It was a dogfight, and the Suns lost the dogfight. Without their twin point guard, Goran Dragic led the Suns with 33 points (a career high) but the Suns were cold all night and decided to go down with the count.
The second unit killed the Suns in this game. They got killed in the second quarter, and then again in the fourth. And then the game got tight, Memphis played harder while the Suns... didn't. Oh the Suns got riled up all right, but they didn't play hard enough when the ball was live.
At least Goran Dragic got his career high with 33 points. Unfortunately, it was in a losing effort that felt like a lost opportunity.
The game ultimately turned when the Suns starters were fighting back but then Jarryd Bayless fouled Dragic hard, starting a 4-tech scuffle, and then fouled him on a three-point attempt that went uncalled. From that point, the Suns were not a threat.
Jarryd Bayless doesn't do much for the Grizzlies, unless he's playing the Suns: 17 points, 4 assists in 31 minutes. And "effective" defense on Dragic in the 4th.
To open the game, the Suns seemed unable to fight off the hurdles of a last-minute lineup change (Bledsoe couldn't go, with a bruised knee) and the ice-cold arena floor (literally, there was ice under the floor for one of those ice shows) - to the tune of a 38% shooting first half.
At halftime, the Memphis Grizzlies held a 12-point lead (53-41) on 53% shooting that made it look like they just had the Suns' number. In fact, over the last 2 quarters of the first game and the first two quarters of this one, the Grizzlies outscored the Suns 117-78. Ouch.
But then the Suns turned on the jets and ran out to a 18-0 lead in the third as they rediscovered their mojo - running, shooting and scrapping - retook the lead for the game.
The game started mostly at Memphis' preferred pace, with a sprinkle of Suns fast breaks to keep things interesting. But nearly every Memphis shot was put up in the paint between Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos.
Eric Bledsoe was a last-minute scratch, and the Suns came out looking a bit out of kilter, going down 8-5 early on. But then the Suns started getting some turnovers and forced their way into the lead at 13-10 behind Dragic's (the real one, not that gawdawful bobblehead) 6 points, 2 assists and a steal in the first 6 minutes. Without Bledsoe, Dragic could play 40+ minutes tonight unless it's a blowout.
Mike Conley, the Grizzlies biggest threat, twisted his ankle on a drive that was spectacularly blocked by Miles Plumlee, leaving in favor of Jarryd Bayless at the 6 minute mark. You'd think that would allow the Suns to pull away, but Memphis was playing tough and physical while the Suns started missing bunnies and open shots (and Gerald Green just plain missed a few. As in 'missed the rim, missed the backboard, missed everything but the floorboards out of bounds)'.
Luckily, the Suns got a burst from 3rd string point guard Ish Smith (side note: Kendall Marshall is the new starting PG for the Lakers - is that awesome or what?) and finished the quarter on a run to take a 26-22 lead.
But after giving the Grizzlies a season-high 54.8% shooting in the first game in December, the Grizzlies shot 52.4% in the first quarter of this one. Not a good start.
Even worse was the start in the second quarter, where the Grizzlies went on a 10-3 run to take a 32-29 lead with Zach Randolph playing the five, Conley back in at PG along with Jarryd Bayless and Memphis just moving a lot faster than the Morrii, Smith, Frye and Archie Goodwin.
Hornacek called a quick timeout to rally / wake up the troops. Didn't work. The Grizzlies run got up to 18-7 in the second before Coach of the Month decided his starters might be better against the Grizzlies starters.
Plumlee made one of his jump hooks (3-6 to that point, including a beautiful reverse lob jam), but the Suns just couldn't buy a bucket. In fact, nobody wanted to pay for one by taking a shot either. Finally, Goran Dragic and Miles Plumlee got aggressive and made some baskets before the game turned into a blowout. Speaking of starters, haven't seen Gerald Green at all in the second, while Ish Smith gets burn next to Dragic.
But the Suns were still just a half-step short on every loose ball, and the Grizzlies converted on extra opportunities.
By the end of the half, the Grizzlies had worked the Suns to the tune of a 12-point lead at 53-41. The best player of the half was Miles Plumlee with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, but when Miles Plumlee is your best player by a mile then you're having a bad night.
Contributing to the bad night: Suns made 38% of their 47 field goals (18% of threes) and just 33% of their free 9 throws. FREE THROWS.
Over the last four quarters (second half of game on December 3, plus this first half), the Grizzlies outscored the Suns 117-78. That's 39 points for those who need help.
Could the bad times last? Are the Grizzlies just a really bad matchup for the Suns?
After missing all three of his first half free throws, Goran Dragic was the first Suns player back on the court after halftime. Shooting free throws.
The second half started as bad as the first half ended, with Frye and Dragic missing open shots while Tony Allen made a driving layup to put the Grizzlies up 14.
But a minute later, Frye got it going with a pair of threes and helped the Suns go on a run. Despite a couple of Memphis timeouts, the Suns went on an 18-0 run to retake the lead before Memphis scored again. Gerald Green had a heat check (despite not making a bucket since the first quarter) and missed a 30-foot three to help stop the Suns run.
The 18-0 run included a number of steals and hustle plays, and a lot of Goran Dragic. The Dragon had 15 of the Suns 30 points in the first 9 minutes of the third quarter alone (including all 5 free throws, after missing all 3 in the first half).
The Grizzlies righted their ship a bit at the end of the third, and kept the Suns led to just 4 at 73-69.
The fourth opened the way the secnod Q opened, with some real bad Suns play. The Grizzlies retook the lead with a 11-2 run behind a lot of bad Suns shots. The parallel? It was Smith, the Morrii and Gerald Green getting worked by the Grizzlies. The only difference this time was Channing Frye for Archie Goodwin.
Deja vu. Timeout, Coach of the Month.
Nothing worked though, until Hornacek put Dragic back in and the Dragon breathed a couple of threes into the net to cut the Grizzlies lead to 3.
Then the game got ugly. Four technicals were called in the 4th while Memphis pulled away. Memphis played dirty, while little Jarryd Bayless got hot and burned the Suns up with 10 points in the first 8 minutes of the 4th.
The Phoenix Suns are starting to pile up hardware this season as Jeff Hornacek was just named the Western Conference Coach of the Month. Expect more accolades for this team before the 2013-14 season winds down.
Markieff Morris led off by garnering Western Conference Player of the Week honors back on November 11th and now it is his coach's turn for some kudos. Hornacek has been able to get the best out of all of his players this season, not just Markieff, as they are all playing at career best levels while the Suns have left preseason predictions in the dust.
Hornacek becomes just the third person (Larry Bird and Larry Drew) in NBA history to win both player and coach of the month honors and the first ever to win both as a member of the same team.
He also becomes the first person not named Larry to accomplish the feat.
Jeff won Player of the Month honors in December of 1991 by averaging 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while leading the Suns to an 11-1 record. Hornacek steered the Suns to a 10-3 record this time around, but did so while silencing critics that surmised the Suns might crumble after an unexpected 9-8 start.
After a great month of December the Suns stand at 19-11 headed into tonight's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. This mark ties their best start since 2009-10, but that team lost its next game and went to 19-12... which means a win tonight would give the Suns their best record through 31 games since the 2007-08 season. The Suns head into the game winners of two straight, with four double digit victories in their last five games.
Hornacek's record through 30 games is also the second best in franchise history behind Paul Westphal, who started off 24-6 while leading the Suns to an NBA Finals appearance in the 1992-93 season. Hornacek becomes the sixth head coach of the Suns to win the Coach of the Month award along with Cotton Fitzsimmons (three times), Westphal, Frank Johnson, Mike D'Antoni (four times) and Alvin Gentry (twice).