PHOENIX — Through four and a half games of the NBA season, the Phoenix Suns were a jump shooting team that could not hit a jump shot.
A Suns team that has annually led the NBA in field-goal percentage entered the day shooting 40.2 percent from the floor, much to the dismay of head coach Alvin Gentry.
After continuing to clank shots during a 34.8 percent shooting first quarter, the Suns finally started to show signs of breaking out of their collective slump by hitting 48.4 percent the rest of the way to close out a 102-91 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Their 110.9 offensive rating and 49.4 effective field-goal percentage were season highs by a good margin as well.
“We just missed so many shots uncharacteristically the first [four] games let alone the first half,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “We missed so many shots that we normally knock down: open threes, baseline jumpers, top of the key, free-throw line, just shots that we’re accustomed to making but also that our offense is predicated on. When we’re not making shots like that it really puts pressure on us.”
Poor shooting is an issue that’s certainly not exclusive to Phoenix, it’s just that the Suns are so used to pacing the league in this category.
Entering the day four teams were shooting below 40 percent although no such squad has shot that poorly for an entire season in over 50 years. Last year the Milwaukee Bucks shot a league-low 43.0 percent yet 13 teams fell below that number entering play Monday.
“We’re not a 40 percent shooting team, we’ve not been a 40 percent shooting team,” Gentry said. “It’s kind of league-wide, really. It’s going top be a bit of a roller coaster until people get their legs under them.”
The Suns had been particularly abysmal from three-point range entering the day, shooting a horrid 25.9 percent, with players like Channing Frye (12.5 percent), Nash (31.3), Jared Dudley (30.8) and Grant Hill (0 percent on seven attempts) shooting well below their career averages, and that continued Monday as the Suns missed 12 of their first 13 long balls before perhaps settling into a groove by knocking down seven of their final 11.
After struggling so mightily with the three ball, the Suns used the shot to put the Warriors away. They led 83-80 with five and a half minutes left before Frye, Dudley and Nash all drilled long balls as part of an 11-3 run over the course of three minutes that put the game out of reach.
“I thought we came up with big shots when we had to tonight,” Gentry said.
To Nash, this is largely “a confidence thing.” Shooting can often be contagious it seems, and all the Suns’ bricks seemed to beget more bricks. As the Suns developed that confidence in the second half, they used the three ball to seal a victory.
“If we keep getting these kind of looks throughout the whole year I think guys are confident, they are going to be able to knock them down,” Dudley added.
It didn’t hurt that Nash – hampered by his rib injury – became the closer down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final 2:25 to put the game out of reach.
It’s downright alarming that Mr. 50-40-90 came into the game as Mr. 31-31-100, but in this contest Nash started to clear the rust in his 21-point, nine-assist performance on 9-for-13 shooting. He scored or assisted on all but two of the Suns’ fourth quarter field goals when he was in the game.
Two Time said he usually feels rusty during game seven of the preseason, which is what today’s contest would be in a normal season, and that’s with a month of pickup before training camp.
Nash regaining his form may have only been the second most positive development on this day as Markieff Morris continued to make the Suns look smart by selecting him 13th overall by pouring in 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go with nine boards and importantly just three fouls in 32 minutes.
He became the first Suns rookie to score in double figures in consecutive games in the first five games of the season since Amare Stoudemire in 2002, and his mix of physicality, rebounding and shooting make him a player Gentry can’t keep off the floor.
“I think Markieff’s been great,” Nash said. “He’s got to learn all the plays, he’s got to learn the way the game is played, his new teammates. He’s under a lot of different factors that make it difficult for him, but he’s aggressive, he’s skilled. He gives us definitely a toughness physically that we haven’t had a lot of, so it’s great, and I think he’s just going to get better and better.”
Added Morris, “I’m learning and picking it up fast. It’s a congested season, so if Coach plays me I have to produce, so I’m just going out and playing as hard as possible, basically just being the dirty man on the team.”
Morris said it’s “big for me” that Gentry is showing enough faith in him to play him 20 minutes in the second half, including the entire fourth quarter.
Suns centers Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez did not play at all in the fourth as Gentry chose to ride with Morris, Frye and Hakim Warrick. The trio even played together upfront for half of the fourth as the Suns chose to go big with Golden State missing forward David Lee due to an illness.
So the glass half full version says the Suns trail the Lakers and Clippers by a half game for first in the division; the glass half empty version says the Suns barely beat mediocre New Orleans and Golden State squads without a key player.
Regardless of which viewpoint you subscribe to it’s a fact that Phoenix must start shooting the ball better to have a chance this season, and perhaps we saw the first step in that direction in the fourth quarter today.
“With this lockout I don’t think any team is shooting lights out,” Dudley said. “What we have to do is keep running the offense, executing and keep the floor spaced and we’re going to knock down shots. We have too good of players on this team.”
The Suns announced after the game that they waived center Garret Siler. Siler did not enter a game this season but averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.8 minutes of 21 games last season.
He has the size but not the agility to be an NBA-caliber season. By all accounts he was great in the locker room and hopefully he gets another chance with a different organization.
According to StorytellersContracts.com, the Suns will save $394,436 (half Siler’s minimum salary) with the move because his contract was only partially guaranteed.
The Suns’ roster now stands at the minimum of 13.
- Gentry pregame: “Every game that we’ve played we’ve had good shots, we just haven’t knocked them down.”
- The closest Josh Childress came to entering the game was when his Fro Meter appeared to pump up fans during a timeout. If Childress isn’t playing in a Redd-less rotation, how will he ever get time when the former Bucks star is ready?
- Gentry said the team has been discussing signing Redd since the summer. “We didn’t sign him as a knight in shining armor,” he said.
- The Warriors have lost 13 in a row in Phoenix, dating back to March, 8, 2005. Phoenix has won seven in a row over Golden State overall. … The Suns won their first home game since April 13 against the Spurs.