PHOENIX — Through 34 games the Phoenix Suns have proven they can hang with the NBA’s best. They are the only team in the league to beat both the Lakers and Celtics, not to mention a host of other good basketball teams.
Yet it seems that for every big win this team captures, it drops a game it shouldn’t. That inconsistency was on display tonight as the Memphis Grizzlies came into US Airways Center and embarrassed the Phoenix Suns, 128-103.
“The only way that you can put it is we just got our (expletive) kicked,” head coach Alvin Gentry said after his team’s second-worst loss of the season. “We can sugarcoat it and we can say different things, but they beat us in every phase of the game.”
Added Grant Hill, “We got a nice old-fashioned butt whoopin’.”
The Grizzlies jumped all over the Suns from the opening tip and Phoenix never responded, leaving players and coaches alike stunned after the game.
“To tell you the truth, I’m a little shocked at the way we played,” Gentry said. “I thought that we would be ready to play, I thought that we would have a lot of energy.”
Added Steve Nash, “I don’t have a lot of answers tonight. … It’s about being a professional and coming out and playing the same way every night. Tonight we just got outplayed. I really don’t have an answer.”
The Grizzlies and Suns played role reversal tonight. The Grizz looked like the team coming off wins against the Lakers and Celtics, while the Suns looked like the team fighting for a .500 winning percentage.
The Suns hung around in the first quarter thanks to a 14-point quarter from Amare Stoudemire, but their four-point deficit at the end of one quickly ballooned into a 19-point Grizzlies lead in the second.
The Suns’ second unit that was averaging 45.3 points per game in the last four was absolutely dominated by Sam Young and company, as the rookie out of Pitt finished the game with a career-high 22 points. The Grizzlies’ bench opened up the second quarter on a 16-2 run, leaving the Suns down 19 with few answers and not much to work with.
The Suns never found a solution. Memphis kept banging the boards and dominating the paint and the game was out of reach by halftime. The Grizzlies led 100-76 after three, and the Suns were left scratching their heads.
Memphis, the NBA’s best rebounding team, edged the Suns on the boards, 49-38. The Suns are now 7-12 when they lose the rebounding battle. The Grizzlies did most of their work inside, scoring 58 points in the paint. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were very effective, combining for 37 points and 20 rebounds.
The Grizzlies also uncharacteristically found their stroke from long range. They came into the game second-to-last in threes made per contest (3.5 per game at a 31.1 percent clip), yet they drilled 8-of-15 (53.3 percent) from distance tonight. O.J. Mayo was the main culprit, nailing 4-of-5 threes on his way to a team-high 25-point night.
Whether it was inside, outside, on the glass, or on offense, the Suns simply lacked effort tonight, and it showed in a big way.
“We didn’t bring the effort tonight,” Stoudemire said. “We didn’t play hard, we didn’t shoot well and with that being said, it resulted in a loss. In order to be successful in this league and to be a great team you have to play every night. Every single night.”
While tonight’s matchup may not have been nationally televised or hyped up on ESPN, it counts equally as much as the contests against the Lakers or Celtics. These are games the Suns are expected to win, and when they don’t, it moves them one notch down on the totem pole.
“These are the big games really, the Lakers, Boston wins, those aren’t big games, those are bonuses,” said Nash, who finished the contest with 19 points and 13 assists. “The big games are: beat the teams that are below you in the standings. These losses hurt, especially the way we lost tonight.”
For months the Suns have been flirting with elite status, only to eventually fall back down to earth. This makes it nearly impossible to gauge where this team is amongst the rest of the NBA.
When things are right, they can beat anyone, and when things are wrong, boy is it ugly. This inconsistency is scary come playoff time, as you just never know which Phoenix Suns team will show up: the team that made easy work of the Lakers and Celtics or the team that got embarrassed at home by the Grizzlies.
But as Gentry said after the Lakers win to temper excitement over the big victory, this game only counts as one.
“We play so many games in this league, by the end of the week we could be heroes again,” Nash said. “We just have to stay even keel and take the good with the bad.
“It’s like the stock market. Long term.”
- STAT continued his dominance on offense, going for a game-high 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
- Channing Frye couldn’t hit the ocean with a beach ball tonight, as he finished 2-of-13 from the field. Jason Richardson and Frye combined for nine points on 4-of-20 shooting. The Suns aren’t going to win many games when that happens.
- Memphis won for the first time in Phoenix since Nov. 16, 2005, breaking a seven-game losing streak in the Valley.