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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.
Parsons and Scola trap Nash, Gortat is open but Budinger quickly rotates over and deflects the pass and causes a turnover.
This was a pretty play. Frye holds the ball at the top of the arc as Nash runs off a couple of screens.
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 finds the open Gortat (of course) but Budinger quickly rotated over and fouled Gortat and prevented the layup.
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.