Phoenix Suns 93, New Orleans Hornets 78 -- Defensive lockdown

The Suns' defense limited the Hornets to 28.9 percent shooting. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Suns' defense limited the Hornets to 28.9 percent shooting. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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.

And 1

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.

  • jp

    great game..hope lopez gets big in the next game against the Durantula…get them Suns!

  • Jason A.

    Now I feel positive about the Suns. I wonder how deep into the season we’ll go before we know if this is a playoff team.

  • Brian C.

    This team needs to get better offensively!! It’s still early and we fans need to be patient, but Stevie needs to get this rolling soon. Plus, Coach Gentry needs to discover the right rotation cuz some of these players like Childress aren’t playing consistent minutes. LET’S GO AND SURPRISE SOME FOOLS!

  • Mel.

    I gotta say, Gortat’s comments about having to fight for his spot are making a heck of a lot more sense at this point. I didn’t fix Fropez as coming back this strong–it seemed like the issue was more mental than physical, last year–but the Suns are rolling with a couple of hard-nosed bangers in the five for the first time since…

    … uh…

    … ever?

  • Tony

    Great win for the Suns as although their offense was pretty poor, the team defense was excellent. Turner really has made a difference, especially with the perimeter players. Nash’s defense tonight was outstanding, holding Jack to 6-20 shooting and he was coming off a 21 point game against the Celtics where he was dominant.

    Tonight’s game was the first I’ve seen of the Suns this season, including preseason, where the team had a nice rythm on the court and the players didn’t seem to be forcing the action. It was great to see the pace pick up and I believe this is the result of Brown and Warrick being on the court at the expense of Frye and Dudley.
    In the first quarter, the offense was not very smooth and seemed a bit forced. However, in the second quarter, with Brown and Warrick in the game, the pace picked up because those two are far more athletic and quicker than either Frye or Dudley, with the result that the offense looked much better.
    So I really hope Gentry considers starting Brown instead of Dudley as the 1st unit desperately needs his speed and athleticism. None of the regular starters comes close to Brown’s athleticism.

  • Kevin

    While I admit the defense is much better, its perhaps a bit premature to say much about it yet. The Hornets are not the best offensive team and did miss a lot of shots that other better teams would have made. I reserve my judgement for tonight against OKC. We may have a season if they can pull a win tonight.

  • Scott

    I didn’t see this win as being made by the defense, I saw it as the offense finally starting to come on. If the offense was sputtering as bad as it was in game 1, I see the Suns as possibly taking another loss in NO.

    It was nice to see Warrick officially log a tiny bit of time at SF. I think he missed all of his 3 pt shots, but I assume he’s taking them because he’s been practicing them, and that he has done well enough in practice to have permission to shoot them, which is a good thing. Hopefully he’ll catch his rhythm at 3 as the rest of the team does, which I expect to be soon, as their legs get stronger.

    If Warrick had played in the first game against NO (instead of so many minutes by Childress), I think the Suns would have 2 wins.

    My impression on Brown is that he came out more focused this time, and he nailed his first few shots. After that I felt his focus wavered a bit, but overall his scoring, passing, and defensive play was much better that it was in the first 2 games. If he’s going to score more efficiently like this, and play with more energy and purpose, I’m all for having him on the court.

    I was also happy with the job Price did as PG. I feel he is already better than Dowdell at running the offense, even though he’s not scoring a lot.

    Though I appreciate that Gentry is trying to give Nash and Price enough time on the court to develop chemistry, I hope it isn’t too long before he works Telfair into the lineup for the same purpose. If it can be avoided, I don’t want to see Nash (or Hill) logging heavy minutes this season. If the Suns make it to the post-season, it will be very important to have their most seasoned players in great shape. Getting Telfair some minutes at PG, if he can handle them, should eventually reduce wear and tear on Nash.

    One thing I noticed early on was the increased effort by the players in this game. Both Nash and Hill were sweating heavily by the middle of the first quarter, which was a good indication they were pushing the tempo of the game to the normal Suns speed.

  • Scott

    I forgot to mention that by regaining their tempo, the Suns were able to score in transition, and the points they got there basically won the game.

  • GoSuns

    Tony, although I think it would be cool for warrick and brown to possibly in the starting lineup, thats not where we need them (well atleast brown). They provide the energy off the bench we need and they make it easier for the backup pgs to establish the tempo add that their production to morris and fropez and our second unit and our second unit can be scary at times. On top of that, you need to start guys like frye to get that shot going he doesn’t necessarily need to have the bulk of the minutes plus i hope he keep rebounding like he did last night

  • Big Daddy

    Brown/Dudley should be coming off of the bench alongside Frye once Redd is with the team. Morris should be the starting PF(Although that will probably never happen).

    Regarding the game, it was a well played game. I see how people think Lopez is playing with more passion, fire etc, but he’s still mediocre. Watching him drag himself up and down the court hurts my eyes(Not to mention when he takes 15-20ft jumpers). However, he has the potential to be a solid backup to Marcin. I’m excited about tonight match up as we will see how our suns match up with a legitimate title contender.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    or winning, or we were dead!
    Good sign … at least gives hope!

  • A-ROCK

    @Tony thanks for the update in regards to the game I missed it……..Go SUNS!!!!

  • Scott

    BTW, credit to Frye for his rebounding! He had 16 rebounds in the game, plus 10 pts. Nice to see him getting a dbl dbl, even if his shots aren’t quite falling yet.

    If you add Gortat’s rebounds to those of Lopez, and then multiply by 2, you have the number of rebounds Frye pulled down.

  • B. Cray Z.

    Good road win.

    Let’s hope we can win some at home.

    Redd and Brown may be good adds but we need good team chemistry the most. I was in the Big D, and saw the Mavs win their only game this year. They played the Raptors who were pathetic, except for our old friend LB. Barbosa was active on ” D” and he went off for 20 points (off of the bench) in this game. Hedo for LB? What a mistake. Let’s get The Brazilian Blur back home!

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!