New Orleans Hornets 85, Phoenix Suns 84 -- No go-to player

PHOENIX — Eric Gordon showed the Phoenix Suns how badly they need a go-to player in New Orleans’ 85-84 victory over the Phoenix Suns tonight in US Airways Center.

Gordon drilled a 20-foot jumper over the outstretched arms of Jared Dudley with four seconds left that ended up being the game winner after Markieff Morris threw the ball away on the Suns’ final possession. Dudley missed a jumper on the Suns’ previous possession that would have put them up three.

As we have feared all offseason, the Suns lacked a go-to player when they needed a bucket in crunch time, which was a striking contrast to the Hornets, as everybody in the building knew Gordon would take their final shot.

“We couldn’t come up with the big basket when we needed it,” said head coach Alvin Gentry.

Although I don’t love the Hornets’ strategy of running an isolation play for their best player — why run a play you would never consider during any other sequence on the most important play of the game? — this game came down to New Orleans having a player who can get a bucket at anytime, the kind of guy not on Phoenix’s roster.

On the Suns’ final play with 4.2 seconds remaining, Steve Nash inbounded the ball to Morris. Robin Lopez tried to set a pick on Nash’s man but whiffed. Then Nash said he “tried to find some space” while Morris thought he would curl and thus the rookie threw the pass out of bounds.

“He made a pretty decent pass, we just had our signals crossed a little bit,” Nash said. “It’s just one of those things. We haven’t played together, he hasn’t been in that situation much.”

The play call made sense because with a good pick and a well-executed pass, this game would have come down to an open Nash jumper, something any Suns fan would live with.

But Lopez didn’t execute the screen and Morris didn’t make the right read, and like that the Suns are 0-1.

The Suns’ defense played well in limiting New Orleans to 44.3 percent shooting, including 2-for-16 marksmanship from deep, and holding them to 12 offensive rebounds.

But once again, the Suns’ offense hardly resembled the elite units of recent yore. The Suns shot just 39.5 percent for the game and 5-for-25 from distance. The wings in particular struggled, as Dudley, Grant Hill and Shannon Brown combined to shoot 7-for-29.

“A lot of it was what we did offensively,” Gentry said. “We’ve got to get out and run, be able to create space for Steve to drive lanes, be able to roll and catch and finish, and then we have to knock down shots.”

Aside from the late failed pick, Lopez stood out as a bright spot, recording his third career 20-point game with a 21-point, seven-rebound performance while making last year’s lost season seem like a distant memory.

Lopez amazingly lost eight inches off his vertical leap last season, which Gentry said is just about all the way back. Lopez actually played five more minutes than Marcin Gortat, and combined the Suns got 34 points and 12 rebounds on 14-for-21 shooting from the center position.

“I just think he’s in a much better place than he was,” Gentry said of Lopez. “I think mentally he’s been really focused and locked in. I was happy with him and I was happy with Gortat. If every night we can get 34 points and 12 rebounds from that spot, that’s pretty doggone good.”

Added Nash, “I thought Robin continued his great play throughout the preseason tonight. He’s looked really active and aggressive and he was big for us tonight. He had a really nice game, and I’m just happy for him. He had a struggle last year both physically and mentally. To come back strong says a lot about him.”

Morris contributed an active seven points and nine boards in 25 minutes as well. He still struggled with fouls (four) but brought a physicality and toughness that Lopez said rubbed off on the rest of the team.

“I was cool, comfortable, relaxed,” Morris said. “I played at Kansas, you know what I mean? Got to be comfortable.”

The biggest positive of the night comes from the development of the Suns’ frontcourt, minus Channing Frye, who once again could not find his jumper on a 1-for-6 outing. The trio of Gortat, Lopez and Morris on this night gave the Suns the kind of physical interior presence they have long lacked.

If the Suns could have knocked down just one more shot, the bigs would have been the story of the night and the ongoing struggles of the offense could be swept under the rug until next time.

Instead the Suns are left lamenting their lack of offensive flow on the way to shooting 40 percent from the field and 20 percent from three, and the fact that they could not execute on two final possessions whereas the Hornets’ new go-to guy needed just  one.

Thus the Suns dropped their first home game of the season to a team squarely in rebuilding mode, a place the Suns will soon find themselves with more offensive performances like this.

“It’s a shame,” Nash said. “It’s a game we definitely need to win, but we showed that we have a lot of work to do. We’ve got to stay optimistic so we can cover that ground.”

And 1

  • Despite his solid preseason, Hakim Warrick got a DNP-CD as all the backup power forward minutes went to Morris and Childress soaked up the backup three time. Morris and Lopez played the entire fourth quarter, while Gortat and Frye did not play a second. Ronnie Price (11:15) and Sebastian Telfair (7:04) split the backup point guard duties and neither stood out offensively although Price was once again solid on the defensive end.
  • Gortat on playing with his broken right thumb: “It was obviously very uncomfortable for me to play with the tape on my finger. I had some possessions where the ball just bounced out of my finger and went to the side, I didn’t grab the rebound, so I was pretty pissed about that. … I’ve got to play through it. It’s not going to go away in two, three days, I’ve got to play like that the next three weeks, so hopefully the next game is going to be better.”
  • I also asked Gortat on what he feels a front line with himself and Lopez would look like: “I think it would look great. You have two big guys in the paint who would rebound the ball very well. I would probably play as a four man, and that’s one of the options. We already spoke with Coach about that and we’ll see, we’re just waiting for the opportunity.”
  • Before the game Gentry spoke about the importance of defending home court: “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing at home, you have to win your home games if you want to have any chance at all in this league to be a playoff team. We’ve been a really good home team in the past. I think if you’re going to be a factor in the playoff race then you’ve got to be successful at home.”
  • Gentry on Frye’s shooting slump: “It’s like any shooter, I don’t worry about it. When some of the good hitters in baseball are struggling I don’t think anybody really spends a lot of time talking to them about how they’re swinging or what’s going on there. I don’t think we have to go in and reinvent Channing’s shot.”
  • As the Suns players and coaches were introduced tonight they walked down the aisles in US Airways Center onto the floor.

  • Josh

    Glad the season is back Michael.

    After I got over the initial sadness/rage here I do think we need to look at the positives.

    1. Gortat and Lopez are a phenomena team to have at center when most teams do not even have one serviceable player at that position.

    2. Morris is exciting–rebounding, shooting, defense, hustle–can’t ask for more. Everyone please forget that last turnover–he is a rookie!

    3. The second unit looks like it could turn into a productive group. I feel much better than last year with these guys. Brown will not shoot horribly forever–he can light it up once he works with Price/Telfair for a couple weeks.

    4. Shooting is the last thing to come back: the preseason meant nothing. Denver is actually pretty explosive. (I live in Colorado Springs, so I have a good beat on this team.) Our defense looked strong at times (as opposed to never last year), and our shots will come back. Frye will not suck forever. Dudley will find his spots as well. A go-to guy will emerge eventually.

    Ok–overall, I this was very disappointing. But, with some perspective, I do see some hope for the future. This is something I did not see much last year at all.

  • Mel.

    Scrappy effort, regrettable outcome; not sure what Morris was doing on the floor during that final play, but Schwartzy nailed it right on the head with the call about nobody shining as the primary option for those big, last-second plays.

    On the upside, we lost by less than the Bulls and Lakers. Silver linings!

  • shazam

    we will figure some thing out

  • Phx suns fan in la

    Really liked the new rolo, he looked 100% more confident and focused. Wished we still had dragic because im not to sure about the backup pg position. The defense showed signs of improvement and markeiff looked good. I think rodney stuckey would be a great fit with the suns also.

  • Tony

    Frustrating loss for the Suns tonight in a game they really needed to win and should have won. In my opinion, Gentry really cost them this game.

    The first mistake Gentry made was putting Grant HIll back in the game in the 4th quarter. Ever since the shortened training camp, Hill has not played well and his injury may be making things worse for him. I understand why Gentry wanted to go back to him, but Gentry has to play those players playing well and not just revert back to the lineup that he’s expected to go with. Childress was actually playing one of his better games, although he still can’t shoot. He should have been on the court in the latter parts of the 4th quarter, not Hill.
    The second mistake Gentry made was drawing up an iso play for Dudley in the closing minutes of the game. When will people get it, Dudley cannot create his own shot! He’s a very good spot-up shooter, but that’s it offensively.
    The last critical mistake Gentry made was putting Morris in a critical position for the last play of the game. Sure he played great all game, but it’s just common sense that you don’t put a rookie, playing his first regular season game nonetheless, in the position where he has to make a decisive decision and play.

    With all that being said, it was good to see the Suns play with a ton of effort and their defense did look much better. Lopez has his best game in two years so that was also a positive.

  • Josh

    RE: Tony

    Everything you say is true. Good post.

    However, I give Gentry a pass because it is game number one. Much different than if this were in February.

    That’s what happens when you have a chemistry team right? Can’t get it right with no practice and no preseason games.

  • A-ROCK

    @Josh why be mad, We seen a Stud play today in the purple and orange that hasn’t been around in some time in Morris, this guy is going to be good and needs more touches and all of French Fry’s minutes. He was a good pick, he has an all around game that is going to only get more exciting, My 5 year son looked at him once and said he looks strong hahaha Now the problem with today’s game was the coaching staff with all the substitutions and not substituting the starters back in the game, what kind of confidence is he putting in his players, it’s great the second string is out there keeping the game close but put back in your starters to close the game out. This was just the beginning of the stupid mistakes the coaches will make all year, he knew how all the players where going to play, he knew their potential at the beginning of the game. Gortat was having a good game and more fundamentally sound than lopez at the end of the game to run a play, even thought lopez played a heck of a game not knocking him at all, the coaches are dumb, why are they playing nash at the end of the game on a defensive stance with one time out left, why wasn’t grant hill sitting on the bench with French Fry knowing his legs have escaped him lol or he has a bad pair of shoes. I know I am not the only one to notice how bad the play calls are at the game when it gets close. Gentry is not the man and the short season will prove that. Thanks Steve for shooting more, the other guys will need to get on your level before you start passing again, you will need to raise the bar, again my campaine for 2011- 2012 season “Nash shoot 1st or get shot in your A@#” hahah I think its catching on ;)

  • A-ROCK

    I just read your post Tony, you are always right on the Money concerning the coach. Gentry is terrible. :( Morris is a Stud Don’t worry about screwing up on this team your coach sucks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • bob_s

    BENCH FRYE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Gentry can’t do Frye’s work
    for him, dammit !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • bob_s

    Oh and BTW, whatever mistake Gentry made in the final minute, doesn’t- compare to lack of any
    production from Frye and Brown. Both need to stop playing pinochle and get into shape. Should’ve kept Hazell and cut Brown. What happened to Lighty, Duane Garret and Sean Williams ???????????????
    Well Williams is now a Mav.

    Bring on the sisters of the poor and retire these guys !!!!!!!!!!

  • Ty

    How can you say we don’t have a go-to player in a close game? We have Steve Nash! One of the greatest shooters of all time. Sure Nash doesn’t have the prowess a Kobe or Lebron has, but Nash has no problem hitting clutch shots and I would have confidence putting the ball in his hands with the game on the line. The problem I felt was the play that was drawn up, I’m not sure how Gentry envisioned it to run. I cannot blame Morris for not making a heavily guarded cross court pass to a running Nash. That would be a difficult pass for Nash to make. I think again it comes down to a lack of defense. We were up by a decent margin in the 4th and let it slip away as we have done so many times before. I think our centers, while they did play great offensively need to toughen up on D. Kaman was making it look easy against Gortat. You got 6 fouls guys, use them!

  • Josh

    RE: A-ROCK

    I shouldn’t use the word mad–I am a die-hard Cubs fan too, so I am used to losing, though it is never easy. However, I have loved the Suns and watched them religiously since I went to my first game with my uncle (A season ticket holder since 1979) when I was 8 (I am 30 now), so a little die-hard here, therefore I can get emotional.

    You are right and I was sure easy on Gentry tonight for the simple fact it was game number one.

    But also, I guess I am just optimistic because I actually like these guys as compared to last year and I know if we lose badly this year the 2012 draft will be one of the best ever and we could have a high lottery pick. (When I sat court-side last year in Denver at a Suns game I saw how much Vince Carter was hated by everyone and was a complete A-Hole to his teammates. I didn’t like Brooks as he seemed clueless when I sat next to the sideline in PHX and I could go on and on from what I saw when I sat near the Suns bench at games home and away throughout the season.)

    We have Gortat and Lopez–Morris is a strength. Dudley should play off the bench instead of start, but is fun as well. Do we need a go-to-guy–sure–but I agree with Ty, Nash is that for sure, but he does need some help. I just do not understand how he didn’t score at all in the 4th qrt. I re-watched that qrt twice. How many times did our players look clueless running the offense as Nash dribbled around?

    Oh well…just game one. I went to graduate school in PHL and hated them. Let’s beat the 76ers and forget about tonight’s learning experience.

  • bob_s

    Blame it all on Gentry. Who gave veteran players a lobotomy all game ????????????

  • bob_s

    Re: Mel.

    But look who we lost to. A tossed salad wo/ a point guard.

  • Scott

    I understand why Gentry made the moves he did, but the problem in this game was that the players in the first half did not produce enough offense. Hill, Childress, and Frye were – to me – the primary culprits.

    Hill looked tired, out of balance. He fell at least twice. If possible, let him heal up before he plays again. We know from his past that he’ll play on a broken ankle. We don’t need that; he doesn’t need that. If it’s psychologically important that he start, that’s not a problem. But keep his minutes down till he’s closer to 100%.

    If he’s well, Warrick should have played. Warrick is a scorer. If he’d been put in during the first half, the Suns might not have fallen behind by nearly 10 pts, and consequently they might have won.

    I’m glad to hear that maybe Gentry is FINALLY considering putting Gortat and Lopez in together. Hopefully they try it out in practice first. If it works, then put Frye in as the center for the 2nd unit. He can spread the floor and find his touch by going back to his old role. Morris can play with him for rebounding.

    And I agree with Tony: perhaps because of his low athleticism, Dudley struggles to create. He’s not a likely source of crunch time scoring except maybe in a broken play. I’d have actually put Frye in – despite his poor shooting – because at least he’d have the chance of getting a height advantage on the defense if he shot from the top of the arc.

  • Scott

    And let me add that Brown scored 2 pts in over 20 minutes of play (1-8 shooting), while Childress scored 7 pts in about 18 min (3-6 shooting).

    While neither performance is worth bragging about, I think Childress could play more minutes at the 2 and Warrick more minutes at 3.

    Warrick is a veteran with more experience than Brown, and he can score. I really don’t see why Brown should get 20 minutes and waste them, while Warrick gets DNP-CD (unless there’s injury or a disciplinary action going on).

  • fan in chi-town

    I think overall the Suns actually played well enough that they should have won fairly handily. They got several open threes that they just didn’t hit. I mean…..if the suns shoot 25 threes, then you’d expect them to make at least 10. If they shot the percentage they usually do, then we’d be talking about how well they executed the offense, which really besides brown and price, they did alright. They just missed a few wide open shots. Why is morris taking a lot of threes? I think they should try to run a couple plays for him down low. Lopez impressed me a lot, I didn’t expect that effort from him.

    Overall, nice effort, and I’m a little more excited for our season now.

  • steve

    I didn’t get to watch the game, but I have looked through the stats a little bit. 25 threes is a bit much, I think, for a team that has Nash, RoLo, Gortat, Morris, Dudley, and Warrick, all of whom can score within the three point line fairly well. If the three ball isn’t falling, go to the rim. That’s the way I’ve always played the game.

  • Scott

    @steve -

    That’s another thing … it seems like the Suns didn’t get to the FT line quite as much as maybe they could have if they’d really been attacking the basket.

  • Scott

    In other news … PG Jeremy Lin was waived on Sunday by Houston to make room for C Dalembert, and snapped up on Monday by the Knicks.

    If the Suns want to get a replacement for Telfair, they evidently intend to avoid shopping till the last moment (or after).

  • Mel.

    @ bob_s: Agreed, but change that syntax a touch, and that basically describes the Suns. Also, I’d argue that Gordon’s basically playing hybrid SG/PG at the moment, and appears to have been squeezed into the role vacated by CP3; not ideal by any means, but it appears to have gotten the job done.

    @Ty: I think you pretty much covered the bases. Nash is clutch as hell when he needs to be, but he’s balked at taking over through the last three seasons; Game Six of the 2010 WCF was probably the worst example of this, as he repeatedly flushed the ball to his sagging teammates–including a cold-as-ice STAT–while intermittently keeping the team from getting blown out too badly by effortlessly dropping 18-footers.

    I get that his preference is to “pass first,” but Gentry really needs to drive home the message that he IS the guy in situations like these. Forget running the plays to the X’s and O’s, just get Nash open and see what he can create for himself, or off a double-screen.

  • Geo

    I think the suns bench played very well in the first half, they look energized, pushed the ball very well, and every one was active on the boards. The second unit really surprised me and I think they might have played better than the starters in the first half until nash started stroking the ball in.

    Another thing is that Gordon was constantly getting too the basket no matter who was gaurding. Looked like Gordon was out to prove a statement I guess. We lost at the last second, on iso defense, to a very good scorer with a hand in his face to end the game. We did what we could but its only one game.

  • SFJ

    I’ve watched Telfair play a lot over the course of his career. Frankly, I think Suns fans are writing him off way too prematurely due to a shaky preseason game and some scrimmages that few people even saw. Jeremy Lin? Really?

    Bassy will grow on people, as he did in Minnesota, unless the expectation is that he is Nash. Of course, there will be a drop off when he’s in. Nash is a HOFer. Bassy is not.

    But here’s what Bassy will bring:

    – Hustle and pesky defense, though he will struggle against big athletic guards
    – Ability to run the offense at a very fast pace with a steady hand and a good feel for getting the ball to the right spots. He doesn’t have Nash’s vision but you’ll see he is a good set-up man and can get into the lane at will, unlike Price. He also doesn’t turn the ball over at an excessive rate.
    – Reasonable shot selection. Contrary to the popular narrative, he’s not a chucker. But he’ll take the shot, when it’s there, and has improved as a shooter. He is a bit streaky, and will tend to take an ill-advised heat check, from time-to-time. But it’s not a chronic problem.
    – Solid work ethic and teammate. He has grown up a lot since the early days of his career, and is extremely grounded for somebody who has been where he was

    Last year, by many accounts, he was the best PG on the Wolves. But they had brought in Ridnour on MLE and they and they had a vested interest in playing Flynn. They were not concerned with winning games. His adjusted +/- on bad teams have been solid enough for a large enough sample size to draw a reasonable conclusion that his teams compete when he’s on the floor and it may not be a coincidence.

    He’s a legit NBA PG, but what has really kept him from really flourishing has been his inconsistent jumper without Rondo’s hops to compensate. But all in all, once Bassy is comfortable with where his teammates like the ball, I don’t imagine Price (unless he dramatically improves his passing and shooting) will remain the primary back-up over Telfair. You’ll see.

  • Mike W

    I think this game wasnt a horrible way to start the season. Its sad that we lost but there were a lot of good things that came from this game.

    Lopez played great, far better then any game he played last year. The defense was very good. Everyone seemed to be guarding a man and they did cause problems for the Hornets players, who really did not shoot well.

    I’m not really sold yet on Ronnie Price. I still would rather Telfair just because I feel that he can pump up the bench a little more because his offensive game is better.

    Steve Nash played very well, the pelvic instability seems to be gone. The shooting from everyone else was pretty bad though. Hopefully it will pick up though as the season progresses. Honestly with the new found defense and how well our bigs are playing I think we can make a run for the playoffs this season as a 7 or even 6 seed.

  • GoSuns

    I agree that Telfair needs to see some more time because right now the backup spot has not been clarified and we need to go with who is able to be facilitator over whos better defensively because they both are decent defenders and there are guys on the second unit who can help out, I would also liek to see nash be more assertive in those sitatuions like mel saying

  • GoSuns

    Also, the reason why i think we should go with whos the better facilitator because we cant just drop off offensively everytime nash sits down, of course were going to a little but we need a backup who can step up make the passes

  • bob_s

    Mel: I don’t get your point,we have a PG, we lack good
    instincts and consistent execution on offense and defense.

    Yes, Gordon is a combo GD and their best player, thus maybe we should have doubled him on the catch and used Lopez to play deep centerield covering the basket.

    Lopez’ screens are always terrible, shd’v used a better screener on the last play. Gortat or Warrick?

  • SunsRiseUp

    Yuck and pooh last night. Could be a long year for Los Suns.

  • Zak

    Unfortunately I couldn’t see the game but I’ve read a lot of interesting info here and elsewhere. If Morris continues to improve, I’d say that at some point the Suns will have to consider starting him or at least give him the majority of minutes at PF… especially if Frye continues to under-perform. If Lopez continues to play as he did, the Suns will have one hell of a one-two punch at center once Grotat’s thumb heals.

    To me the reason that the Suns lost was that Frye didn’t even play an average game for him. 3 points total when he averaged 12.7 last year. I don’t know what’s up with him but he’s play terribly in both preseason games and the 1st reg season game. Hill also had a sub-par game. Even with the rest of the problems, if either of the two had just scored it their last season averages, the Suns would have won.

    The Suns do need a go-to guy other than Nash though. They have some guys who play that role on any given night when they’re hot but they aren’t consistent. The way the team is now, if Frye, Dudley, Hill or anyone else has a hot night, the Suns will be a dangerous team. When no one else steps up, we’ll have games like last night.

  • Scott

    @SFJ, Mike W, GoSuns –

    With any player, you hear both sides from fans (good / bad). Even Earl Clark has his devotees who are willing to give him chance after chance.

    I’m willing to give Telfair a chance, but he’s got to show me something, and preferably more than Dowdell showed. I’ve heard Gentry and others say that Telfair’s game is perfect for the Suns, but then the reality is that he gets replaced in the line-up by a guy picked as an afterthought for half the money.

    Telfair, if you have game, show it.

  • Zak

    I think the backup PG problem will sort itself out as the season goes on. Part of being a good PG is just knowing your team mates and neither Telfair nor Price have been in Phoenix long enough to do that. The great ones – like Nash – can step in and figure that out quickly… but nobody thinks either of those guys is the next Steve Nash so I’m willing to give them both time to fit in.

    And I can’t help but wonder what the Suns will do once Brooks can return from China. If Telfair or Price does well between now and then and some other team makes Brooks an offer (he’s a restricted FA this year), I would assume that they Suns would decline matching it and let him go. That would kind of sting because it would mean that the Suns traded Dragic AND a draft pick away for… nothing.

  • Scott

    @Zak -

    FWIW, there wasn’t anyone notable in the 2nd half of the 2nd round so far as I can see. Time will tell tho. ;)