Six consecutive losses. All within four points in the final four minutes. All losses by the Phoenix Suns, who have killed themselves by taking nearly two-thirds of their shots from behind the three-point line when the game is on the line.
On the season, in which the Phoenix Suns are 12-14 overall, but they are just 3-9 in clutch situations defined by me as tied or trailing up to four points in the final four minutes. That parameter allows me to include the Houston game, which started as a blowout but got quite close at the end. Over the past 10 days alone, the Suns are 0-5 in such situations.
*all stats according to nba.com/stats
In the Suns first 20 games, they were 12-8 overall and 3-4 in such clutch situations. Not an awesome record, but you're talking about an inherently difficult situation to win - tied or trailing in the waning minutes. Conversely, the Suns were 2-0 in games they led by a close margin going into the final minutes, and 7-4 in all other games.
In those seven clutch games where the Suns had to earn the win in the final minutes, they took half their shots from behind the three-point line, making 50% of them (On the season, 31% of the Suns shots are threes, of which they make 37%), allowing them to win those games despite grabbing less than half the available rebounds during that stretch.
Fools gold? Maybe.
Over the past week, the train has gone off the rails, and it's all tied to that three-point shooting. Five of these six losses were close games, where the Suns were tied or trailed by 4 points or less in the final four minutes.
In those losses, 62% of all their field goal attempts in those final minutes were three-point attempts, but they only made 23% of them. (On the season, 31% of the Suns shots are threes, of which they make 37%).
That's staggeringly bad, yet it passes the eye test. When the game is close, the Suns are taking the easy way out by hoisting threes like a spirited game of beer pong. And when they miss, they take even more.
Their opponent, on the other hand, is taking a healthier distribution of shots, with only 33% of their shots being three-pointers and making 50% of them in the closing minutes over the past 10 days.
More than ever, the Suns are dying by the three in the waning minutes of these games.
You could say this is a run of bad luck, especially since two of the losses are buzzer-beating banked-in three pointers by the opponent.
You could say that the law of averages will even out and the Suns will go back to their winning ways.
Or, you could say the Suns should do more driving to the hoop in the final minutes rather than hoisting so many damn three pointers (50+% of all field goal attempts in the closing, tight minutes are threes?!).
Some of that is on the coach. Some of that is on the players who are breaking from the play to hoist a three. And some of that is credit to the opponent for giving the Suns a way to kill themselves.
Whether it is, something has to change.
Your recap of the week that was, as well as a look ahead.
It doesn't seem possible, but the Phoenix Suns' season is already slipping away, and we haven't even reached Christmas. The Oklahoma City Thunder have surged up the standings, to the surprise of no one, after securing the returns of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The Suns (12-14) are still a game ahead of the Thunder (11-13) in the standings, but it is painfully obvious that the two teams are heading in opposite directions.
Following a six-game losing streak that included a myriad of tragedies, the Suns are losing more than basketball games. They are losing their identity.
Jeff Hornacek built a team that thrived on simplicity. Spread the floor, attack the middle, hustle and never say die. Suddenly the high screen action that was so deadly last year has all but vanished, and has been replaced with convoluted schemes that take too long to develop and don't seem to have the faith of the players. What results is a lot of haphazard passes around the perimeter until someone decides to stop the ball and either hoist from 3 or attack the painted area, which is suddenly populated by opposing defenders.
After the most recent embarrassment at home to the admittedly talented Milwaukee Bucks, Hornacek offered this quote about Markieff Morris: "Markieff was doing such a good job in the post, we were trying to get him the ball in there." He continued, "Our guys couldn’t get in there, fronting them, just took us too long to get into it, so by the time we went to something else, it was too late."
Markieff was the subject in this particular instance, but you could replace his name with virtually everything else the Suns have tried to do lately and it would still ring true. There seems to be no sense of timing in the halfcourt sets, and very rarely are they able to get where they want to on the floor. They can stay competitive if they're connecting from long-range, but so few of their long-range attempts these days are a result of breaking the defense down properly.
As for that 'never say die' attitude that was born during last season's surprising campaign, this team is uncomfortably comfortable with saying die. They have already suffered three 20+ point defeats during which they never threatened -- a feat accomplished only twice last season, with one coming in a game that Ish Smith started (2/26 @ UTA).
Gone also is that famed 'stupid' mentality. The team suddenly seems to be quite the opposite -- cripplingly self-aware. We've all heard the old adage about playing to win versus playing 'not to lose'. The Suns have exemplified the latter quite remarkably. They often seem paralyzed with fear at the prospect of suffering yet another humiliation, and in general look to be having a pretty miserable time out there.
None of this is to insinuate that the players don't care. They absolutely do. They stomp their feet, act demonstratively, puff their chests up--basically, they behave the same way as wild animals that are outmatched and have no clear opening to attack.
About the only compelling storyline at this point is who will end up leading the team in scowls. Gerald Green is the reigning champion in this department, but he is facing stiff competition this year.
It shows in the mannerisms of their coach, too. The calm, unflappable version of Hornacek from his rookie season has slowly transformed into a much different iteration--one that rolls his eyes and shakes his head and paces about in disgust, when he isn't barking at the referees.
Phoenix Suns basketball has become a chore to watch, and it certainly doesn't look like much fun to be directly involved in it, either. There might be no recourse available at this time to recapture the identity of the Jeff Hornacek Suns at the moment, short of hitting the magical reset button and going back to training camp.
Or July, for that matter.
Here in the real world, this might still get worse before it gets better.
Note: Forgive me for skipping the recap of the past week. I have no inclination to rehash the horrors that I have seen, and I doubt you would be inclined to read it, unless you're a disturbingly sick individual.
This 'home court' thing doesn't seem to be the Suns' jam, especially against East teams, so why not head out on the road? The Suns should have revenge on their mind after dropping one to the Hornets on November 14, 103-95, but to suggest so would be to imply that the Suns have any pride or joy left. Aside from that, you know the drill. The Hornets are 6-18 on the year and the Suns can't afford another letdown against a bad team if they want to right the ship and yada yada. I'm not betting on them until they start looking like they enjoy basketball again.
If they can't notch a win in Charlotte, then they'll have another game against a bad team that they can't afford to lose to if they want to right the ship (will someone please right this ship?!?!)--the hapless Knicks, who stand at 5-21. If they can't squeeze anything enjoyable out of that matchup, then perhaps the formidable Wizards, second in the East at 17-6, will get their blood flowing.
Here's to hoping that we see the Suns smile again at some point in the next week ... somehow, some way.
We need it. This is supposed to be fun.
Here's what the players had to say after losing their sixth straight last night to the Milwaukee Bucks.
There are bad losses, and then there are horrible, gut-wrenching losses.
Last night's loss at home to the Milwaukee Bucks, after leading for more than three and a half quarters, going up one point with three seconds left, and losing to a well-defended, lucky, hit-every-part-of-the-rim three pointer that eventually decided to be the final nail in the coffin, rather than simply bounce off the way it was supposed to, definitely falls into the latter category.
The Phoenix Suns badly needed a win last night. Not only because they were teetering on the eighth spot in the Western Conference, but also because they had lost five straight...with all but one of them (Oklahoma City Thunder) being games that they probably could have, or should have won.
But the loss that came on a lucky three-pointer as the buzzer sounded was not only the most deflating of the season, it also marked their worst losing streak in two seasons.
But make no mistake, the Suns may have lost the game to a lucky shot, but it was their own fault for letting it get to that point, after leading for most of the game by around 10 points.
Goran Dragic had to miss his second straight game with a back strain, and the Suns looked like they couldn't find an answer offensively, save for Markieff Morris who had an outstanding first half, scoring 19 points (25 total). But even he couldn't get in going for most of the second half, scoring only two points in the third quarter, and then four points at the very end of the fourth quarter, for a total of six points...along with committing five turnovers in the second half.
Speaking of turnovers, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek blamed that more than anything on last night's loss. "Just careless." He continued, "We’ve got to value the ball more. What did we have? 23 turnovers? We didn’t know where the shot clock was at."
Hornacek explained that the Bucks' defense caused a lot of those turnovers to occur with how they were playing the Suns. "They do a good job of rotating; you’ve got to move the ball, make quick decisions. I think that was the stretch [after the 83-73 lead followed by three turnovers]; that was the killer." He continued, "You have an opportunity to stretch the lead, then we have some dumb fouls and whenever you give a road team life at the end, you know, bad things can happen. That’s what happened."
Hornacek mentioned that the Suns were trying to exploit a mismatch in the post with Markieff, but were unable to get the ball to him early enough. "Markieff was doing such a good job in the post, we were trying to get him the ball in there." He continued, "Our guys couldn’t get in there, fronting them, just took us too long to get into it, so by the time we went to something else, it was too late."
The Suns one again found themselves unable to execute for one reason or another. On most nights it has been poor defensive execution, and while there were some key breakdowns on defense tonight as well, the majority of the Suns struggles in last night's loss came on the offensive end.
Right now, it's difficult to say what's going on with the Suns. Every game seems to provide a new problem that needs to be examined, and another reason for the team's struggles.
So who better to ask than the guys on the court?
Here is what the players themselves had to say after the game (And thanks again to Evan Wendt for editing the videos!):
Bledsoe once again blamed the Suns lack of intensity more than anything, saying that the Bucks just played harder, and out hustled the Suns. While that certainly happened at times, I didn't get the same impression tonight. To me it seemed more about lack of execution and sloppy play on offense all night, more than anything else. But hey, he was on the floor, so I'll take his word for it.
Thomas said that he thought they did enough to win the game, but that they lost because of that lucky shot. That may be true, but the Bucks never should have been in that position to win the game in the first place. Isaiah was also at a loss for the high turnovers, saying that they keep pushing the ball to be aggressive and they're just happening. The Suns certainly can't win by playing slow, so they're going to have to keep pushing the ball. But they definitely need to figure out a better way to execute on offense without playing so sloppily.
Keef probably gave the answer that I agreed with most. To him, it was simple. A lack of execution in the fourth quarter and allowing the Bucks to hang around all game is what caused this loss. The Suns never pulled far enough away to give the Bucks reason to quit, or feel like they couldn't come back and steal a win on the Suns' home court...and they eventually did just that.
The Suns now have a day off before playing the Charlotte Hornets on the road Wednesday night, in what will be the beginning of a three game Eastern Conference road-trip. I would say that the Suns should be able to win at least two of the three games, with the opponents being the Hornets, Knicks, and Wizards, but right now, there aren't any opponents that you can pencil in as a "W".
But if the Suns can manage to win at least two of the three, that will be a good start in getting them back to .500, and on track to turning this season back around, before coming home to play the Dallas Mavericks next Tuesday.
If not, then they might be in for a very long and disappointing season.