(Video by ValleyoftheSuns’ Mike Schmitz)
When Steve Nash finished off a nifty three-point play with 5:43 remaining in the game to put Phoenix up three, the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers appeared to be headed to a classic opening-night finish.
I’m not sure what exactly happened next, but it certainly wasn’t Phoenix Suns basketball as we knew it the past six years.
The Blazers blitzkrieged the Suns 18-1 the rest of the way to pull out a resounding 106-92 victory in a game that was tight throughout and that Phoenix led by six after three.
For a Suns team that has been the best in the NBA offensively during the Nash era to go half a quarter of crunch time while only scoring a single point is unheard of. It just never used to happen, and that’s because when the Suns knew they needed a bucket in the past they would run Nash-Amare pick-and-rolls down the opposition’s throats and that would usually open up something.
This cold spell started with three turnovers in four possessions and also included three Steve Nash missed shots. By the time Jason Richardson hoisted up a pair of long misses, the Suns trailed by 11 and would have needed a miracle to come back.
The Suns were shooting better than 50 percent before their cold spell (and still ended the game at 48.6 percent), but they just didn’t have that bread and butter play down the stretch that they knew they could rely on. Instead it was a lot of Steve Nash one on one, and tonight Two Time couldn’t get it done.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Batum hit a pair of clutch shots and Brandon Roy tossed in a dagger with a three-pointer to extend the lead to nine with 2:27 left.
The Suns played reasonably well in many facets of the game just to be in it midway through the fourth considering how badly Portland dominated the backboards. The Blazers outrebounded Phoenix 48-30, nearly grabbing more offensive rebounds (18) than Phoenix had defensive boards (23). Watching the game, it felt worse than that.
Batum led the way with 11 boards thanks to often being defended by Nash, and on many occasions the Blazers just seemed to be playing volleyball with each other. If the Suns had done even a passable job on the boards, the game would have been over midway through the fourth. On the Phoenix side, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye led the way with six apiece.
The fact that rebounding essentially lost them the game really is no major surprise. Somebody on DDL asked me tonight if the Suns will be the worst rebounding team of the shot clock era. I think that might be a little extreme, but let’s be honest, it’s an alarming weakness.
Half of rebounding is size (which the Suns don’t have), but the other half is heart and hustle. That’s why Lou Amundson is such a good rebounder, and it just wasn’t on display tonight from the current Suns.
Some of that blame certainly goes to Robin Lopez. He has never been the kind of rebounder we have expected him to be. Some guys just have a knack for rebounding and others don’t. Remember Amare Stoudemire? He was supposed to have a perfect rebounding body but never became better than a nine boards a game guy. Robin just doesn’t have that nose for the ball that all great rebounders have.
At the same time, I’ve got to wonder why Lopez checked out with 4:28 remaining in the third and never re-entered. He’s too important to this team — interior defense and, yes, rebounding in particular — not to be playing in crunch time when he’s fully rested.
Then there’s our good friend Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu scored six points off a pair of threes, grabbed three boards and dished a pair of assists. On the bright side, he looked like he gave a crap and even got on the floor for a loose ball. So that’s a positive.
Turkoglu remained a spot-up shooter who didn’t do much facilitating. Nash found him for a nice rhythm three early in the game, and as those two learn to play off each other I expect many more open looks, but I still want to see Turkoglu go into facilitation mode. I want to see him play with Dragon and create offense for others. He really didn’t do that much in this game, just as he didn’t during the preseason.
Turkoglu needs to be a positive on offense because he couldn’t really hold his own defensively. He picked up five fouls trying to defend the post, and the Suns often had to send a guy to help. As long as Turkoglu is providing effort defensively that’s all you can ask. We know he will be a liability on that end, and that’s OK if he proves to be a nightmare matchup for the opposition at the other end. Thus far tonight and in the preseason that hasn’t been the case.
Jason Richardson shot the ball extremely well, scoring 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting despite missing his final three shots. However, this of course means the Suns are now 0-1 when J-Rich goes for 20-plus this year after running out to a 31-5 mark in such games last year including the playoffs. Last year the Suns were so good when J-Rich scored 20 because it essentially meant they had three stars, but this year a 20-point game will be more of an expected occurrence for Richardson.
Nash certainly looked to score more in his 26-point, 10-for-19 shooting performance. In fact, Nash took more shots only seven times all last year. He was masterful in leading the Suns to their 35-25 third quarter, but he also dished just six assists to nine turnovers (the Suns had 19 for the game). I’m sure Alvin Gentry will concur when I say if there’s one guy I’m not worried about it’s Nash. The assist to turnover numbers will become more normal as he gets more used to his new teammates.
Instead I’m sure Gentry is much more concerned about how he can get his undersized team to rebound, getting more use out of Turkoglu and finding go-to offense down the stretch after an opening game in which the Suns played reasonably well (minus rebounding) for 42 minutes before faltering down the stretch.
“Obviously we have to do a lot better job on the boards, but I thought we played hard and competed, and as I said, we’re still trying to figure out this team and learn about this team,” Gentry said. “It’s going to take a little while, but the effort was there.”
Lopez led the Suns in +/- with a 0 in 25 minutes. The Suns lost 19 points, however, in Frye’s 25 minutes. The Suns were also only -2 in Hakim Warrick’s 18 minutes. … Phoenix was outscored 31-11 in the fourth quarter overall after winning the third, 35-25. … As expected the three-point shooting that deserted the Suns in the preseason returned. The team hit 9-of-19 for 47.4 percent. … Jared Dudley showed off his pump fake one dribble move early in the game with a defender charging hard at him behind the arc. Dudley hit the mid-range jumper off the move he worked on all summer and which his game lacked last year. … Ian Levy has some more bad news for Suns fans regarding Turkoglu when it comes to Expected Scoring. … Garbage Time All-Stars depicted the game in comic form.