Philadelphia 76ers 123, Phoenix Suns 110 – ‘It can’t get worse’

Posted by on December 30th, 1:51 am

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have played some awful defensive games over the years, but Wednesday’s 123-110 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers does not have many rivals in futility.

This was a Sixers team that had not won a game all season when yielding at least 99 points (0-14), a team that averaged 87.3 points per game in its last six and a team that been held to 81 points or fewer in three of those six.

But this Philadelphia squad got six players in double figures and three in the 20-point range on a season-high scoring night and the team’s second-best shooting night from the field (54.9 percent) all year.

Oh yeah, they did this without their best player with Andre Iguodala sidelined with an Achilles’ injury as Evan Turner (career high 23, previous was 16), Andres Nocioni (season highs with 22 points and 12 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday (25 points, tied for second best of his career) all enjoyed career nights.

The Suns’ offense kept pace most of the evening in a game they trailed 66-65 at the half, but in the end their defensive ineptitude cost them the kind of contest they are supposed to win.

“I guess the most disappointing thing is that we spent so much time working on our defense and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better,” said head coach Alvin Gentry, who deemed the effort “unacceptable.” “I’m not real sure why because I think we play extremely hard in practice. We do a good job there (but) we just can’t seem to take it from there to game situations.”

On a night Vince Carter made his Suns debut, all anybody wanted to talk about afterward was defense, as no matter what the question the conversation always shifted back to that end of the floor.

But no Sun was as passionate and honest as Marcin Gortat, a man who has played the last few years for one of the elite defenses in the league and won’t accept the product the Suns are putting out defensively.

Gortat gave his honest assessment of the situation with some sound bytes brimming with truth that should get some attention in the locker room.

Here’s the best of his interview:

  • “It’s just a little bit frustrating when you come in here to the locker room and people are talking about the offense, you guys are talking about the offense. That’s not the way you’re going to win NBA games. I don’t know if it’s just me or maybe I’m just different, but I came from a team where everybody’s competing, trying, do the stuff that Coach is saying. We just totally changing our rotations, changing the stuff we set before the game. We’re not playing hard enough, and there’s a lot of, lot of work in front of us. The positive thing is it can’t get worse.”
  • “There are so many things that we’re doing bad, and I just can’t find an explanation. A lot of people are trying to get some rebounds and such, but unfortunately there aren’t too many opportunities for me to rebound because if the team is scoring 100 something points there’s not much to rebound. It’s just frustrating as hell. I’m not going to lie. Now it’s kind of like a reality check for me being from a team that’s winning to a team that’s losing, I mean we are the worst defensive team in the league. We’ve just got to come tomorrow as early as possible and work three hours at least.”
  • “I think we’ve just got to be more serious about everything that we do. We’ve got to be more serious, we’ve got a lot of young guys on the team, a lot of potential, but a lot of young guys who don’t know what it’s like to be on top and at a high level. It’s not just the focus of the game, it’s the focus at the practice. You can’t have people coming in and doing different things. You’ve got to read the scouting report, you’ve got to read which guys likes to do what, and we’ve just got to learn. There’s a lot of work, a lot of work. If Philly’s scoring 120 points I don’t want to see teams like Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, Miami or the other teams. It’s going to be bad.”
  • “Today we didn’t even try to defend. We were not able to defend anybody.”
  • “It’s just different mentality. You’ve got a lot of veterans in Orlando and you’ve got different mentalities, coaching mentality, everything’s different.”

I could not agree more with Gortat and I applaud his courage to tell it like it is without veiling anything behind clichés. You could see how much he cares through those assessments.

What Gortat doesn’t realize is that this team actually went just as far as his Orlando Magic last season because it played a little defense back then. Last year the Suns ranked 19th in defensive efficiency and 11th in defensive field goal percentage whereas this year Phoenix is dead last in both departments. No matter how good their offense is — and it remains very good — nobody can win with that bad of a defense.

“I’m not worried about what’s going to happen with our team offensively,” Gentry said. “We’re going to be fine in that area right there, we’ve always been fine in that area. To me the biggest reason we were able to make a jump and get to the Western Conference Finals last year had nothing to do with what we did offensively. What we have to do is improve on defense, and we have to make a huge jump there.”

Added Grant Hill: “We’ve taken a big step back. We’ve got to show some improvement.”

Gentry chided his team’s defense against dribble penetration while Jared Dudley discussed issues with rotations and rebounding as well (the Suns got out-rebounded 46-31).

Steve Nash, meanwhile, was brilliant once against with 14 points and 11 assists by halftime and 23 and 15 for the game in 38 minutes, giving him at least 15 assists in three straight games for just the third time in his career.

His frustration boiled over with the Suns trailing by seven with three minutes left when Nash was called for an out of bounds violation after Holiday appeared to foul him, as Nash earned a technical and yelled some choice words with the game slipping away.

“It’s frustrating,” Nash said. “We’re losing, we’re not playing well defensively, we’re practicing our defense and it’s not carrying over to the game, and it’s frustrating, so we got to fight through it. We’ve got to test ourselves, our mental strength and our emotional commitment every day and try to bring it and get better and not let it get to us.

“We have to be positive and optimistic to turn it around.”

After a performance like this, that’s all the Suns can do.

And 1

Carter’s first Suns game certainly got overshadowed by the team’s defensive struggles, but Vince contributed 18 points on 8-for-20 shooting. He hit just 1-of-6 threes but looked comfortable posting up smaller guards, something he said he hopes to do more of.

“Vince is a terrific player, he’s skilled and experienced,” Nash said. “He’s going to do a lot of things for us.”

Mickael Pietrus also had a fantastic game by scoring 15 points and drilling three treys for Phoenix before fouling out. Gortat chipped in with 13 and six.

The Suns often played with Nash and four former Magic players (including Hill) as the Carter-Gortat-Pietrus triumvirate played more than everyone but Nash and Hill.  Channing Frye played just 19 minutes, Goran Dragic and Hakim Warrick 10 and Josh Childress got the dreaded DNP-CD. …

Carter and Childress shared some laughs, while Pietrus sang along to his upbeat music after the game. Perhaps it’s good that the Suns can still have some fun despite the struggles, but I expected a more somber atmosphere.

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: Defense · Marcin Gortat · Philadelphia 76ers · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap · Vince Carter

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kenton // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:00 am

    I agree with Gortat and Gentry’s post-game statements. If we were even just a little bit better defensively, our 8th seed struggles might be over. With how good our offense is, we don’t need to be miraculous on the defensive end, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t WANT to be miraculous D.

    Hoping for a post-All-Star-weekend resurgence from this team, once they’ve accumulated some steady practice hours together. Hope it wont be too little too late by then.

  • 2 Mike // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:22 am

    I’m worried about the 35 FT attempts they gave up. Stop fouling, or take a charge. Just stop with the stupid reaching and stay out of the penalty. 35 FT attempts is ridiculous.

  • 3 Auggie // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:39 am

    I wonder if the D will turn a corner. It feels like this is defensive training camp and they are trying new schemes. If its true, they might be better than ever. Gorat sounds like a leader. And the Suns haven’t had a vocal defensive leader since Bell.

  • 4 Jed // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:59 am

    I think it’s a mistake not to play Childress. He’s very active on both ends of the floor; I like his game. And now that his finger is better he can only continue to improve.

    I hope Gortat doesn’t whine too much. It’s good to call the team out at times, but I didn’t like that he compared our coaching mentality to that of Orlando’s. I want him to be on board with what the team is doing.

    I wish Dragic would play better. When he’s playing well he’s amazing. He needs some consistency!

    Warrick is a liability on the floor. Unless he improves his defense I would rather give his minutes to Childress. Warrick has great hands, but I think Childress is a well rounded player who deserves minutes.

    Lastly, I like Gortat’s game, but I’m still not convinced that he’s a better fit than Lopez. I don’t like that he has been getting more minutes than him.

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  • 6 zachi // Dec 30, 2010 at 5:40 am

    the suns should play both Gortat and Lopez then you will get the D- stops!! the wing men will open up the floor so that you will have an easy bucket from out or inside (P&R)

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  • 8 AlabamaSun // Dec 30, 2010 at 6:55 am

    “a lot of young guys who don’t know what it’s like to be on top and at a high level” – Gortat

    Marcin, I know you were in the East last year, but the Suns were in the Western Conference Finals.

    That being said, I like his gusto.

  • 9 aadwaee // Dec 30, 2010 at 7:21 am

    vince is a choker 1 on 6 3pg?

  • 10 Sean // Dec 30, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I suspect there might be some chemistry problems. The short-handed Suns played really well in OK City (a win) and San Antonio (a reasonably competitive loss), with Childress and Dudley standing out to me. Now those guys are kind of lost in the rotation, especially Childress. I think he needs more PT.

    The other thing is that even though the offense is good, we don’t have a g uy that can just take over the offense when the team is struggling. We had 2 of those guys last year in J-Rich and Amare. Remember J-Rich against Portland, when things didn’t start out so good? He was unbelievable in that series. It’s hard to find an offensive stud in this league, but I think the Suns might want to do some serious shopping for a big gun in exchange for a few of the many good (but not great) pieces they have.

    Having said that, the D is the biggest problem. Get Childress and Dudley out there more.

  • 11 Ryan // Dec 30, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Honestly this team is frustrating me. I like the trade that they brought in some size and defense but Alvin has yet to use his bigs effectively. He only plays 1 at a time. Fryes minutes where down and Lopez and played what 15 minutes a game since the trade? Having bigs on the bench and playing Hill at the 4 doesn’t help your size at all, your in the same boat just with different players on the floor before the trade.

    Honestly I think its time to put some of this on the coaching staff. There are some good individual defense plays by some of the players but part of basketball is team defense. I believe its the system they play that is resulting in the horrible defense.

    With 3 big guys, yes I’m including Frye here, you should always have 2 7 footers on the court at the same time. If they can actually play some good team defense they can get some stops and win some games. There only have a -2.5 point diff right now so any increase in defense and rebounding should turn the tide.

  • 12 Zweistein // Dec 30, 2010 at 11:03 am

    oh nooo, confused softy ball watchers again

  • 13 Artur Mascarenhas // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Gotta trade VC and Frye to get a tough PF and a 20ppg scorer. Scola? Varejao? Iguodala?

  • 14 Lori Ann // Dec 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Whenever the Suns run into trouble, people start talking about trades/acquisitions.
    What the Suns are lacking is, good ol’ fashioned SERIOUSNESS, DRIVE, MATURITY, and HEART!

    The Suns are having TOO much fun OFF the court! It’s time for Gentry to pull the plug on Twitter and fun fan videos, until this team can earn its “funzy” time! Remember, these guys make millions to play Basketball, and fans pay big bucks to see games. It’s time for the players to earn their salaries, and for the coach(es) to see to it, that they do!

    Kudos to Gortat, for his maturity, candidness, passion, and concern for his team!

    Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.

  • 15 Momochi Sandayu // Dec 30, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Gortat can compare us to anyone he wants to, as it’s well within his rights.

    He is totally on board with what the team is doing, because his comments were that what they’re doing in practice is being changed by the players come game time. If he wasn’t onboard with the team he wouldn’t care that no one is executing the defensive game plan set forth by the coaching staff.

    Hearing someone we just aquired via trade saying something like that makes me ashamed of, and very disappointed in all the guys on the team.

  • 16 Al // Dec 30, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    I think its time for Sarver to look into acquiring a new defensive coach that has a military attitude and can shape this defense to defend with more toughness. Seriously, how in the world do the Suns allow Nocioni and Turner have season highs in one game and make the 76ers look like playoff material in the first place? The team was even without Iggi for crying out loud. I blame the players as much as the defensive staff that is not using an effective type of defense which allows for opposing team to easily drive to the basket and take close shots.
    Also, I think that the refs have been conditioned to believe that the Suns can never play good defense and that many of the stops or tough defense that the Suns execute means there must be a foul against Phoenix. The refs freaking called fouls against Phoenix several seconds after 76ers shot attempt. Nash was completely frustrated as well he should be, because the refs appeared to have conspired against Phoenix and some of his teammates like Frye, Warrick, and Robin didn’t play effectively.
    I completely don’t like Frye right now. The guys tries to pull up and shoot several times and usually misses and has completely regressed shooting the 3. Frye is a freaking big that is a somewhat effective 3 pt shooter that gets paid $6.5 million to spread the floor and play average defense. I rather Phoenix had waited before offering Frye so much money, because he is now the most unmovable contract in the team. I rather Phoenix had signed Brad Miller for less rather than Frye at this moment.
    I think it is time for Phoenix to pull a Gasol trade right now with Memphis. Sway the Memphis owner to trade Zach Randoplh and O.J Mayo for Vince Carter, Pietrus, and Dragic or picks. Dragic has completely regressed and O.J is unhappy in Memphis. Randoplh is a beast rebounding and it doesn’t matter that his defense is suspect since he will be playing for Phoenix. O.J can start at SG and slide to the PG to let Nash rest and there will be more minutes for Childress and Dudley as well. Also, Robin and Frye need to fight more for rebounds and stop running to the other end of the court as soon as someone takes a shot.
    Nash/O.J
    O.J/Childress/Dudley
    Hill/Dudley/Childress
    Randolph/Frye
    Lopez/Gortat

    The team can’t worry about chemistry and player’s liking each other outside of the court as long as they are winning the games.

  • 17 KJ Loyalist // Dec 30, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Look at all of these comments fueled by frustration, (or Oliver Miller’s diet), silly silly.

    What needs to happen is simple. Gentry needs to decide on a starting 5 and a true bench mob rotation, stick to it, and let them develop together.

    People keep talking about the bench last year and what they were able to do. That didn’t happen last year. It happened the year before, when Dragon was still Tragic and RoLo looked like a bust out there and Lou was barely seeing minutes.

    You need that time to understand the system you are in.

    And one more time. You guys are being a little bit childish now with this whole “we need a 20 / 10 guy we need to trade for one!” nonsense.

    They’re not so easy to get, and teams that have them aren’t just going to give them away for nothing. Being all this team has left to use in some sort of trade are wings, and most teams have wings, don’t look for some sort of special trade without giving up Nash or JMZ or Frye or some combination of two + draft picks, (which will effectively cripple the future building process that IS coming).

    Also about that military-style-coach stuff, where were you when the team hired Terry Porter? How did that go?

    Take a little time to think about things.

  • 18 Zak // Dec 31, 2010 at 4:05 am

    I agree with KJ. Gentry needs to decide on a starting 5 and a rotation and stick with it. Lets not forget that there are now only SIX players left on the Suns from last year’s team! Nash, Hill, Lopez, Dudley, Frye and Dragic. More trades – even if they could get that mythical 20-10 PF that everyone wants – will only create more chaos in the rotation and less chemistry. This is and will continue to be a painful season for the team and the fans but I’m glad that Gortat spoke out. Team D needs to be a priority. The offense will take care of itself once you establish a defensive presence. If the Suns do make another trade this season, I’m hoping that they can just find a strong defensive PF who we can count on making the opposing PF work for his points and grab rebounds.

  • 19 AJ // Dec 31, 2010 at 10:11 am

    KJ loyalist, spoken very wisely.

    My take. Start Lopez and frye, but have gortat play minutes WITH Lopez. Also the suns need to get out on the shooters. Of other teams, we can funnel offenses into our big men, because we have solid big men for a change. But most importantly, Play Childress more! War rick might be a beast at finishing on the pick and roll, but he is too much of an offensive liability when he can’t dive to the rim and on the defensive end.

    Thus I would suggest a nine man rotation with the following players.

    Lopez
    Gortat
    Frye
    Hill
    Carter
    Nash
    Pietrus
    Dudley
    Chilly
    Dragic

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