There will be games like this.
Over the course of an 82-game season there will be games where you just don’t have it.
You still don’t expect what transpired Tuesday night to occur, with a previously listless New York Knick team smacking around the Phoenix Suns, 126-99.
There really aren’t any excuses for a game like this, except maybe overconfidence. The Knicks are terrible, but if I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was watching the Lakers take apart the Suns in this one.
Before I get to the numbers — and they’re not pretty — the biggest problem in this loss was a lack of effort. Aside from Jared Dudley and Steve Nash, the Suns didn’t play with the usual fire that made this team the NBA’s best in November.
“I feel just like Bill Belichick felt last night,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “I think we were out-coached, we were out-played and we were out-hustled. It’s one of those games where I just didn’t think we played real well. I don’t want to take away anything from the Knicks because I think they played hard. I think they had a good game plan and they made shots. You can see what they’re capable of doing when they’re making shots and their offense flows well. They out-played us but it’s one game. We didn’t play real well and I’m disappointed. It’s not a very good feeling.”
Added Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni: “We just caught them on one of those nights when they’re flat. It just happens sometimes. The NBA is like that.”
The Knicks got whatever they wanted, and I mean everything. Wide-open layups, uncontested threes, it was really embarrassing. The night was summed up by a second-quarter sequence in which Danilo Gallinari, in the words of Kevin Arnovitz on the ESPN Daily Dime Live chat, “had literally enough time along the arc to check his feet twice, set, and shoot a 3PA — and there was still no close-out.”
If a middle school team gave that type of effort, they would be embarrassed. I don’t know if it was the bright lights or some sort of D’Antoni voodoo, but the Suns just didn’t look anything like the Suns. Rebounds would fall between players, and overall it looked like the Suns thought they could just walk into the Garden and come away with a win.
I know many of you Suns fans thought that would be the case, too. The only question seemed to center around whether the blowout would come early enough that the Suns’ starters would be nice and rested for Wednesday’s showcase game in Cleveland, and why shouldn’t that have been the general consensus coming into the game?
The Suns were the NBA’s best team in October/November at 14-3, Gentry was the NBA’s Coach of the Month (and deservedly so) and the Suns looked like world beaters in winning their past four, declaring victory by over 21 per game and shooting better than 57 percent during that stretch.
So naturally, against a Knicks squad that had lost five in a row and yielded 112 points per game during their slide, the Suns would suffer a 27-point blowout, their most lopsided defeat of the season.
Naturally a Knicks team that entered the game 1-8 at home (and 3-14 overall) would beat a Suns team that has become road warriors, entering this one 8-3 in an NBA-high-tying 11 road games, losing just one such previous game that wasn’t against an NBA Finalist on the second half of a back-to-back.
Naturally, after 17 blissful October/November games, on Dec. 1 the New York Knicks would be the first squad to hold Phoenix under 100 points, if ever so slightly, and naturally a Knicks team that had never even led by 16 points would enjoy that kind of lead before halftime and knock the Suns out by 27.
I suppose that’s life in a league that saw Minnesota, losers of 15 in a row, go into Denver and pin the Nuggets with their first loss in the Mile High City over the weekend.
“We didn’t play hard tonight, we got out-played, out-hustled – [we] didn’t deserve to win,” Nash told Suns.com. “Maybe we took them [Knicks] a little lightly, but you still have to play hard. They got all the loose balls, offensive rebounds. Obviously they made some shots and you take your hats off when shots are made, but it’s all the layups and hustle plays and not getting back on defense that kill you. They just played harder than we did. We’re embarrassed and have to pick ourselves up. Not a whole lot to say tonight.”
After their first 12-win month since November 2007, December could get ugly if the Suns play anywhere near this bad against a brutal upcoming schedule. Aside from the lack of hustle, their threes didn’t go in (4-for-17), they turned it over too much (17), Amare grabbed a single rebound in the first half and Alando Tucker was tied for second in scoring behind Nash after a 14-point fourth quarter in which the scrubs played.
As they have in previous blowout losses to the Lakers and Orlando, the Suns showed no fight. I was willing to forgive the lack of fight in those losses because of the caliber of the opponent and the difficulty of playing a back-to-back on the road, but there are no such excuses tonight.
The Suns have been the NBA’s most clutch team by showing a world of fight in clawing back from numerous double-digit victories, but the lack of any such fight in a very comebackable game (to make up a word) was very disconcerting.
This game does nothing for the argument of whether Nash made D’Antoni’s system or D’Antoni’s system made Nash. I think the last few years have proven that Nash is only Nash in such a system seeing how less effective he was under Terry Porter and that D’Antoni’s system isn’t nearly as effective when run by Chris Duhon. In that way I’m staying neutral and saying they needed each other to achieve the heights they did, although having Gentry around is like still having Mike D in many respects.
As for the loss, the Suns should have already forgotten about it. A monster test and a Big monster await them in Cleveland, where they can make everyone forget about their embarrassment in the Big Apple.