A whiteboard in the Suns’ locker room on Friday displayed the message “Best 26-5, Worst 22-9,” next to the title of Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
Judging by the way the Celtics mauled the Suns in their 128-108 victory and considering Sunday started a stretch that includes nine of 11 against winning teams, the president himself would be hard pressed to believe such change is possible over Phoenix’s final 31 games.
Following a three-game tease in which the Suns looked like a playoff-worthy NBA team, today was sure to be a great litmus test of the so-called “New Suns.”
Sure, they could run up and down and score 140 on the hapless Clippers and Thunder, but if they could do it against the best defensive team in the National Basketball Association, that would really be something.
The Suns ran, but the Celtics didn’t let this turn into the track meet the last three games have been while attacking the Suns’ deficiencies on the boards and on the defensive end ironically enough exacerbated by the season-ending injury to Amare Stoudemire as much as he was faulted for his underwhelming play in those two areas.
I was disappointed that the Suns didn’t put up a better fight in this one, and I’m not even talking about effort like I was the last time these teams got together.
Although conventional wisdom would say otherwise, the Suns really just seemed to be a different team these last three games.
After watching them lose to bad teams or barely beat them all season except in a few instances, the Suns were that offensive powerhouse once again that just overwhelms teams. They looked like a completely different squad, and the so-called audacity of hope reigned.
Then the defending champs brought them right back down to earth, although head coach Alvin Gentry remains optimistic.
“It is one game and we will continue to improve and we are still going to play the way we want to play at the pace we are going to play at,” Gentry told Suns.com. “There are only a few teams that we are going to play that are going to be as good as that team right there. We like our chances; we just got to continue to improve and continue to work.”
The most critical reason the Suns lost is because Steve Nash had no chance whatsoever guarding Rajon Rondo, along with anybody else Phoenix threw at him.
Rondo did whatever he wanted and got into the lane at will on his way to a career-high 32 points on 13-for-18 shooting to go with 10 assists, six boards and three steals.
(I interrupt this regularly scheduled post to remind you that the Suns drafted Rondo only to trade his rights away to Boston, as if you didn’t already know that.)
It’s funny that the Suns didn’t think he had much offensive game coming out of college, whereas now he has even developed his jumper to a passable level, and he could not be stopped off the dribble on Sunday.
Ray Allen was explosive as well with 31 on 10-for-15 shooting, and after a slow start Paul Pierce dominated the midrange game.
That trio led to a 63 percent shooting afternoon for the Celts, and you just aren’t going to beat a team as good as Boston is defensively when they shoot that well.
The second biggest reason for the blowout is because the Suns understandably got killed on the boards by a 40-26 margin.
Shaq led the Suns with a mere six rebounds, and that’s just not enough when he’s basically the only legit big out there. By contrast, five Celtics corralled that many boards.
We’re back to the old days of the Suns getting pounded on the glass each and every night, and I’d put much of the onus on Shaq, who MUST be a beast on the boards if the Suns ever want to beat a good team.
The Suns’ so-called power forward Grant Hill scored eight points on 2-for-7 shooting to go with just two boards and one assist in 30 minutes. That’s after going scoreless on Wednesday and leaving for good early in the third quarter on Friday.
As important as Hill is for this team, it probably would be better to give him a couple days off to get him back to full strength because if Hill is lost for an extended period of time this team would really be doomed. Then again, not having a full strength Grant Hill who is flying around the court and being a pest despite a size disadvantage would doom this club as well.
Nash took 20 shots, five more than any teammate, which is never a good sign for the Suns. His box score looks nice with 19 points and 11 dimes to two turnovers, but he missed 12 shots, didn’t force the tempo as much as he has in the past and didn’t control the game like he needed to in this one.
Along with many of his teammates, he spent much more time complaining than he should have. Yes, the refs called a couple blocks on Nash that normally are charges, there were some late whistles and overall the zebras favored Boston, but that probably has most to do with the fact the Celtics were the aggressor in this one.
“I just thought overall they outplayed us,” Nash told Suns.com. “We didn’t get a lot of calls or bounces – a lot of their shots were going in and a lot of ours weren’t – but I still think the bottom line is they played better. They were prepared for us and they did a good job.”
One early observation on Gentry’s rotations, Jared Dudley is starting to get more time than Lou Amundson after Dudley barely got off the bench under Terry Porter and Amundson played heavy minutes. Dudley is averaging 19.3 minutes per game since the coaching change and Amundson just 14.0.
As depressing and humbling as this loss was, really we couldn’t expect the Suns to be able to fire a coach, flip a switch, and all of a sudden be an elite team.
I certainly think this style of play at least gives them a puncher’s chance so long as they make more of a concerted effort on defense and on the boards than they did on Sunday.
And where have we ever heard that before?