PHOENIX — Going into the season, Alvin Gentry expected to require the services of Grant Hill for something like 20-25 minutes per contest.
Instead he has played 30.4 minutes per game, including an average of 37.8 per game during the final four games of the Suns five-game win streak (he missed the first with a sprained knee).
Looking to keep his 38-year-old swingman fresh throughout the season, Gentry decided to reinsert forward Mickael Pietrus into the rotation on Friday with the aim of bringing Hill’s minutes back into a more manageable range. In the first game since making that decision Friday against the Celtics Pietrus (24 minutes) actually played more than Hill (22) and scored 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting as well as getting into it with Kevin Garnett a little bit.
“I think it will be beneficial for us in that we’ve got to try to have him for the whole season, and we’re wearing him down a little bit playing him the way we’re playing him right now,” Gentry said. “I think he would do it, but I think for us we’ve got to take some of those minutes away from him.”
Perhaps the worse example of overusing Hill came during the Jan. 19 at Cleveland in which Hill ended up playing the entire second half and 41 minutes for the game as Gentry thought Hill could help put the Cavs away at the beginning of the fourth in a game that turned close.
Gentry has struggled to rest Hill more because of how steady he’s been, but a little extra bench time could help him continue to play at this stellar level all year, especially since Hill is a little banged up right now.
“I think the more rest we can get him the better off we are,” Gentry said.
Pietrus didn’t seem to miss a beat in his solid performance Friday night, as he still took a few ill-advised shots but showed off his sniper range by hitting a few of them and going 4-for-9 in all.
“I’m a vet,” Pietrus said. “I know sometimes you’re not going to play, but you’ve got to take it the right way, whenever they call your name make sure you show everybody else that you can be a contributor to the team, and that’s what I did.”
Pietrus is the kind of guy who doesn’t let much bother him, and he seemed to take his demotion in stride. He immediately provided the Suns with a little bit of an edge and you’ve got to like his postgame comments about ensuring the Suns won’t be soft.
Gentry struggled to make a 10-man rotation work in the immediate aftermath of the trade after working one so masterfully last season. Pietrus getting a bit of time (if he gets his shot selection under control a bit) and Hill staying rested and playing at a high level should be positive byproducts of this rotation change.
The Suns’ historic defensive lockdown
It’s hard to say how much we should attribute the Suns’ stupendously amazing defensive performance to their actual defense and how much credit we should give to Boston just having a horrendous shooting night, but the Celtics’ offensive efficiency was off the charts bad on Friday night.
The Suns allow teams to score 109.5 points per 100 possessions (last in the NBA) and Boston averages 106.7 per 100 (ninth). However, in this contest the Celtics mustered only 71.7 points per 100 possessions.
That’s so bad that the Suns have not played that well defensively in the 2 1/2 years HoopData has kept that stat and the Celtics have never been that futile in that time.
By a means of comparison, the Suns allowed 89.3 points per 100 in their loss in Detroit and 87.2 in their win over the Pistons in Phoenix. Detroit scored 75 points in both of those affairs but they were much slower than Friday’s 99-possession contest.
Boston’s offense was so bad that the Dallas Mavericks were almost twice as efficient in their 140-116 victory over the Suns in April 2009 that knocked them out of the playoff race that season as in that 99-possession game the Mavericks accrued a 141.4 rating.
Even the Celtics’ gruesome 89-67 loss in Game 6 of the Finals last season wasn’t this bad as Boston recorded a 75.3 efficiency rating in that game.
The Suns’ defense had not been in the 70s in efficiency since their 129-81 win over the Kings on Feb. 2, 2009, in which they allowed 77.9 per 100. The Suns had only been in the 80s efficiency-wise three times this year, and two were against Detroit (and the other Washington).
I’m still stunned that the Suns yielded 129.5 points per 100 possessions to the league’s 24th-best offense Wednesday against Charlotte and then caused the Celtics to be 57.8 points per 100 less efficient two days later. You don’t just make that kind of improvement overnight.
The Suns did play fantastic defensively during the middle three games of their five-game road trip and then after two poor games shut down the Celtics in such awe-inspiring fashion. We shall see these next few games if the Boston game was an aberration or if progress really is being made on defense.
The last time the Suns allowed fewer points than they did on Friday came on March 23, 2001, against Philadelphia. … The Suns have now held three opponents to 75 or fewer for the first time since the 2002-03 season. … Phoenix has won three straight against winning teams. Too bad they stopped taking care of business against losing teams. … The Suns are 4-3 against the Celtics since the Big Three united. Orlando is the only other team with a winning record against Boston in this time.