The Phoenix Suns really needed a win, but couldn't put the Pistons away until the final minutes. The Suns missed open shots, but the Pistons outdid them by missing free throw after free throw.
It was a sell out crowd on Star Wars night, but the Suns weren't backing it up with stellar play. The Pistons bulled their way to points just like we predicted pregame, and the Suns barely made enough shots to close out the game. Eric Bledsoe had his highest scoring fourth quarter since November (15 points) and the Suns now stand only a half-game out of 8th in the West.
The Pistons, #1 in the league in points in the paint, were held below their season average tonight as the Suns nearly held them even (46-40).
Maybe Suns owner Robert Sarver came into the locker room at halftime again, this time telling them Memphis lost and Marc Gasol went home in a walking boot?
The run to start the third quarter ran up to 14-3 before the Pistons called a timeout and righted their ship with a 14-2 run of their own to tie the game. The Suns didn't help their cause with bad possessions and missed open shots.
And just like Wednesday night, it was a 1-point game late in the third. The Suns just couldn't find a way to pull away from a losing team on a losing streak.
But this time there was no 27-5 run. The Suns could not get untracked and the game stayed close thanks to Rodney Stuckey scoring 9 points on three touches early in the 4th (two threes and an and-one).
With the game tied at 82-82 with 5:51 left, the Dragon re-entered the game. But it was Eric Bledsoe's night to have the killer 4th quarter, with 10 huge points to give the Suns the lead for good with 3 minutes left (finished with 15 in 4th, and 23 for the game).
The Pistons killed themselves with terrible free throw shooting, making only 8 of their first 24 attempts.
The Suns tried to kill themselves with terrible shooting against the league's 4th-worst defense, but Eric Bledsoe carried the Suns to victory.
Goran Dragic kept the Suns alive with 19 points and 5 assists in the first three quarters (20 for the game as this was Bled's night). Markieff Morris had another good game with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
Greg Monroe had a very frustrating game but still finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Andre Drummond finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but missed 4 of 7 free throws. Not to be outdone, Josh Smith finished 0 or 8 on free throws, and Detroit made only 10 of 26 for the game.
The Phoenix Suns started the game sluggish again, thinking that good offense always beats bad defense but forgetting that the other team thinks the same thing.
In the first 15 minutes of play, the Pistons had outrebounded the Suns by 10 already and held a 2-point lead. But then the Suns second unit took the lead, behind rookie Alex Len, the Morris Brothers, Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe. The game was not pretty, by any stretch of the imagination.
The Suns Star Wars productions were better prepared than the Suns mental state for this game.
The entire first half was a slogfest of the Suns and Pistons playing to their strengths and doing it well. The Pistons had 30 points in the paint in the first half, 11 second-chance points and 8 offensive rebounds. The Suns made 5 of 13 threes and 9 fast break points.
The Phoenix Suns sit a game-and-a-half out of a playoff spot with 14 games to go. In their next six games, starting tonight against the Detroit Pistons, the Suns will face 4 teams with losing records. These are must-win games if you want to make the playoffs.
But the Pistons could prove a tough matchup for a playoff-hopeful Phoenix Suns team that can't defend the rim. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and the rest of the Pistons get the ball inside on most possessions where the Suns are indefensible.
The Phoenix Suns really need this win to stay in the playoff hunt, a game-and-a-half behind two teams that are winning at a much faster rate than the Suns lately. The Suns have won only 6 of their last 14 games as the playoff pressure mounts.
The Detroit Pistons are an interesting lot, and potentially a tough matchup for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns struggle by giving up too many points in the paint. Lo and behold, the Pistons are good at just that. In fact, the Pistons take the second most shots in the restricted area (ie. at the rim) and the fifth most just outside that, but still in the paint.
This will be a killer for the Suns, who allowed 44 points in the paint IN THE FIRST HALF on Monday night to a Brooklyn team who started 4 guards in their lineup. Those 44 first-half paint points were more than 75% of the NBA's teams average on a nightly basis over 48 minutes. Ugh.
Expect a lot of yelling at your TV over how many times the Pistons make a shot at the rim. They are #1 in the league in 2-point shots and #1 in offensive rebounding.
You'd think they are a winning team with that combination right? Wrong, actually. The Pistons have lost 13 of 16 games and are 25-42 on the season despite playing in the Eastern conference.
When they are not taking shots at the rim, the Pistons offense is terrible. They'd rather shoot long-twos than threes (29th in makes and %), their defensive rebounding is poor (25th), they can't make free throws (30th in FT%) and they commit a lot of fouls (21st). Their top two scorers are really bad decision-makers - Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.
On the other side, the Pistons defense is terrible. They are giving up 108.5 points per game since the All Star break, topping even the Suns' ineptitude in that area.
Goran Dragic feels confident about this game, citing that it took two buzzer beater long-twos from Josh Smith to win the earlier game this year. The Pistons are 5-21 against the West this season.
To contrast the Pistons' strength, the Suns are good at defending the three-point line but terrible at preventing shots at the rim. On the season, the Suns have allowed the league's 4th most attempts in the paint and restricted areas, numbers that have gotten only worse since the All-Star break.
Expect the Suns to shoot a ton of threes because the Suns are great at it while the Pistons are terrible at defending the three point line (allowing 36.6% shooting on the 21st most attempts allowed). In fact, overall on defense the Pistons are terrible and the Suns should be able to capitalize.
Andre Drummond, their leading rebounder, is day-to-day with a neck strain.
The key matchup, I guess, is P.J. Tucker trying to make sure Josh Smith doesn't have an awesome game and carry the Pistons to victory again.
Otherwise, you could say it's Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic keeping Brandon Jennings from tallying a double-double by halftime, something he did in the first matchup this year.
It will be a frustrating game for Suns fans, watching the Pistons feast in the paint. But in the end, the Suns will make enough shots to outscore the Pistons easily.
I'll call this one a 13-point win. Could be even bigger than that. The Pistons are just really bad lately.