So the other day I went on and on about how people were all wrong about the Suns and how their season went–especially the ending. To recap:
- The Suns had a great season.
- The difference between the Suns and Lakers is negligible.
- The Suns should have beaten the Lakers handily.
- The Suns played like crap in three of their four losses.
That’s pretty much it. So what went wrong? Well, a couple things. First, I think Alvin Gentry made some big-time coaching mistakes. Here’s what it boils down to: Alvin didn’t coach these games like were any different from regular season games. Now, Alvin’s spent some time here and there as a head coach, but only once before had he coached a playoff team. And that was the 98-99 Pistons, which of course didn’t really mean anything (since it was the lockout-shortened, 50-game bullshit season). And though Alvin was an assistant under D’Antoni for a couple of Suns playoff runs, this was his first time running the show deep into the playoffs.
So it seems to me that Alvin went pretty strongly for the “don’t panic” approach. He coached these games like they were any other game. I get that. You don’t want guys to freak out or press or do all that other stuff that people can tend to do under pressure. He stayed pretty chill most of the time. He pumped guys up. He didn’t freak out when they were down by 42. He ran his rotations just like he did during the regular season. And that’s my beef.
I clearly have not experienced the NBA playoffs personally, so maybe I’m just a dunce. But it seems to me that there is enough that is different that you have to make a few changes in the way you operate. The games are called differently by the officials, no matter what Papa says.
Now, I complained early on that I wanted to see the Suns’ starters play more during this series to counter the extended minutes being played by the Lakers’ starters (- Bynum + Odom, of course). But maybe what the Suns needed was for the bench to play more minutes late. I would argue that the Lakers are a bit tired, and both their bench and starters struggled to keep up with the Suns’ bench much of the time, especially Dragic. And I’m not just talking about “running.” The Lakers couldn’t contain Dragic in the half court when he was going well (which of course wasn’t all the time; I’m only talking about when he was already playing well). Let’s look at…oh, let’s pick a random game and quarter. How about the fourth quarter of Game 6?
Now, you can check the log of that quarter here, but in case you’ve forgotten, here’s the rundown:
- The Suns, after three lackluster quarters on both sides of the ball, open what may be their final quarter of the season trailing by 17 points, 91-74.
- Goran Dragic drags the Suns back into the game, tearing it up on offense, picking fights with Sasha Vujacic, and generally running over, around, and through the Lakers.
- The Suns pull to within five, then Dirty Derek hits a two to make the lead 7.
- Gentry calls timeout and promptly removes Dragic and Barbosa for Nash and Richardson.
Now this is what I’m talking about. It hurts me to type this because I don’t want to feel like I’m saying anything bad about Nash, but the man looked tired. Real tired. What was he going to do that Dragic wasn’t doing already? And Richardson had a pretty crap game…3-7 shooting for 13 points and ONE rebound in 29 minutes for a pretty stellar -14 on the evening. Even if Nash was coming into the game, why weren’t he and Dragic playing together? Why not leave Goran in the game to continue doing what he’d been doing? The Lakers weren’t doing anything to stop him.
Let’s go back a game to Game 5. It was a pretty good game, pretty well-played by both sides…until that last-second putback by Ron-Ron. Now, I know that some people have put the blame on JRich for not boxing out Artest, but I don’t know…I’ve watched the replay several times and wondered what Richardson could have done differently. There were so many moving parts on that play and it didn’t seem like he had much of a chance at stopping Artest. However, I question the personnel on the floor for that play. If I had the Suns roster at my disposal, and you asked me to pick two players I absolutely want on the floor when I need defense and/or a rebound, I’d pick Amundson and Lopez. I’d put Hill on Kobe (if you asked me for three guys) and tell Lou and Robin to GET ME THE DAMN BALL. The Suns’ larges on that play? Frye and STAT. Um…no. I don’t care if Frye led the team in rebounds that game. If there is one rebound to get? I don’t pick Channing. Sorry, buddy. And no, I don’t care that Frye got hooked and yanked by Pau and it should’ve been a foul. Well, I do care about that. But it’s not the issue. Frye’s just not that guy. Lou and Robin should’ve been in there to CRASH THE BOARDS.
But they weren’t. Now, while I think it’s completely ridiculous, I understand at least a little bit the decision to not have Lou in the game. He’s not one of their crunch-time guys. But the things he does well are exactly what was needed at that moment. He should’ve been in the game.
I don’t understand why Lopez wouldn’t have been in the game, and this leads me to a slightly different topic: Was Lopez still hurt? In Game 3, Lopez went off for 20 points in 30 minutes, and it seemed like he was getting into a pretty solid groove after looking pretty rusty (read: like crap) in Games 1 & 2. His numbers for the last three games of the series? 32 minutes, 6 points, 3-of-14 shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 TOs, 5 PFs. Total. He’d better’ve been hurt if he was playing that little and that poorly.
Bottom line? I don’t know if things would’ve turned out differently. But I sure think they should have. And I think that things should have been done a little bit differently, starting at the top. Figure it out before the next time, please, Alvin.