Orlando Magic 111, Phoenix Suns 88 — The Nash Effect

PHOENIX — If Sunday’s matinee against the Orlando Magic was a glimpse into the future of a Steve Nash-less future, Suns fans better enjoy every healthy minute they have left with Two Time.

With an ailing Nash missing the game due to pelvic instability, the Suns’ offense fell apart in the second half of this 111-88 rout.

Phoenix scored 13 points in the third quarter and 36 in the second half as the Suns finished the third quarter by missing 12 straight shots during a second-half stretch in which they went 8:44 without a field goal.

“I thought we played well but they’re just a totally different team without Steve Nash,” said Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, who has now missed Nash twice. “I thought Aaron Brooks was great today. He scored a lot but Steve Nash just sets everybody else up and gets everybody else playing. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve played them twice and both times without Steve Nash and it’s just a whole different ball game.

“He may be more important to them than anybody else is to any team in the league. You look over the years how they’ve played when he’s out and, you know they’re a playoff team with him and they really struggle just to compete in games without him. You can’t overstate his value.”

The Suns have lost all three games Nash has missed, getting outscored by 19 points per game and shooting 43.2 percent (compared to 48.8 percent shooting while Nash is on the floor).  Since returning to Phoenix the Suns are 9-20 without Nash (.310) and 356-171 with him (.676).

Aaron Brooks played a superb first half with 19 points and seven assists on 8-for-10 shooting but he did not score and dished just three more assists in the second half. Similarly Marcin Gortat scored 10 on 5-for-6 shooting in the first half but added just one more bucket in the second and besides them the rest of the Suns shot 17-for-57 (29.8 percent) as a team for the game. Both players kept the Suns in this one with their strong first halves and both said they need to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to bring that same production in both halves.

“I just got out of my rhythm,” Brooks said. “I just wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been in the second half.”

Added Gortat: “In the second half again I kind of disappeared. I don’t know the reason. I’ve got to figure out to find a way in the second half to be more aggressive because that’s not the first time I score 10-12 points in the first half and maybe one bucket in the second half.”

With Orlando decimating the Suns on the glass by a 57-40 margin thanks to Dwight Howard’s 26 and 15, the Suns had no chance without Nash, who said he’s 50-50 to doubtful for Monday in Houston but should be back Wednesday in New Orleans.

Nash felt it was important to take a day off, a day in which he improved, after playing hurt the last two weeks. Nash’s assist numbers have stayed steady in that time but he’s only taken 6.6 shots per game his last five (hitting 45.5 percent) while averaging just 8.6 points per game.

“I think I could have played today, but at the expense of jeopardizing my health for the rest of the season and giving us a chance hopefully to have everybody as healthy as possible to get in the playoffs, I think it’s the best thing not to play,” Nash said.

Without him, Jared Dudley compared the Suns’ offense to the Lakers trying to run the triangle without Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol since nobody in the NBA can run Phoenix’s offense as well as Nash.

“Steve is the backbone of our team. I mean, obviously, he gets guys good looks and he creates situations where we have pace and rhythm and things like that,” Gentry said. “But we don’t have Steve, so we have to create that some other way. It has to come collectively. You know, everybody — we have to have someone step up.”

Brooks did record his 10th career double-double and he came a point shy of his fourth career 20-10 game but the offense lacked the same rhythm it has with Nash. Brooks canned many open mid-range jumpers off the pick-and-roll but he did not do much in the way of passing out of the pick-and-roll and when he went cold so did the Suns.

Gortat seemed to be jumping out of his skin in anticipation of his matchup against his former position mate, and it was all business between the two, with Gortat saying he and Howard didn’t so much as shake hands or say one word to each other during the game whereas many other players such as Dudley and Jason Richardson were particularly friendly.

The Polish center at least held his ground defensively although Howard still enjoyed a big game, but Superman rendered Gortat ineffective on the boards. Marcin’s four rebounds marked his lowest total aside from his 10-minute stint Jan. 24 in Philadelphia since he started playing consistent minutes on Jan. 19.

“It’s definitely different than in practice,” Gortat said of playing against Howard. “I’ve seen it in practice he will hit me twice harder and he will play more dirty. I think he knew I was going to wait for the offensive foul, and he knew I would try to take a charge. It’s really, really hard to guard this guy. I would say I had a pretty solid day.”

As ugly as the rebounding discrepancy was Gentry’s mantra after the game involved the fact that the Suns wouldn’t even beat a team in the NCAA Tournament if they score 36 points in the second half, especially not a team as offensively explosive as Orlando.

The Suns now have failed to lead in consecutive ugly blowouts, dropping their first games in a row since Jan. 24-26 when their 11-3 run started, and with Nash and Frye ailing suddenly all the progress made the last two months is starting to wash away.

“I think we play without life,” Gortat said. “We are not a really pumped up team. We need a vocal leader who’s going to step in and build us up a little bit. We play through the motions, we’re not really enjoying playing in certain moments.

“We’re really missing first of all Steve and Channing is a big difference. We need a bit more life. We need to have more fun from playing basketball, enjoy. After good possessions we have to be more pumped up, the bench has to be more pumped up to play the game. We’re just kind of missing that in the last few games.

“We’ve got to change that as fast as possible.”

Perhaps all that is a function of playing without a healthy Steve Nash who can share the ball and create the kind of fun atmosphere that has made the Suns so good these past few years.

If the Suns learned anything Sunday afternoon it’s that playing without Nash is about as fun as dealing with pelvic instability.

And 1

Hedo Turkoglu on why things didn’t work out in Phoenix: “It was just hard for a couple months to try to change things, to try to get the ball into my hands like [it is with Nash]. That’s why I was used more like a spot-up guy and try to play off the ball. Here I’m playing more with the ball and trying to do things that mostly point guards do, creating my own shots and for my teammates, too.” Hedo looked like a different player in this one than the pure spot-up guy he was in Phoenix. … The Suns made just one of their first 11 threes. … The Magic won their first game in Phoenix since Nov. 14, 2001, after dropping their last eight. That helped Orlando sweep the season series for the first time since 2001-02.

Tags: Aaron Brooks Dwight Howard Marcin Gortat Steve Nash

  • Steve

    Ha. What a massacre. I might just be bad luck for our Suns. I was there for Denver, SA, Philly, a few other bad losses, and now Orlando. Maybe I should just watch from home.

    11/0/2 in 24 min vs 10/1/7 in 26 min. One of them makes $26,000 per contest, one makes $214,000 per contest. Can you name these two players?

  • Mark Becker

    Buy the coyotes and bring them back downtown. They play hard all the time.

  • PHX Suns Fan In LA

    Can we get j rich back?

  • shazam

    here i sit…all down hearted…i watched the suns and then i…

  • Kenton

    Gentry’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t say no to Jeff Van Gundy coaching my Suns if he wanted to. The game was awful, but J.V.G. kept me laughing. Man that guy is a nut.

  • Steve

    Btw, I LOVE that Gortat is so vocal. I get a kick out of his quote. The guy really strikes me as a guy who is constantly wanting to improve his game and be a better teammate.

    Even if we hadn’t received VC and Pietrus in that Orlando deal, I would still be happy with it as long as we’ve got Gortat.

  • king fahd

    Nash is definitely the backbone of this team and this successful offense. But we need to understand that Brooks has just joined this team in less than a month. I am optimistic with his performance so far, and I think it looks bright for years to come beyond Nash. We will just need to surround specific talents around what Brooks’s style, in order to have a specific offense.

    But I still believe that we should be targeting a PF who can demand his presence both in the post and interior defense (like a KG). I yearn at that opportunity we had (a few years back) where we could have gotten KG. Nash would have controlled our offense and KG would have controlled our defense. But there’s always chances to still do so.

  • Steve

    If you’re suggesting to build the team around Brooks, I totally disagree. Even if people suggest we build a team around Nash, I totally disagree. Building around a PG isn’t a successful formula for winning championships. PGs need to adapt their game to the players around them to enhance everyone’s unique abilities. If everyone else changes their game to fit the PG, then you’ve only got one player who is playing truly efficiently. Thus, the reason why the Suns are terrible without Nash.

    I like Nash, but the Suns have gone about things the wrong way during his time here, in my opinion if their goal was to get a ‘ship.

  • Mel.

    I actually liked Brooks a lot, in this game. He’s got flashes of the Iverson school of “I don’t care if I’m as big as one of these guys’ legs, I’m still going to take it straight to the basket” paint penetration, and he made some really slick dishes in that first half.

    Problem is, everyone knows Nash, and knows that anyone who isn’t Nash is just going through the motions. It’s the same thing that happened to Dragic, and was only overcome last year by a ridiculous amount of bench chemistry. When your entire franchise is defined by the efforts of a marquee playmaker, you run into the exact issue that Steve’s got covered in the post above: adaptability to a single skill set, both by that PG, and the players around them.

    But that isn’t on Brooks. If his output in the post-Nash years follows the standard he set tonight (And necessary adjustments are made to accentuate his style, as well as the style of the players around him), then the sky hasn’t busted into a billion pieces and come crashing down.

    Well, provided he sticks around, anyway. We’ll see.

  • Zak

    I liked the way Brooks played in the 1st half too. And I agree that you can’t build a championship team around any one player. If Brooks can eventually play at near that level for the entire game though, I’d call him a keeper. But the entire offensive philosophy would have to change for the Suns if he stays and takes over for Steve when he decides to leave/retire. Brooks will never be Steve Nash but he doesn’t need to be if the offense can adapt to his style of play. That might take a lot of personnel changes though. And some painful years for the fans for a while… but not necessarily though.

  • Mel.

    Zak, I think Brooks is at least enough of a piece–along with Gortat–to keep the Suns in position to attract or groom more supporting talent.

    Brass tacks, there’s no way to simply slap a band-aid on the loss of a guy like Nash; what he does isn’t replicated by any player in this league at the point (In terms of style, Rondo comes closest… sans any shooting range or stroke), and I doubt even Dragic–despite the apprentice appeal–would have filled the morass that Steve’s going to leave.

    As such, the next best thing is a serviceable substitute, who has grit and is willing to handle the keys to the Suns’ traditional offensive approach. Brooks is exactly that, even if we question his chuck-a-thon shooting selection and commitment to the franchise; short of magically freeing up D-Will from the Nets or scoring a coup with an FA signing (The only appealing piece the Suns have after Nash is Gortat, honestly… and if they don’t lock him up as a major tentpole for the future, then there is NO hope for Babby and Sarver in the long-term planning sense), he’s as good as any other option.

    Again, at least on paper. Time will tell.

  • Zak

    I agree, Mel. There’s no “band-aid” to replace Nash and maybe the Suns’ actually realized that Dragic was never going to become Nash.2 and traded for Brooks knowing that they were going to have to shift direction in the future. While I don’t want anyone to think I believe Brooks is on par with Rose (Bulls) or Westbrook (OKC), he IS more like them than Nash. He has the same scorer’s mentality that they do while also realizing – as they do – that there are 4 other guys on the court that can score too. The “old school” point guards like Steve are few and far between so maybe Brooks just “might” be the PG of the future for the Suns.

    I hate to even say this but… I think that Turkoglu might actually have played better with the Suns with Brooks as the PG than with Nash. Not better enough to make a difference for this season but just better than he did play with the Suns because playing with Brooks instead of Nash would probably given him more freedom to be creative in running the offense.

    Steve’s a great player and I think he’s one of the greatest PGs ever… BUT…

    I also think that the Suns have relied too much on him over the years. Other than Stat and Grant, they’ve tried to surround him with spot-up shooters that he could pass back out to when couldn’t get the ball inside on the PNR.

    They were the “band-aids” that the Suns have applied over the years to stay competitive.

  • beygir

    it’s better if we don’t make the playoffs. i don’t wanna be humiliated at the hand of Spurs