accountable, and being okay with that,” Booker said of what they need. “For us, I don’t think we have that right now. We’re not comfortable with each other. We don’t step on each other’s toes. We don’t push each other and I think that’s what we need to do.”

Trust me, the players heard the boos from the crowd on Tuesday.

“I’d be doing the same thing if I was up there,” Booker said. “I understand it, but at the same time we need to fix it and at least show effort. I think that’s what they want to see and we haven’t given that.”

Is it Ayton and Booker’s faults that Ariza has checked out of the season — basically since game two? You all know Ariza’s been moving half-speed for a while now. Is he disgusted with the effort being put forth by the young stars, and so he’s given up on the season?

Or is it Ariza’s fault, as the 10 year NBA veteran and second-highest paid on the team, for not getting into these guys’ faces right then and there, telling them what they did wrong and how to fix it?

In that moment, it’s not Igor’s job. The coach’s job, at that moment, is to coach the team. Talk to his assistants. Pick the players he wants out there. Call the next play. Then maybe throw out some harsh comments to the group as a whole. Not get in individual players’ faces. Especially not when there’s multiple who would need that kind of yelling.

I blame Ariza for not being that guy the Suns thought they’d drafted. I also blame Booker and Ayton for not hustling more on D. Sure. But Ariza is supposed to be the culture-setter! You’re not setting the RIGHT culture by jogging around the court and just watching while teammates loaf.

Maybe Ariza is holding it for the locker room. Maybe he’s going to light into the guys between games to get them pumped for the next one.

Trust me please, I am not laying all blame on Ariza. Everyone is loafing. Everyone. The kids are developing bad habits because they are seeing it from the “veterans”.

Is it Igor’s fault? Yes. Is it Ariza’s? Yes. Is it Booker’s? Yes. Is it Ayton’s? Yes.

It’s everyones.

Let’s see what they do going forward. We shall see on Thursday night against the Celtics, who are basically the Nets times ten.

The Celtics

Defensive Rating: #1 in the league

Offensive Rating: #27 in the league

Hey guess who’s been in town for three days now, and are all rested up after getting beat by the Nuggets on Monday?

You guessed it. The Celtics!

Your home town team, the Suns, will face the more-rested Celtics on Thursday. Expect the Celtics to come out expecting to get back in the win column, and playing as if it means a lot to them to do so.

Unfortunately for the Suns, the Celtics have the league’s #1 overall defense, including one of the best big man defenders in Al Horford, so it might be hard for the worst offense in the league (the Suns, if you were wondering) to actually reach 80 points in this game.

Offensively, though, the Celtics continue to struggle despite returning two All-Stars to their roster that ranked 18th overall a year ago. The Celtics are struggling to incorporate both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving into the group that saw Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier emerge last season in their own right.

Fortunately for the Celtics though, the Suns are a turnstile waiting for some patrons, ranking just 26th in the league in defense.

The Suns

Defensive Rating: #26 in the league

Offensive Rating: #30 in the league

Not much more to say here.

I’m not quite sure how Devin Booker can be so good offensively and still be part of a terrible offense. Under Watson they finished #22 in 2016-17, then #30 last year under Triano, and now #30 this year (10 games) under Igor Kokoskov.

Is it Booker’s fault? Or is it the roster around him’s fault? In 2016-17, he had both Eric Bledsoe AND T.J. Warren averaging 14+ points per game. In 2017-18, that dropped down to just T.J. Warren. Now in 2018-19, his second leading scorer is rookie Deandre Ayton, with Warren third at 13.7 per game. But both Booker and Warren have already missed time, so those PPGs don’t count when they’re out.

Either way, it’s not the number of passes that’s screwing up the Suns’ offense. It’s the lack of offensive scoring power once those passes turn into shot attempts.

The Prediction

I’m not gonna predict a score.

But I’ll bet we get a good effort from Marcus Morris. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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