This was a rough stretch for the Suns, who have struggled to replace one half of their dynamic duo with Eric Bledsoe out after meniscus surgery. The Suns went only 1-3 this week. However, in the midst of these losses, the players are still fighting and are never giving up. So, who deserves to be named the player of the week?
Dragic had another very good week. In fact, he is the biggest reason the Suns remain competitive at this point. Goran is doing all that he can to lead the team without his other half, but it is becoming more and more difficult it seems for him to maintain his level of play.
One noticeable difference this week was his lack of steals. Dragic has been averaging nearly two steals a game, which is one of the main reasons the Suns are so effective at scoring on turnovers and fast breaks. This week, however, he only recorded one steal in four games. If the Suns are going to survive this stretch without Bledsoe without falling out of playoff contention, they will need to find a way for Dragic to remain as active on both ends of the court as we saw early on.
Channing Frye is providing the spacing and three-point shooting that the Suns need to operate, even if they currently don't seem to be taking full advantage of it. Not only that, but he is providing some quality interior defense and helping in various ways.
Frye was the second leading scorer this week...and while that seems like a good thing for Channing, it's not necessarily good news for the Suns. However, to his credit, he is stepping up his game and doing all that he can to help the Suns get through this, and I expect Channing to continue to do so.
Miles Plumlee is quietly having some very solid games. He is making the most of his offensive opportunities and continues to alter shots defensively with his ability to move his feet and time his blocks. He is still a very raw player, but he makes the most of his natural ability, and seems to have a pretty good understanding of the game as well.
The biggest knock on Plumlee is his positioning on rebounds. While there's no doubt he needs to improve in this regard, a big factor in this is that he is going after blocks and challenging shots, so he is often times not in position to make that second jump for the rebound. If he is going to continue to challenge shots, which he should, the Suns need to give him help in the post to corral the rebounds.
The Player of the Week
Let's be honest, this wasn't a great week for the Suns. But where would they be without Dragic? He was the only player to average over 20 points per game this week, and also controlled the offense dishing out nearly seven assists per game.
The fact of the matter is, the Suns can't rely on Goran to do it all, yet that seems to be what's happening on most nights. Sure, they are getting quality contributions from various players in different games, but who else can the Suns really count on game in and game out to fill up the stat sheet?
With Dragic, you know what you're going to get each and every game. Sure he'll have better and worse games, but he's by far the most consistent player on the team. Dragic is doing everything he can on a consistent basis to help the Suns survive the absence of Bledsoe. The questions is, who else will step up and join him?
When Eric Bledsoe went down to a knee injury, many in the basketball world said "uh oh". Now that the Suns have gone 2-4 without Bledsoe, those folks are nodding in assent. But is the problem really all about Bledsoe?
The Phoenix Suns reached their high water mark of the season at eight games over .500 (giving them a 19-11 record) nearly two weeks ago with a drubbing of the Los Angeles Clippers in LA in which the Suns took a big first-half lead and never looked back. Their hot shooting and scrappy defense made the Clippers look pedestrian.
The future looked quite bright, highlighted with the promise of opening 2014 with eight consecutive games against losing teams.
But since then, very little has gone right for the season's biggest surprise team. Eric Bledsoe injured his right knee in that Clipper game and has not played since. Compounding the problem, the Suns went through a lull defensively while they hung their hats on hot shooting - a recipe for failure as a season-long road trip began.
While the loss of Eric Bledsoe may ultimately be the death knell to the Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes, or at least any chance of climbing into a top-4 seed, their 1-3 record in the last 4 games has been more a perfect storm of negative indicators than any long-term indication of failure.
Delayed start to 4-games-in-5-days
It's hard enough to go on a season-long road trip of 5 games. Harder still to play those 5 games in 7 nights, starting with the first 4 in only 5 nights.
But the difficulty factor goes up another notch when the weather is so bad you don't even travel to the first city until 6 hours before tipoff. That kind of travel ruins routines, and adds fatigue. I know it's only riding on a plane, but anyone who's traveled knows that for some unknown reason you're always tired at the end of a day of travel.
This factor is a small one, to be sure. A young team shouldn't need a lot of rest. But routines are routines, and if you're off kilter you don't play as consistently.
Playing 4 of the league's best 7 rebounding teams
We all know the Suns have trouble rebounding. I wrote last week that the Suns, already 28th in the league in defensive rebound rate (% of time they pull down an opponent miss) over all games (72%). They get absolutely killed in their losses to the tune of only pulling down 65% of opponent misses. That means 35% of the time the opponent gets inside position and an easy putback attempt.
During the first 4 games of the road trip that could easily have been a 4-game losing streak, their defensive rebounding rate was good only in that Minnesota win. In the other losses, it's been more of the same: 68%, 69% and 59%.
In the six games since the pasting of the Clippers, the Suns have faced a top rebounding team in 5 of them (Milwaukee the only exception).
Memphis (twice), Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit occupy 4 of the top 7 slots in rebound rate - and the Suns have gone 1-4 against those teams.
Normally this season, the Suns counter those putbacks against them by running down and making a fast break layup (league high 19 FB points a game) or a three-pointer (2nd in league with 31% of all their shots being 3s) to more than offset those little 2-point putbacks.
Between the fast breaks and the 3s, the Suns had the league's 5th highest Effective Field Goal percentage at one point, which factors in the higher value 3-point shot.
The idea is that the opponent should be so worried about the Suns fast breaks and shotmaking they abandon the offensive boards to get back on D as quickly as possible.
But when those shots aren't falling as often, the Suns offensive advantage is negated.
Over this 2-4 stretch, the Suns have made only 42% of their shots while allowing 46% to the other team. The Suns are still making 3s and defending 3s okay, but facing great rebounding teams has slowed down the pace and reduced the Suns fast break to a trickle.
Long term impact over the second half
The Suns plan is to overcome those great rebounding teams with fast breaks and 3s. While the 3s are still there, over the past week the fast break has been an issue. Partly at fault is the opponents. Great rebounding teams make you stay in the lane for boards rather than leak out for the break.
Partly at fault are the Eric Bledsoe replacements. While Bledsoe is one of the best in the league at creating and finishing in the paint, Ish Smith and Leandro Barbosa have been less than stellar in that area. Goran Dragic is still the Dragon, but he needs help running the offense over 48 minutes.
Barbosa used to be one of the best on the break and finishing at the rim, so the hope is that Barbosa just needs time to acclimate back into the NBA game. He's got his speed back, but his timing is off and he doesn't yet know the offense or defense enough to make a difference.
Given time, more home games and opponents lower down the rebounding food chain, the Suns should be able to weather this storm thanks to their hustle and shooting.
Of the next several opponents, only the Indiana Pacers are a really good defensive rebounding team. The Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, Nuggets and Wizards won't be able to control the boards like recent opponents.
Factor in that all but one of those games are in the warm desert, look for the Suns shooting to rebound as well.
The Suns were down the whole game, but fought back in the end to tie it up with just seconds left. However, they couldn't take the lead as the Pistons were able to outlast the Suns 110-108.
The Suns started out the first quarter by getting completely dominated inside on offense and defense, with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe each getting to the rim for easy baskets and getting their hands on rebounds and bothering the Suns defensively to jump out to an early 12-3 lead before Hornacek had seen enough and called a time out to stop the bleeding.
Things improved a bit for the Suns once they made some adjustments, mainly by more plays with Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee rolling and slashing to the rim to help Phoenix cut the deficit to just two points after an 8-0 run, with a score of 17-15 about half way through the quarter as it was Detroit's turn to call the timeout.
Josh Smith quickly took over for the Pistons scoring six consecutive points. Then received some help with contributions by Kyle Singler, Greg Monroe, and Brandon Jennings who racked up 11 assists to once again balloon the lead as Phoenix missed shots and turned the ball over, leading to fast break points and easy buckets by the Pistons. Detroit was firmly in control at the end of the first, leading 35-21, marking the most points the Suns have given up in the first quarter all season.
The Second quarter started with the Suns' bench getting their hands on the ball a bit more defensively, which led to a couple of fast breaks. However, the Suns were only able to convert on one of them, a drive by Leandro Barbosa, who seemed to be the one spearheading the offense as Goran Dragic rested.
Alex Len also helped the Suns battle on the boards with Miles Plumlee out, and was able to tap the ball out a couple of times to keep the offensive possessions alive for Phoenix. Some good defense and hustle on offense helped the Suns cut the lead to single digits, 37-28, after about four minutes through the quarter.
The Pistons continued to fight however, and were able to go back and forth with the Suns, who still couldn't manage to gain an upper hand. As many of the starters returned for both teams, the Pistons were able to once again restore their domination on the court by seemingly getting to the basket almost at will.
However, the Suns wouldn't quit and kept battling behind the hustle of Dragic, Plumlee, and Marcus Morris to keep the game from getting out of control, if nothing else.
At the half the Detroit led the Suns 64-51.
The third quarter began with more of the same...fast breaks and paint scoring by the Pistons. However, the Suns were able to knock down a few threes by P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye, and Goran Dragic as they were able to once again keep the Suns close.
To their credit, the Suns kept fighting and did their best to get their hands on loose balls, and both Tucker and Dragic also kept the pressure on the Pistons by attacking them when they had the opportunity to push the tempo, but for the most part it was still the Suns who were on their heels for most of the quarter.
Still, the Suns were able to chip away at the lead little by little, and at the end of the third quarter the Pistons maintained the lead, 89-79.
The Suns second unit started the fourth quarter with some renewed hope after battling their way back, and you could see they were hustling and playing faster than before. They were suddenly the fast and furious Suns we are used to seeing...as they got stops on defense and ran on offense in the first two minutes going on a 7-0 run to close the gap to just three points...timeout Pistons
It wouldn't be long before the Pistons went right back to what worked for them, getting the ball inside. However, the Suns continued to push the ball and started striking from behind the arc, with Tucker and Frye both hitting big shots to eventually tie the game at 92-92 halfway through the quarter.
Just when it looked like the Suns may be able to pull off another unlikely victory from behind, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope answered back with a big three of his own and then a fast-break to once again recapture the lead by five.
The Pistons would continue to trade baskets with the Suns...every time the Suns would hit a big shot the Pistons would answer back. The Suns had some great open looks down the stretch and some fast breaks that they just couldn't convert, which ultimately sealed their fate.
The Suns fought back valiantly and once again and a big three by P.J. Tucker off an assist by Barbosa once again tied the game with 51 seconds left. However, Josh Smith hit a three with one second left on the shot clock on the next possession...dagger
Just when it looked as if all hope was lost, Gerald Green got fouled on a three point shot with just four seconds left in the game, down three points, and he was able to hit all three shots to tie it up once again.
Could the Suns really do it again???
After Detroit called a timeout, Josh Smith drove on an off-balance layup off the wrong foot and was able to hit the unlikely shot which proved to be the dagger that buried the Suns for good, as Gerald Green missed the fall away jumper at the end.
The Detroit Pistons went on to win it 110-108...They can't all be happy endings, I guess.
Josh Smith led all scorers with 25 points along with his 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Both of the Twin Towers, killed the Suns on the glass and in the paint. Andre Drummond scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 5 blocks, and Greg Monroe also destroyed the Suns with his 20 points and 12 rebounds. Brandon Jennings dished an astounding 18 assists to go with his 8 points and 8 rebounds.
For the Suns, Channing Frye was the leading scorer with 21 points. However, P.J. Tucker probably had the best all around game with 17 points and 11 rebounds.Gorand Dragic scored 15 points and 8 assists, Gerald Green had 15 points and 7 rebounds, and Marcus Morris contributed with 17 points and 6 rebounds.
Tonight, the Phoenix Suns (21-14) will take on the Detroit Pistons (15-22) in their fourth game of this five game road trip. The Phoenix Suns are in the midst of a back-and-forth volley of wins and losses over the past five games. The good news is they are due for a win after last night's disappointing loss to the Grizzlies in a game which they were never behind until the last 2:43 of the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons are coming off a win last night against the Philadelphia 76ers that finally snapped a six game losing streak. They will be looking to continue their new-found winning ways back at home tonight against a Phoenix Suns team who is struggling a bit lately without one of their best players (Eric Bledsoe), and it's other playing with a sore ankle (Goran Dragic). Will the Suns be able to grind out a win against a very beatable opponent on the road tonight?
Rebounds! - The Suns are facing a big man duo in Drummond and Monroe who are averaging around 20 rebounds a night between the two of them, good for the 7th best in the league overall, and 1st in the league in offensive rebounding.. This has been a huge area of concern for the Suns who are currently 21st in the league overall, and have given up way too many second chance points because of it. The Suns will need a team effort and especially solid games from Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, and Markieff Morris to keep the Pistons off the glass.
Battle of the Bigs - The Pistons have one of the best big-man tandems in the league with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Drummond is a strong/athletic beast inside and Monroe is a very skilled big man who uses his footwork and shooting from around the paint to do most of his damage. Plumlee/Frye/Morris will have their work cut out for them on both ends of the floor in battling these two. The Suns will also need to use effective spacing and quick passes to create opportunities at the rim.
Tuckered Out - Josh Smith has been on a tear for the Pistons at home lately, averaging nearly 20 points over the past five home games. However tonight he will face the Suns' best lock-down defender in P.J. Tucker. Smith could very well be tonight's x-factor, and If P.J. can help take him out of the game, it should help the Suns secure a much needed win.
Catching Fire - The Suns have floundered a bit offensively without their most dynamic player in the line-up, and Goran Dragic can't do it alone. They will need someone else to step up and have a great game tonight to help the Dragon shoulder the load offensively.
It was a tale of two halves as Phoenix's offense was dazzling for the first 27 minutes and discombobulated from there on out. In the end, the Grizzlies' defense, and the Suns' infatuation with missing threes, was the difference.
The Suns were like a greyhound chasing a rabbit when the gates opened to start the game. Channing Frye, who may be single handedly responsible for global warming, got things going with a three pointer and had eight points in the first five minutes. Memphis tried to keep pace, but Phoenix gained some separation with an 8-0 run to push the lead to 25-15. Leandro Barbosa entered the game during this run, and in usual Blur fashion, showed why he earned his nickname and that he can still get to the basket practically at will. He scored back-to-back buckets for the Suns on picturesque teardrop layups.
Then a horrendous, but apropos, example of exploitation of a Suns glaring weakness reared it's execrable head. First Zach Randolph missed a shot at the rim, then Ed Davis missed one at the rim, then Davis missed another putback, then Randolph finally got it through the hole. Three offensive rebounds on one possession leading to a score... In all, Memphis grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the quarter. This helped Memphis cut into Phoenix's lead and slow the pace.
The quarter ended with a nice exchange (won by Memphis) in which Ed Davis posterized Alex Len with a ferocious dunk right over the rookie, but the tyro Len didn't drop his head and scored on a putback on the Suns very next offensive possession.
First Quarter Score: Suns 29, Grizzlies 25
Markieff Morris started off the second with a couple of jumpers, trying to get in the flow of the game right away leading the bench unit, but Mike Conley countered with a three pointer and followed that up with a driving layup (giving him 10 points in the early going) to tie the game at 36. As the quarter wore on the Grizzlies couldn't stop the Suns and the Suns couldn't stop Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies' bear of a power forward scored four consecutive baskets for Memphis as they started feeding him in the post, but while this was unfurling the Suns scored on six of seven possessions to pull back into the lead.
The flow of the game was favoring the Suns as the Grizzlies straggled behind them. Frye capped the first half scoring with a nice pump fake sidestep shot around his helpless defender which was somewhat reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki (minus the nauseating factor). The Suns 55 points (on 52.4% shooting) in the first half adumbrated auspiciously after stumbling to just 91 total in each of the first two games against the Grizzlies. Dragic led the way for Phoenix with 13 points and four assists. Conley had 14 points and three assists as a counterbalance.
Halftime Score: Suns 55, Grizzlies 48
Gerald Green resumed the barrage with back-to-back threes before missing on a heat check from 30 feet. Memphis was knocking shots down, too, but the Suns stretched their lead to nine on two more three pointers (one each by P.J. Tucker and Dragic). Four threes to start the quarter pushed the Suns to 9-14 from deep for the game. 12-10 scoring in the first 3:28 of the quarter. A cataract of points that led to a Memphis timeout.
The Suns couldn't capitalize on their momentum as they managed just seven points on 3-15 shooting over the remaining 8:32 in the quarter. Memphis ended up coming all the way back to tie the game with a 10-3 run over the last 6:07 of the period. Can that even be called a run? Maybe a stroll... or a crawl... Semantics aside it was a brand new game.
Third Quarter Score: Suns 74, Grizzlies 74
Phoenix decided they would try their hand at scoring again to start the fourth with Ish Smith, Miles Plumlee and Markieff leading a charge to put the Suns back ahead 86-82. After another Memphis timeout to stem the tide, they pounded the ball back inside to James Johnson and Kosta Koufous to tie the game again. Then, in a bit of turnabout is fair play, the Suns were able to corral three offensive rebounds in the lane to get Marcus Morris to the line, where he sank two free throws.
The game was turning into a dog fight. The effort in the arena was palpable, with both teams desperately clawing and scraping for a victory. There was some exceptional defense on display and the scoreboard stalled again. But after the score was stuck on 88-86 for what seemed like an eternity (it was actually only 2:13) Conley made two big shots (a long jumper and a three) and Ed Davis capped a 7-0 run to put Memphis ahead 93-88. Markieff scored two more buckets for Phoenix, but the Suns couldn't catch up because they couldn't make any stops... The Grizzlies, who were 6-15 from the free throw line entering the final minutes, sealed the hard fought victory by going 8-8 from the line down the stretch.
Final Score: Grizzlies 104, Suns 99
Player of the Game:
Mike Conley was the best player on the court tonight. In a rare occurrence, Goran Dragic was easily outplayed by a rival point guard he may be fighting with for a final spot on the All-Star roster. Conley had a game high 31 points to go with seven assists and was instrumental in the pivotal moments in the fourth quarter when Memphis finally seized control of the game. While Dragic finished with 21 (on uber efficient shooting) he only had three points in the second half until there were 28 seconds left in the game and Memphis just needed to make free throws to close out the game.
Comments of the Game:
He'll have to miss eventually....Right?!?!
- Memphis announcer on Channing Frye
Green is just dripping with confidence right now.
You get a three.
He gets a three.
Everyone gets a three.
Plum Jam. Now I'm hungry.
Um, Horny, how's it going, uh yeah time to put Dragic back in
Big Dragic fan but Conley is getting past him like he has an EZ Pass tag.
We brought this on ourselves.
This game shouldn't have been this close.
The first half. The flow of the game favored the Suns and their offense looked dynamic and efficient. The Suns scored 55 points against a team that had suffocated them in two previous meetings while shooting 52.4% from the field (22-42) and 55.6% from deep (5-9).
The Suns may have lost the game, but it wasn't for lack of effort. The intensity in the second half of the game was great theater. One effort stat is that Phoenix gave up 11 offensive rebounds in the first quarter... and then only three more for the rest of the game.
The Suns only committed six turnovers in the game. More evidence that they didn't play poorly, necessarily, they just couldn't score after Memphis ramped up their strangling defense.
The second half. The flow of the game favored the Grizzlies and the Suns' offense looked stagnant and lost. The Suns offense was stanched and they shot 32% from the field (16-50) and 28.6% from deep (6-21). The three point shooting was especially abhorrent after a quick start in the third pushed them to 9-14 on the game. From that point forward they went 2-16 (1-15 until Dragic hit a meaningless three with less than two seconds left). Phoenix went through a stretch of 18:38 spanning the third and fourth quarters were they scored an exiguous 21 points...
Speaking of three point shots, the Suns just kept chucking them. After going 7-29 in the first game against Memphis and 8-30 in the second game it was 11-30 tonight. Probably should have reigned the guys back in during that stretch where the Suns went 1-15 from deep and lost the game... The Suns last real chance to win the game - Green misses a three with :37 seconds to go and the team down by just four. Taking 30 three point shots against Memphis has proven to be a strategical blunder.
The Suns just simply fail on the interior game against this team. Horrible mismatch. Plumlee and the Morrii combined for 34 points (on 13-34 shooting) and 20 rebounds. Randolph, Davis and Koufous went for 38 (on 18-37 shooting) and 35. That makes three straight were they have been pummeled. I don't know how many games it would take for Phoenix to finally win this exchange for a game, but I'm glad that I don't have to find out...
I'm not complaining. Sure, it sucks that Phoenix lost, but that was a damn entertaining game in my opinion.
The Suns took one on the chin tonight. A game they could have easily won managed to slip away in the closing minutes. The Suns are just confounded by teams of the Grizzlies ilk. Hopefully other teams that don't habitually play that style won't be able to duplicate the blueprint that seems so successful against Phoenix.
Five games in seven nights is always a significant obstacle. Bledsoe being sidelined made it even more perilous. It wan't a stretch to surmise the Suns would have their hands full against teams like Chicago and Memphis. There is no reason for the Suns to hang their heads. Tomorrow provides a new opportunity with a game against a Pistons squad that won tonight, but had lost eight of nine prior to that.