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Good defense beat decent offense.

The Phoenix Suns had a chance to beat the Houston Rockets on Thursday night. The bench unit got torched in the second quarter but the Suns shot well in the third and got back in the game. In the fourth quarter, however, Phoenix only scored 13 points. Eight came with Nash on the bench and five when Nash came back in the game.

Suns were down 83-84 when Nash came back in at the 6:20 mark, making it a very winnable game. From there, Houston finished on a 13-5 run, mostly thanks to their active defense.

Houston employed the same strategy the Lakers used to shut down the Suns on the 10th of January. They went small with Scola/Patterson, Budinger, Parsons, Lowry and Dragic. That's a four playing the five and a three playing the four.

After getting killed on the glass 37-21 through the first three quarters, the small Houston lineup allow the Suns to win the boards 10-7 and Phoenix gave up no offensive rebounds and no second chance points in the fourth quarter (Houston had 12 OReb and 22 second chance points for the game).

By going small, however, the Rockets were able to switch some pick and rolls and basically created havoc by rotating quickly.

Lowry took two charges and had a great block in the stretch. Budinger was solid on his weak side rotations. And like in the Lakers game, the Suns weren't able to take advantage of the extra size Gortat and Frye had because they are not post players. Gortat missed a make-able shot and twice was fouled on open layups and went 1-4 from the line.

Here's a breakdown of all the Suns possessions from the time Nash came back in with 6:20 to go in the game. Details and screenshots come from mySynergySports.com, which is an awesome service if you are so inclined.

1. High p/r results in Nash layup, 85-84 Suns

2. Hill iso, kicks to wing, deflected out

3. Hill inbound to cutting Dudley, great block by Lowry

4. Hill turnover on the baseline OOB

5. High p/r w/ Nash and Gortat. Dragic trailed over the screen, Scola hedged, Dragic stole the pass, 85-87 Rox

6. Wing p/r w/ Nash and Gortat. Parsons switched on to cutting Gortat, Scola switched on to Frye at top of the arc, Gortat missed 8ft hook

7. High p/r with Nash and Gortat. Parson's switched on to Nash, entry pass to Gortat deflected by Budinger who rotated over, ball of Gortat. Turnover. 90-85, Rox. (Screen shots below)

8. High p/r with Nash and Gortat. Defense sucked in from wings, Gortat kicks to Dudley, good rotation back to prevent three, Dudley drives and passes to cutting Gortat. Gortat fouled, missed both free throws. 90-85

9. High p/r with Nash and Gortat. Nash rejects screen and drives lane for open layup. 92-87

10. Nash curls baseline off a couple screens, catches and pump fakes Dragic, Scola rotates up to help, Nash finds open Gortat cutting, Budinger fouls. Gortat 2-2 free throw. 92-89, Rox (Screen shots below)

11. Curl into side p/r with Nash. Pass to Gortat in the post, quickly doubled, bad pass leads to turnover and runout. 94-89, Rox

12. High p/r with Nash using Frye and Gortat double screen. Rockets switch , Nash drives on Parsons, stopped, backs out resets side p/r , Nash trapped by Parsons and Patterson, pass to open Gortat, Lowry rotates and takes charge. 94-89, Rox

13. Hill iso drive, charge. 94-89, Rox

14. Hill iso, miss. 94-89, Rox

15. Quick three from Frye, miss. 96-89

This possession starts with a quick screen from Frye on Dragic. Parson switched on to Nash. In this screen shot you see Gortat setting up the p/r bring his man, Scola into the play. Note where Budinger is at the top of the key.

Switch_pr_2_medium

Parsons and Scola trap Nash, Gortat is open but Budinger quickly rotates over and deflects the pass and causes a turnover.

Switch_pr_3_medium

This was a pretty play. Frye holds the ball at the top of the arc as Nash runs off a couple of screens.

Nash_curl_1_medium

Dragic is screen by Gortat so Nash has space when he catches the ball here. He pump fakes Dragic out of the play, forcing Scola to leave Marcin open.

Nash_curl_2_medium

Nash finds the open Gortat (of course) but Budinger quickly rotated over and fouled Gortat and prevented the layup.

Nash_curl_3_medium

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Our little guy is growing up!  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Remember Dragic's first year, when he'd stop his progress, turn his back and crouch to protect the dribble when an opposing player got within a couple feet of him? And how his biggest problem was an inability to effectively run an offense?

I do. I remember folks wondering regularly why Kerr spent millions to get this kid from Slovenia.

It was Dragic's second season where he flourished as a change-of-pace backup, when our expectations were no higher than 8 points and 3 assists in 15 minutes against the other team's bench. Those occasional 10+ point games were a revelation. When he started 1 game that second year - a 16 and 10 performance against the rising Thunder - our eyes began to open to the possibilities of his future. Then that 28-point game against San Antonio sealed it. Dragic was a rising star!

Unfortunately, 2010-2011 happened. Dragic regressed. His shot failed him, and his confidence was close behind. The Suns were struggling for a playoff spot and the Suns' second unit was terrible. Horrible. And this was still when Frye and Dudley played in that second unit. So he was sent away for a chance at lightning in a bottle that never came. But don't fool yourself - Dragic played himself into that trade.

Some of us - me included - thought Dragic would never progress into a viable starting PG. His lack of confidence and streaky shot, and his inability to drive to his right, would forever limit him to "good backup" or "okay starter on a bad team".

But then something happened to Dragic. Maybe it was the shock of the trade - like a cutting of the apron strings - that forced Dragic to grow up and become his own man.

Last night, Goran Dragic showed the game that we all hoped he had. All while staying calm and collected. But the best part was that, between plays (and even once during a play), he kept his sense of humor and friendships with Suns players alive.

I counted several great exchanges between Dragic and a Suns player last night, in between him leading the second unit to 57 big points, including 11 of his own points plus 11 assists, 4 rebounds and a couple steals. Each one of those little exchanges with our guys made me smile.

  1. He and Nash shared a laugh and a few words when they first met up on the court during a timeout.
  2. A moment later, as Dragic was calling out a play to his teammates, Nash turned and mimicked the two-hand gesture. Dragic chuckled. Then drove to his left like a bat out of hell and dished a pretty pass.
  3. On the other end of the court, Nash tripped and fell face first to the floor. The ball was still live, as Nash was able to punch it to Gortat. As the ball swung to the corner, Dragic help Nash back to his feet. All while the ball was still in play.
  4. Just before the third quarter started, Robin Lopez playfully tried to block Dragic as he practiced his 3s. Dragic had missed 4 straight practice shots. Then Lopez defended his friend, crouching down into a defensive stance and half-heartedly rising to block the shot attempt. Dragic drained it and walked away with a big smile on his face.
  5. Later in the game, Grant Hill drew one of his patented charges on Dragic. They both tumbled to the floor, Dragic on top of Hill. I swear that, once the tumbling stopped, Dragic stayed down a second or two longer and maybe even patted Hill on the shoulder as they exchanged words. Then Dragic got to his feet and helped Hill back up.
Great kid. He's becoming a nice, mature young man in Houston.

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PHOENIX — Goran Dragic made a name for himself feasting on opposing bench units two years ago in US Airways Center. The Dragon returned to the scene of the crime Thursday and pulled the trick...

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Goran Dragic torched his former teammates with 11 points and 11 assists tonight.

The Phoenix Suns showed improvement tonight, playing an entertaining, back and forth game with the Houston Rockets, but the Rockets bench proved to be too much and the Suns fell short in the end, 96-89. Goran Dragic haunted his former team with 11 points and 11 assists, and provided a toughness and poise not always seen in his time in Phoenix, committing only 2 turnovers in 29 minutes of action.

All five of the Rockets bench players scored in double figures and all held a double digit + in +/- as they totaled a whopping 57 points in comparison to the 13 scored by the Suns bench. Michael Redd scored 11 of those Suns bench points.

Channing Frye led the Suns with 21 points and 10 rebounds, as he hit 4 of his 9 3-point attempts and looked aggressive from the start, and newly minted 2012 all-star Steve Nash scored 14 points to go with his 13 assists. Nash didn't miss a shot, going 7-7 from the field.

Improvement? Yes. But the Suns continue to be dogged by the same problems of inconsistent rebounding, spotty bench play and lack of late game offensive execution. All reared their ugly heads tonight.

Read on for more.....

The game started out in fine form for the Suns. Channing Frye and Grant Hill had success aggressively looking to score and tallied 15 of the Suns first 17 points, the highlight being a thunderous slam dunk by Frye that left most everyone asking, "who is that bad man in Channing Frye's jersey tonight?" Frye's performance was a night and day difference from his last game against the Rockets.

However, the Rockets controlled the boards early on, held a 5-1 offensive rebounding edge, and the Suns lead after 1 was only 29-26 before yet another disastrous second quarter.

How bad was the second quarter for the Suns? The Rockets bench dismantled the Suns bench 28-3 in the quarter. It was no contest. With Sebastian Telfair running the offense, there was no rhythm. All shots were created one-on-one, players looked lost. It was hard to discern what they were even attempting to accomplish on the offensive end. It was that bad.

Meanwhile, the Rockets hummed along just fine, with Patrick Patterson hitting baseline mid-range jumpers, Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee knocking down 3s, Jordan Hill cleaning the boards, all managed efficiently by backup PG Goran Dragic. To see Dragic look so composed and in control while Telfair struggled was painful for Suns fans to watch. Point guard play was hardly the only difference between these two teams' benches but it was an obviously noticeable one.

Nash and the starters returned with around 5 minutes to go in the half, restored some order, and the Rockets lead was only 10 going into halftime, 54-44. Then the second half started with a 16-3 run by the Suns, capped by a Jared Dudley 3-pointer to give them a 60-57 lead. Frye hit a 3, Redd hit a 3, Dudley hit another 3. After six 3s in the quarter by the Suns helped them to a 76-74 lead, it was time for.....gulp.... the bench to come back in.

Gentry didn't replace all five this time, and left Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye in the game for nearly the entire second half. Markieff Morris and Robin Lopez did not return. The fourth quarter featured five lead changes before the Rockets seized control for good with 5:47 remaining on a Budinger 3-pointer.

The Suns pulled as close as 92-89, but a poor Gortat pass was stolen by Kyle Lowry for an easy layup, and Gortat committed an offensive foul on the Suns next possession. Between ineffective offensive performance and stifling Rockets defense, the Suns weren't able to score for the final 2:18 of the game.

And here's that Goran kid...


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