Portland Trail Blazers 106, Phoenix Suns 92 — Offensively bad fourth

(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.”

And 1

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.

Tags: Hedo Turkoglu Offense Rebounding Steve Nash

  • Mike Meez

    Very good analysis. So basically, two problems tonight: 1. Rebounding 2. turnovers. One should not be a permanent problem, and the other is a bit trickier. And we all know which problem is which. I have no idea how they’re going to pick up the rebounding.

    Watching the Rockets-Lakers game (since Tucson still is without televised Phoenix Suns basketball except for national t.v. and FSN), I was salivating at the thought of Luis Scola on the Suns. He’s a monster on the boards. 16 tonight! against a stacked Lakers frontcourt. And 18 points on the offensive end. I know it won’t happen but a boy can dream. Also happy to see former Wildcat Chase Budinger have a great showing tonight.

  • Anders

    Yikes… scary start, where all the expected problems were on display.

    I was kinda OK with seeing Amare go, since I think his weak defense made it impossible for Suns to ever get further than they got. But replacing him with Hedo only gives the Suns worse defense, and takes away part of their offensive identity.

    I am worried about Nash and co.

  • Joe

    I think Warrick needs to be in the crunch time line-up. If last night was an indicator of what they’ll run in the last 5 minutes of a tight game, it looks like a lot of 1 on 1 moves by less-than-great one on one players. At least with Warrick in there and try to open up the floor. I don’t know who you replace from the starters, though. Robin Lopez, TurkeyGlue, or Grant Hill would have to take a seat.

    I thought Hedo looked really good at times, even though his stat-line wasn’t sharp. The fact that he seems to actually care was just a huge positive to me. He was playing defense too.

    I feel like Dragic needs to take a step forward this year. He needs to take command of that bench unit and stop being just “one of the gang.” He has the ability to get to the free throw line at will, among a smorgasbord of other skills. I guess that, what I’m really asking you to do is this, Dragon..

    Overall, the Suns sent me on an emotional roller coaster last night. I’d feel incredibly positive and optimistic one minute, then ready to give up on the season the next. I wish they played again tonight, I don’t want to have to sit on this feeling until Thursday.

  • Mirza

    Im not sure Dragic can be effective playing 12 mintues a game. From what I’ve been hearing, Dragic was supposed to get 20+ …. Rebounding (or lack thereof) will ensure we get a lottery pick in the draft .. I was never a huge Amare fan but not paying him and paying Warrick, Frye, Turk HUGE mistake .. Frye is so horrible (does this guy know how to set his feet before jacking up a shot?) How many players do we have at the 3 spot???? I am a HUGE Suns fan and I must say not looking forward to this season as it will be a loooooooooong one ….

  • Fatty B

    Great analysis Schwartz! I’m glad you don’t fit the panic button after one game. It was puzzeling to not see the pick-n-roll or pick-n-pop a little more with Turk or RoLo. Any chance Big Al is keeping it in his back pocket to get a chance to see the others in action? I know he did it in past years… but that was when it was as sure thing. Small sample size, but RoLo +/- was 0, Frye +/- was -19…

  • JC

    This was a disappointing loss for the Suns. The last 6 points of the Phoenix suns in the 4th quarter came from Steve driving to the basket for some layups. It seemed that Nash was completely frustrated with his teammates that he felt that he had to take over, but he just couldn’t do it on his own when everyone else was standing around on the wings waiting to be fed the ball. Steve just didn’t seem to thrust his teammates at all and I know he must be frustrated from having lost 75% of their preseason games. (Even Grant had a disappointed face as he walked out of the court.) I thought Turk at the 4 with the reserves would be effective, but he clearly didn’t play well at all. Also, did the Suns just waste $30 million for 5 years for a player like Frye that only scored his only 3 points at the buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd quarter? The only benefit of Frye was that he slightly opened up the lane which allowed for Steve to drive, but Steve can’t put up with all that all season. Turk and Frye really need to step up their game. On the other hand Warrick played great scoring 10 points in 18 minutes and give props to Childress for trying to play with a broken finger. I don’t get why Lopez isn’t playing at the end of the game; he needs to be there for rebounding purposes, because Frye ain’t cutting it. (This was probably also what caused Phoenix to lose game 5 against the Lakers. Lopez could have been able to keep Pau off the board and may have caught Kobe’s air ball or blocked Artest’s put back attempt.) Suns need to look at the game tape and truly make adjustments. On another note, I am Happy that the Heat lost game 1 which means the Suns are as good as the Heat, currently.

  • Steve

    @Mirza – I’m pretty sure Frye knows how to shoot. (See: 2009-2010 Suns Season)

    As far as the game goes, it was a lot of ugly. This is the way the NBA regular season goes. Teams take it easy for 40 minutes, then turn it on when they finally decide they need to win the game. If the Suns don’t win that first 40 minutes by a ton, essentially taking the other team out of it completely, I think they’re going to lose more games than they win. With their current lineup, they don’t have any good options in crunch time. Our only hope is that J-Rich can develop into a clutch, take-over-the-game type of scorer who can jack up 15 shots in the fourth for us and make most of them (aka Kobe Bryant). I don’t really think that’s going to happen.

    I know it’s just game 1, but based on what we saw in the preseason and what we’ve seen now in the regular season, this Suns team does not appear to be built for the playoffs, and it is certainly not built to win championships.

  • Mirza

    @ Steve …. of course I know what he did last year and I remember what he DIDNT DO in the playoffs .. i remember him avg 35% from the 3 point line and scoring 8pts per game .. I guess that’s more than enough to sign him to a 30mil contract eh Sarver??

  • KJ Loyalist

    Ouch – so much negativity after ONE loss! I almost can’t believe it. Almost.

    It was evident that Gentry was still tinkering with his players; trying to figure out which ones will be best and where. Even still, before an arctic 4th, we were in that game.

    This will go on for awhile because if you don’t get it straight now you won’t go on 8 and 9 game winning streaks later.

    RoLodex and Dragon didn’t see the type of minutes expected. It is ok. They will have their minutes soon. You could see that the spacing wasn’t quite right. It is fine.

    It is tinkering that needs to be done. Panic? Nah, save that for January.

  • Mike Meez

    Totally agree KJ Loyalist, not time to panic yet at all. 81 games left folks. With a completely new team, we should all expect some tinkering for the first month or so, which should probably mean fewer wins. And Suns also have a tough schedule to start so that doesn’t help. We just gotta support our guys at this point and hope they figure things out.

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