The upstart Phoenix Suns got schooled by a veteran Brooklyn Nets squad. The Nets never blinked in the face of multiple Suns' attempts to make it a competitive game after Brooklyn firmly seized control of the game in the first quarter. Phoenix's defensive woes continued as they allowed Brooklyn to shoot 58.6% from the field.
Paul Pierce (10 points) and Mason Plumlee (14 points, 11 rebounds) did the damage early for the Nets and Deron Williams (28 points) and Joe Johnson (19 points) did it all game long, scoring seemingly whenever they wanted. For Phoenix, Gerald Green (17 points) and Markieff Morris (18 points) carried the ramshackle offense. Goran Dragi? (13 points, again saddle with early foul trouble struggled to make an impact. The other half of the Slash Bros., Eric Bledsoe (10 points on 4-10 shooting), fared poorly as well. Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee were non-factors, combining for a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds). If there were any positives to be taken from this game, it would be Archie Goodwin's strong fourth quarter play on both ends of the court.
It may be premature, but if the Phoenix Suns doesn't make the playoffs, the coffin nails started getting hammered in Brooklyn. This is a good young team in a tough tough conference. They certainly seem to be playing with effort every night but the consistency that comes with experience isn't there yet. It might be too late to make the playoffs this season (barring a Memphis Grizzlies or Dallas Mavericks collapse), but there's still plenty to be excited about in Phoenix.
There's a breakdown below, but here's all you need to know about the Suns' defense in the first half: Brooklyn scored 44 of their 62 points in the paint and shot 67.5% from the field. They pretty much had their way with the Suns. Credit their defense for creating some of those easy buckets with 8 first half steals on the way to forcing 11 Phoenix turnovers.
The Brooklyn Nets small ball line-up gave the Phoenix Suns' starters trouble early. Channing Frye struggled to cover Paul Pierce, who had 7 quick points to get Brooklyn out to a 17-9 run. For the second game in a row, Goran Dragi? found himself on the bench early in the first quarter after picking up 2 early fouls. The bench fared no better as Brooklyn extended their lead to 30-16 with :46 left to go in the first when a Gerald Green 3-pointer finally stopped the bleeding. Marcus Morris hit 1 of 2 free throws on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 10 to end the quarter. The pace favored the Nets who got their 30 points on 70% shooting. It was an embarrassing defensive showing for the Suns who gave up open 3s, open transition jumpers and open drives to the hoop. Six first quarter turnovers did nothing to help either.
The Suns opened the second quarter by allowing Andrei Kirillenko a big dunk and giving up a couple of more buckets to fall behind by 14. Fortunately, they found their defensive pot o' gold and put together a 6-0 run to make it a 36-28 Net lead. Gerald Green took it upon himself to keep the Suns in the game, scoring 7 of the Suns' first 11 points of the period. After a pair of Dragi? drives, Gerald Green put Mason Plumlee on a poster with a fearsome dunk to get Phoenix with in 6.
That was the high point of the second quarter as Brooklyn rattled off 8 straight points to turn the Phoenix insurgency back. Deron Williams and Mason Plumlee did most of the damage, scoring 8 and 7 points each in the quarter. The Suns trailed going into the half, 62-49.
Things got no better in the third quarter for Phoenix. Brooklyn went on a 9-2 run and threatened to put the game into blowout territory with a 20 point lead. Phoenix recognized their predicament and finally played with some urgency. A lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker took it to Brooklyn, cutting that lead to 9 (76-67) with 4 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. But as before, the Nets remained poised and scored 14 straight points to go up by 23 before the Suns scored the last 5 points of the 3rd period to make it 90-72.
Too little, too late is becoming a theme with this squad. Again, Phoenix came with an 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter and again, the Nets responded by cooling scoring 5 of their own, including a long 3-ball by Deron Williams to stem the tide. Phoenix never got closer than 11 in the fourth and Archie Goodwin, Dionte Christmas, Alex Len and Shavlik Randolph all saw minute down the stretch.
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Where: Barclays Center - Brooklyn, NY
When: 4:30PM ARIZONA TIME
Youth and inexperience take on age and poise at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn tonight. The Phoenix Suns hope to avenge a buzzer beater loss to the Brooklyn Nets waaaaaaay back on November 15. Back then, a playoff run was but a twinkle in the eye of Suns fans and the Nets were supposed to challenge the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers for Eastern Conference supremacy. Both teams ended up in vastly different places than they envisioned in the early weeks of the 2013-14 season.
The Phoenix Suns are fighting for their playoff lives despite exceeding every expectation set forth for them this season. The Brooklyn Nets are all but guaranteed a spot in the Eastern playoffs, yet have been disappointing for much of the year. For both teams, every game left on their statement is a statement about their intentions for the post-season.
The Nets were supposed to be the Chosen Ones, handpicked to lay waste to the Eastern Conference. They were supposed to be a Supergroup with championship pedigree to bring instant legitimacy to a new owner in a new house in a town routinely called the basketball capital of the world. It hasn't panned out that way, due to chemistry issues and injuries, yet they appear to be finding their rhythm at this late juncture of the season. After a disastrous 10-21 start, Brooklyn has gone 23-10 since January 1st and have shown no signs of slowing down.
Two of the Nets' regular starters may not be present for today's game: Brook Lopez is out with a foot injury and Kevin Garnett is questionable with a back injury. So that only leaves Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce to contend with in the future Hall-of-Famer department. No big deal, right? Brooklyn has done just fine without Garnett, winning 6 of their last 8 since he aggravated his back. Rounding out the starting line-up are Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee. That's right, tip-off will be a battle of the Plumdogs.
Aside from a stacked starting line-up, Brooklyn offers the kind of challenge that Phoenix has struggled to rise to this season: a slow methodical pace. Brooklyn is the 5th slowest team in the NBA. While Phoenix was able to impose their will against Toronto, expect the Nets to be less willing to be lured into a track meet. They also play tough defense, holding opponents to 95.5 points since their New Year's turnaround. In their last 7 games, none of their opponents have reached the century mark. There is one glaring chink their defensive armor. Brooklyn allows the 7th highest 3-point percentage to opponents in the NBA, which plays right into Phoenix's plans. Look for Phoenix to shoot early and often from behind the arc.
It's all about momentum for Phoenix. Riding a 2-game winning streak, Phoenix has a chance to sweep this road trip and take another step toward the playoffs. Despite it being the second night of a back-to-back, the Suns should have gotten a few extra hours of rest thanks to the early tip-off yesterday. Every little bit helps as the season grinds on.
Though Eric Bledsoe didn't shoot the lights out in Toronto, he made his presence felt at the charity stripe. It's that kind of aggression that opens the floor for the rest of the Suns and prevents teams from zeroing in on Goran Dragi?. I expect to see more of the same tonight. Another standout performance from Gerald Green would go a long way toward a Suns victory as well.
Phoenix's bench will need to come to play as well. In Garnett's absence, the Brooklyn bench has stepped up in a big way, especially Marcus Thornton, who has flourished since being acquired from Sacramento. Andrei Kirilenko is also back after missing a few games due to an ankle injury. If Markieff and Marcus Morris can continue their strong play, Phoenix ought to be able to win the battle of the benches.
Note: For the Nets, I've used the statistical leaders who are expected to be available for tonight's game.
Who's Hungrier? I would love to boil this game down to P.J. Tucker vs. Joe Johnson or Plumlee vs. Plumlee, but plain and simple, this game (and maybe all of the Suns' games for the rest of the season) need to be about desire. Phoenix wasn't supposed to do a damn thing this season and now they are on the cusp of doing the unthinkable. As good as the Nets have been playing, I think Phoenix can take them if the intensity that was on display for stretches in Toronto makes a sustained appearance tonight.
I think the Suns are getting used to the idea of embracing their "stupidity" and just winning. Joe Johnson got us with a buzzer beater last time? Phoenix turns the tables and wins a close one, 102-100.