It came against a New Orleans Hornets squad missing its leading scorer that won’t remind anybody of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns even at full strength following the Chris Paul trade.
But for the Phoenix Suns – the Phoenix Suns – to hold an NBA opponent to 28.9 percent shooting for an entire game is quite the accomplishment, and that’s exactly how the Suns won their first game of the season, 93-78 over the Hornets.
It’s a bit early to start crowning Elston Turner as a defensive savant, but it’s impressive nonetheless that the Suns’ defense recorded its second-lowest defensive field goal percentage since 1985-86 and the best in the NBA since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Hornets made just 26-of-90 shots, including 3-of-14 from long distance, as the Suns posted a defensive efficiency of 86.7, 10 points per 100 possessions better than what the Bulls’ NBA-leading defense averaged last season.
“More than anything, I liked the defensive part of it,” head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “I think we did a great job of challenging everything at the rim, and we did a good job for the most part controlling dribble penetration. The only thing that we have to get better in is that we can’t give up 24 offensive rebounds, but we’re not a great rebounding team and we’re not a team with great size. I thought we fought for some of them (rebounds) but we just didn’t come up with them. To hold a team to under 30 percent shooting is something that’s really good for us. It wasn’t our offense, it was our defense that won the game.”
The Suns weren’t fantastic offensively on this night, shooting just 42.3 percent from the floor, but they weren’t bad either, scoring a season-high 103.3 points per 100 possessions. They pushed the tempo just enough to run out to 17 fast-break points and played with more rhythm than they did in their previous pair of losses.
Perhaps this game signals a shift in how Phoenix must win games. If the offense does not return to its formerly elite levels, the Suns may need their defense to be better than the mediocre unit they required in previous years to be a playoff team. On this night it was exactly that.
Last year one of the Suns defense’s biggest weaknesses was securing offensive rebounds, and that was the case tonight as well as Phoenix yielded 24 offensive boards, more than the Hornets pulled down in any game last season. Of course, there were many missed shots to rebound, but on most nights such a high offensive rebound total would likely thwart Phoenix’s chances of victory.
The Suns received a huge shot in the arm off the bench from both Hakim Warrick and Shannon Brown. Warrick, the team’s leading scorer entering the night, scored a game-high 18 points and pulled down seven boards in 25 minutes of play, eight minutes more than any other reserve. Brown gave the team a burst of energy with 11 points in 16 minutes, providing an electric scoring presence off the pine for the first time this season.
It’s interesting that Warrick went from a DNP-CD to 57 minutes the last two games during which time he has averaged 16.0 ppg, more than five points better than the next closest Sun. With Phoenix struggling to score so badly his ability to put the ball in the basket is a big boon to the bench.
Meanwhile, Markieff Morris picked up two fouls in one minute in the first half and never returned and Josh Childress played only 11 minutes. Considering how well Morris played in the opener against the Hornets, I would have liked to have seen him out there longer, and I only wonder if Childress will ever leave the bench once Michael Redd arrives. As I wrote last night, I don’t envy Alvin Gentry one bit for the rotational issues on his hands.
Channing Frye also played an interesting game as he was an absolute bear on the boards with a whopping 16 but continue to struggle badly with his shot on a 4-for-15 performance that includes 2-for-9 shooting on threes. He wasn’t bashful at all, taking any good look that came his way and some that weren’t great looks, and thus it was clear to me the coaching staff directed him to shoot and shoot with confidence at any decent look. Eventually the shot will come and that will open up the Suns’ offense quite a bit, so at this point I guess all Channing can do is try to shoot his way out of the slump.
“I think we’ll just continue to shoot and it’s going to come,” Frye said. “I think the biggest thing I need to do for this team is get on the glass and just continue to play. I cannot be a single-faceted player. Shots come and go, and this team has done a great job in just continuing to believe in me.”
Perhaps it will one day seem common for the Suns to win games with defense, but it’s still awful strange to see the Suns complement a superb defensive effort with an improved offensive performance that saw the Suns get into the open court for more easy buckets than they did in their first two losses.
The Suns believe with time that offensive execution will come, but for now they are happy just to escape New Orleans with their first victory of the season to help erase some of the memories of their ugly opening homestand.
The Suns’ starters were fantastic tonight in terms of +/-. Every starter had a positive double-digit rating, led by Gortat and Frye, both plus 18. … Nash still struggled with his shot on a 2-for-8 night but dished 12 assists. … The 76ers scored 25 points per 100 possessions more on Wednesday than the Hornets did tonight. … Lopez and Trevor Ariza exchanged words during an early fourth quarter exchange to earn themselves double technicals. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Robin that mad, which I take as a positive sign because it was good to see that kind of fire out of him. … Gortat recorded at least three charges by my count, as he was a help defense menace.