Small ball works, but defense falters in Game 2 loss

Posted by on May 20th, 2:01 am

Despite J-Rich pouring in 20, the Suns fell into an 0-2 hole on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Despite J-Rich pouring in 20, the Suns fell into an 0-2 hole on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Phoenix Suns’ 36-9 sprint to the Western Conference Finals came so easily that when they lost it was just because they didn’t shoot well or the other team played out of its mind or they were playing their fourth game in five days.

And even then they usually lost just barely.

Two games into the Western Conference Finals, you can’t use any of those excuses for why the Suns have dropped a pair of games. This time around they lost because they could not stop a bigger, more talented, more physical team from exploding on offense.

Although their 124-112 Game 2 loss wasn’t the blowout that Game 1 was by any stretch, it was even more disappointing because it legitimately felt like this was a game the Suns could steal after they knotted things up after three with a 34-25 third quarter.

Instead a putrid fourth quarter meant the Suns had lost back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 25-26, after which Phoenix reeled off 10 straight wins following losses and started this 36-9 tear. The Suns have also not lost a game by as many points as they lost either Game 1 or 2 by since Jan. 16 in Charlotte.

Before tonight the Suns had been somewhat invincible when J-Rich goes for 20, but despite Richardson netting a game-high 27 points the Suns still couldn’t pull this one out.

The Suns played weak first and fourth quarters — getting outscored by a combined 26 points in those quarters — but their bench (of course!) shifted the game with an 11-0 second-quarter run to cut the Lakers’ lead to three. After being largely quiet in Game 1, the bench did what it’s done all season, putting life into this Phoenix team during that spurt

The Suns then came out strong to start the second half and ended up playing their best basketball of the series in the final 7:22 of the third when Jared Dudley replaced Robin Lopez to give the Suns a small ball lineup of Nash-Richardson-Dudley-Hill-Amare.

This is not a lineup the Suns used much during the regular season, often favoring a second big and just one of Hill/Dudley, but it sure worked tonight. That unit outscored the Lakers by nine the rest of the quarter to leave things tied up at 90 at the end of three.

Dudley did a decent job on Kobe and despite playing so small Phoenix limited Los Angeles to just 25 points, its lowest scoring quarter of the series.

On the other end, Hill hopped in his hot tub time machine and went for 14 in the quarter off a dizzying array of mid-range jumpers and J-Rich chipped in with 12. The Suns had five shooters on the floor and played their only sustained period of excellent basketball of the series aside from the quick 11-0 bench run in the second.

But then Gentry went to his bench to start the fourth and that’s where things started to unravel. Jordan Farmar hit a back-breaking triple to start the quarter, and the Lakers opened the period on a 7-3 run. It was 99-95 by the time Steve Nash re-entered, but the Lakers kept their mojo going and cruised to victory.

I don’t second guess Gentry on this move. Amare, Hill and Dudley all started the quarter (Lou soon replaced Hill and Channing replaced Amare), and Nash was back sooner than usual.

The bench has been so good all year — and even earlier in this game — that you can’t just let your starters play all game, although the Lakers practically did that with Pau playing 44, Kobe 43 and Artest 40. Meanwhile, only Amare (41) played more than 36 on the Phoenix side.

When you look at the big picture numbers, you can’t complain about Phoenix’s offense. The Suns scored 113.1 points per 100 possession (which is better than their season average), and that’s right about where they were at in Game 1. The Suns also shot 49.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three.

In a nutshell, the offense isn’t the problem. That should be good enough to win basketball games.

“We’re getting enough points,” Steve Nash said. “Like I said, they’re loading up on the pick and roll so other guys are surviving off of it. We’ve got to find a way to slow them down. We’re scoring enough points. I think we’re pretty efficient on the pick and rolls, whether it’s myself or the roller or the guys coming in on the weak side who are left open. So I’m not really concerned about the scoring because we’re getting lots of points.

“But like I said, at this time of year it’s asking a little bit too much of the offense. If we’re going to give up 120 something every game, then, yeah, I probably do have to score more points. But I think we’ve gotten still a lot of love out of our pick and rolls. We’ve just got to defend better.”

Like Nash was saying, Hill found himself free because of the attention drawn by the pick and roll, but that defense was horrid once again. It wasn’t as atrocious as it was in Game 1 when the Suns yielded 134.7 pp100, but the 125.3 pp100 possessions they gave up in Game 2 wasn’t much better.

The Lakers shot 57.7 percent in this one after knocking down 58.0 percent of their field goals in the first game, as the Suns once again had no answers for Los Angeles inside. Pau Gasol crushed Phoenix for 29 on 11-for-19 shooting, Lamar Odom went for an efficient 17 and 11 on 7-for-10 shooting (another “lucky” game you could say), Andrew Bynum made all five of his field goals in 18 minutes and Kobe facilitated with 21 points and 13 assists, the most for a Laker in the playoffs since Magic in 1996.

The performance left Suns coach Alvin Gentry so exasperated that he told ESPN’s Marc Stein following the game that he’s open for suggestions “even from the media.”

Gentry’s only solution may be to find more versatile defensive players on the streets or just play that small ball lineup that nearly outgunned the Lakers. With Amare Stoudemire getting beaten up on the interior, the Suns are in some trouble, especially when guys like Artest (6-for-9) and Farmar (4-for-5) are stroking.

“We are just having a hard time, we can’t slow them down,” Gentry said. “I thought we played well offensively, but every time we tried to make an adjustment to slow them down, they go somewhere else. And, you know, you do a great job on Kobe, and, you know, I thought we did. Then they go to Pau and we double team Pau and there’s Lamar, and we get it out of Lamar’s hand and Jordan Farmar makes shots. And there’s the reason they’re the world champs.”

With Hill, Richardson and Dudley combining for 65 points on 25-for-40 shooting (62.5 percent) but Phoenix still losing, some may think the Lakers have taken the Suns’ best shot unscathed, especially considering how well Phoenix shot as a team.

But on the flip side, the Suns committed 17 turnovers and got just six points on 2-for-15 shooting (13.3 percent) from Frye, Dragic and Barbosa, meaning Jared Dudley essentially was the bench in this contest. Frye was particularly terrible again, going 0-for-5 in nine minutes, making him 1-for-13 for the series.

Frye has not played single-digit minutes all season, so this clearly was a benching. He just had no confidence in himself, and the Suns losing Frye as a floor-spacing weapon reduces their effectiveness immensely. He better find his shot in Phoenix if the Suns are to turn this thing around.

Overall there are many positives for the Suns to build on. The small lineup could be an interesting foil to the Kobe-Pau-Lamar unit, and the Suns made a valiant comeback attempt that ultimately fell short without getting anything from their vaunted bench after the 11-0 run aside from Dudley’s strong run in small ball.

The Lakers are definitively in the driver’s seat and it would be considered a collapse if they lose, but the Suns showed enough life in the second half that Lakers fans would be wise to wait at least one more game before pondering the matchups in a Lakers-Celtics Finals.

And 1

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kobe was 4-for-4 against Hill in isolation situations but 0-for-4 against everyone else. Also, Odom was 7-for-9 from within four feet, but he missed his only shot from outside that range. … The Suns need to start getting off to better starts. This is the fifth straight game they dug themselves a first-quarter deficit, but unlike the first three they aren’t playing the Spurs anymore. … Pretty funny that Craig Sager asked Amare if the Lakers were “lucky” to win these first two games.

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Channing Frye · Defense · Grant Hill · Jared Dudley · Jason Richardson · Los Angeles Lakers · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap · Playoffs

26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 asani // May 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    They need to shake up the lineups a bit. If nash is going to continue to play like a girl snatch him and go with a big line up. I say at times play Hill at point, Jrich, Clarke, Stoudemire and Lopez. That will at least match up with size. Nash is looking to pass too much when we need his offense. I think putting Clarke on Odom will be a great move to negate anything he does since Clarke has the atheletic ability to stay with him and jump with him. Amare is our liability on defense everytime the Lakers scored in the paint it seemed Amare messed up his assignment. He better come out with a monster game because I have always vouched for this guy but now I don't know. I just don't like this passive basketball by Amare and Steve. We will never win a series against anybody if they play the way they have

  • 2 Corey37 // May 20, 2010 at 1:29 am

    asani, way to keep the faith.. LMAO

  • 3 Bernal // May 20, 2010 at 1:43 am

    I went back to read the archives on 5/16: Suns /Lakers predictions. WOW. That was pretty good reading.

    One would think that it was written after game two as it mentions exactly what has to be done to succeed and what players will be key. It mentions to a Tee all of the downfalls that HAVE happened for Phx.

    Anyways, I'll be in Tempe this weekend (coincidentally). Are their any decent watering holes there to take in the game ??

  • 4 LakeShowForLife // May 20, 2010 at 1:54 am

    LOL, do you people even have any faith in your team anymore?

    Can't blame you, though; I would hate my team if they played the way you guys have played, too.

    Enjoy getting swept.

  • 5 PurpleNGold // May 20, 2010 at 2:17 am

    Hey if the Suns get JRich going, hit some threes, minimize the deficit in point in the paint, and get support from Hill and the Bench there is NO WAY the Lakers win.

    Oops.

  • 6 Ryan C // May 20, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Asani,

    After two games it is just obvious that the Lakers are just the better team. The Suns played pretty good last night. JR scored 27 Hill had 23 and they shot 49 percent again. But the Lakers are just too good. Kobe does not need to drop 50 points to win he realizes that. Kobe will continue to make the right play if he is double teammed in game 3. And your right Amare is not playing to his full potienial. I am not looking ahead to Boston quite yet will still need to take care of business in Phoenix. And the Suns will play better at home. So by no means is the series over yet….

  • 7 Manrique // May 20, 2010 at 2:46 am

    Saying the Lakers are better and will win has nothing to do with being a good Suns fan or not, it's just reality. Suns have had a great season even if they lose this series and if they get some breaks here and there, could turn this one around. I wonder how the games would be different if Ron Artest and Jordan Farmar didn't look like Steve Kerr shooting the outside shot. When those two are hitting three's, it's literally impossible to beat the Lakers. If you have to guard the 3 from them, it's layup city for everyone else. Like Gentry said, that's why they're the champs. Hope that Dragic can get these going, that could be a game changer since Nash can't take advantage of Fisher.

  • 8 Bernal // May 20, 2010 at 3:07 am

    Did anybody notice the flagrant-Amare-Elbow to Pau Gasol in the first qtr? I saw it happen as they were in transition. Funny how nobody else (refs, commentators etc) took notice.

    Once upon a time that tactic would work against Pau (Celtics 2008).

    Time for a new strategy……….try defense.

    Amare just looked……..well……….. dumb out there.

    He looked as if he had no clue as to what was going on.

    I can see now why Mike D had to take the no-defense approach to games. It was very entertaining and it didn't exploit Amare. His value (Thanks to the Lakers) has diminished on the market. To a true NBA fan such as myself, I never noticed. But, It's probably well-known within the league (hence Cleveland backing out of any deal).

    If we (Lakers) don't get Bosh (Bynum is a liability), then expect a team like the Suns to grab him. But since most players make/have enough cash, their goal is to win. Therefore, Purple and gold it is.

    Get to work Mitch !!!!! Let's see if we can pull off another 'Pau deal".

  • 9 lll66 // May 20, 2010 at 4:06 am

    You guys should be proud. The Kobe years have officially given you the means to wrest the crown of “hypocritical bigmouths who would burn their jerseys the minute their team lost a playoff series” from New York.

    I believe that watching and cheering for my team during 06' and 07' while the Suns killed us qualifies as a die hard Lakers fan. And for that matter, there will be a decline in talent with the Lakers, but that's to be expected. At least we'll be able to bask in the glory of our 15 possibly plus championship banners hanging in Staples, while the Suns will be remembering their bann- oh wait. Never mind.

    Signed,

    Longtimelakerlover for LIFE. GO LAKERS!

  • 10 CelticsRock // May 20, 2010 at 4:10 am

    The Suns played pretty good last night? C'mon!!!!

    The Suns have the worst defensive scheme, rotation, and execution of any Conference Finals team in years.

    Which is sad, cause some of us are rooting for the Suns and Nash…

  • 11 Ryan C // May 20, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Mel,

    How many championships do the Suns have????

    don't worry I will wait for your response……………………………………. have an answer yet? ok I will wait some more……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. oooooooooooooo that is right you guys have zero. Ok I was just checking. I thought the Suns had like 10 Championships my bad!!!!! Kobe still has a least 4 good years a head of him and will go down as one of the all time greats.

  • 12 jason johnston // May 20, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Like usual the Lakers get plenty of calls their way and if you breathe on them too hard it's a foul….Nevermind Barbosa getting slammed into the camera section by Odom and having a gash on the back of his head…No FOUL!!! That's typical…

    One thing I have learned about Kobe over the years is that he can't win without having a dominant center to bail him out…Without Shaq, Kobe would have 1 ring because Shaq was by far the best player on that team…Kobe just couldn't live with Shaq getting all the attention so he threw a tantrem to get him out of there!! And please no more about Kobe's INJURIES…no player moves that well that has an APPARENT 13 different injuries…GO SUNS…and FRYE NASH and AMARE try to play like you want a ring please!!!

  • 13 asani // May 20, 2010 at 6:36 am

    There is a very simple method the suns need to adopt if they want to win. Make Kobe score 50 points but actually guard everybody else so the whole team doesn’t score with ease. That zone is weak as hell so they never need to show that again. Amare under no circumstances should ever guard Pau. Put Lopez on Pau anytime he is in the game. I don’t care about Kobe going off but we cannot allow odom and sorry ass artest to beat us

  • 14 Steve Nash and the Tyranny of Low Expectations, Part Deux « Sirius Bark by Temple3 // May 20, 2010 at 8:21 am

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  • 15 Bernal // May 20, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Valid point. I am a die-hard Laker fan from the days of Wilt. It’s true, that when Kobe does go for 40+, that it takes away from the scoring balance and thus, has the rest of the team standing around on offense AND defense. It also creates some selfish-like behavior on the offensive side because the guys don’t want to give up the ball knowing that they wont get it back. However….. Those were the old days. Kobe will break any defender down and beat him at-will. When the Suns attempt to add last minute help at the rim, is when Kobe will dish it off to keep everybody involved.
    The playoffs are about making coaching adjustments from game-to-game (which is why the Cavs are out). The Lakers haven’t had to make many. I think Phx has the talent and heart to turn this thing around (don’t think for a minute that us Lake fans are comfortable yet). Unfortunately, they do not have the playoff experience when it comes time to make adjustments. During the season, teams like the Cavs, Mavs, Magic,San Antone can just show up with their “A” game and compete. But, in the playoffs, when you have an experienced, seasoned coach constantly massaging the game with minor tweeks here-and there and focused on only one opponent usually will end in the Lakers favor.
    Boston carries the same traits. An arsenal of tools to make the necessary adjustments and a coach who knows how to make adjustments.
    Lakers in 5

  • 16 lakeshow // May 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

    yeah

    i was actually thinking about the series with the jazz – and when you see that team, the Suns are obviously better, which is why I don't understand how it is not even as competitive as the jazz series felt.

  • 17 Mel. // May 20, 2010 at 10:51 am

    LOL. Laker zealots questioning the loyalty of other fans when those fans’ team is on a downward swing never gets old.

    You guys should be proud. The Kobe years have officially given you the means to wrest the crown of “hypocritical bigmouths who would burn their jerseys the minute their team lost a playoff series” from New York.

    I look forward to Kobe’s declining years, and another Van Exel-era run of mediocrity for you crazy kids. Did wonders for Chicago, right?

  • 18 Lance // May 20, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I might be crazy but I think we should try using Dwayne Jones off of the bench next game, I mean he was the top rebounder in the D-League so that has to mean something! Also I noticed that whenever one of the Suns committed questionable foul they never showed a replay of the foul, or at least that is what it felt like for me.

  • 19 gxs // May 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I’m a Lakers fan reading from Forum Blue & Gold. On behalf of Lakers fans that aren’t idiots, I apologize for the douche bags ruining your thread. I highly suggest some type of moderation.

    That is all.

  • 20 Manrique // May 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    it’s crazy that this “much improved” suns defense has allowed 252 pts in two games which is not just bad, it’s historically bad? dantoni’s teams never had 2 games in a row this bad defensively. why? perfect storm:
    -kobe and co. are extra motivated
    -amare has to fact 3 guys that are 6’10″ or taller instead of just 1 or 2 and he’s given up on rebounding
    -the lakers are really hot in their shooting. farmar and artest are incredibly hot and if you have to guard their shots closely, you can’t guard the lakers
    -the lakers have multiple bigs who are athletic enough to block people like fry and nash passing lanes. so every strength the suns have is negated.
    -they have the greatest coach in the league and a top 5 player of all time.

  • 21 lakeshow // May 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    you guys will probably get a home cooking the next two games, so I wouldn’t worry too much.
    Amare needs to do something on the defensive end – otherwise, just bench him.
    Amare negates his offensive production by his turnovers and defensive game – so if he must be in the game, get him in with the bench. I don’t understand how he played the most minutes yesterday – what was Gentry thinking.
    Anyways, if I was the Suns, I would significantly limit Amare’s minutes and let Nash, Hill, JRich, Dudley and Lopez and the rest of the guys pick up the offensive points Amare would have produced.
    Something else I noticed – during the other series, the Suns used to get really excited when they cut a deficit or tied a game – yesterday, they did not look that excited to me, like they were almost thinking this won’t last – maybe that will change once they get home though.

  • 22 Coach Nick // May 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    The Team defense of the Suns stinks. See my complete video recap here:
    http://bballbreakdown.com
    They need to play Robin Lopez much more – he’s the one bright spot. And they should bench Stoudemire and JRich.

  • 23 lakeshow // May 20, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Coach Nick
    that was pretty awesome vids you have – someone get those to the Suns.

  • 24 Why small ball could save this series for the Phoenix Suns| Valley of the Suns // May 21, 2010 at 1:03 am

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  • 25 Joshua // May 21, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I understand why this series doesn’t feel as competitive as the Lakers/Jazz series so far, lakeshow—- firstly, it’s not really fair to compare the two teams as this group of Suns have gone through a few different coaches in a short period of time. Sloan has been the bedrock of the Jazz for as long as we can all remember. So the Jazz benefit from having an old, time-tested system that they follow to a T. Secondly, while the Suns are certainly a better offensive team than the Jazz, they’re not a better defensive team and that’s the real difference. Although the Lakers were every bit “too big” for the Jazz like they are the Suns, the Jazz are a bit grittier on D.

    That said, I don’t think Laker fans would be here disrespecting the Suns if not for two things:

    1. The utterly absurd “Suns in 6″ predictions. Did you guys REALLY think the Lakers would only win 2 games in this series? Seriously?

    2. The moronic comments from STAT about Odom, who has traditionally always owned the Suns.

    Now, I don’t hate the Suns, although I definitely hated seeing the Lakers lose to them earlier this decade…but it’s time to read the signs here…this year is looking fated to be a re-match of Lakers/Celtics. These two teams are simply playing way too well and with too much focus and desire to lose now. I realize that’s upsetting if you hate both those teams, but it’s not that the Suns or Magic are bad teams…it’s that they are the unfortunate sub-plots in a renewed Lakers/Celtics rivalry that looks like it isn’t over yet. Even if I take off my Laker Homer glasses, I can see absolutely no way barring catastrophic injuries to the Lakers, in which the Suns take this series. It’s just not happening.

  • 26 Z Man // Jun 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Suns turned it around at home, by following two road losses with a pair of home wins.

    What should have been obvious in the wins was the need to play our bench more, not less. If we did that, it may have been a championship year for our Suns.

    Frye, Barbosa, Louis, Dud & Gogi. They found their confidence and swagger. Suns future depends upon these guys. MUCH MORE important than keeping STAT is making sure that our other guys stay. MUST KEEP Frye, Louis and our Brazilian Blur.

    MUST start and also finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

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