Phoenix Suns 109, Milwaukee Bucks 93 — Shooting daggers once again

Posted by on January 8th, 11:38 pm

PHOENIX — When the Suns’ offense struggled to start the season, the team’s collective answer was that there was no reason for alarm, they were just missing shots they normally knock down.

Maybe they were right.

The Suns set a new season high for field goal percentage for the fourth straight game Sunday night and the Bucks had no chance to match the Suns’ suddenly scorching offense in Phoenix’s 109-93 blowout victory.

“I thought for the first time this year we shot the ball like we’re capable of shooting it,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “Obviously when we shoot the ball well we become that much better.”

The Suns shot 55.8 percent for the game and 62.3 percent through three quarters when the game was decided, including 10-for-22 overall shooting from three that was reminiscent of past Suns teams.

As usual, Steve Nash was the catalyst of the offensive explosion, dishing 17 assists and scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in a tidy 27 minutes. Nash set the tone early on by handing out five assists in the first 2:07 and nine in the first 6:19, getting everybody involved on a night in which all five starters scored in double figures.

“Steve was Steve,” Channing Frye said. “He’s a freak of nature, you know, he defies time and you’ve just got to make sure you get open.”

Added Gentry, “Steve is just a whole different animal when he’s in there.”

Nash’s ribs must not be bothering him much anymore as he’s now averaging 15.8 and 11.8 on 69.2 percent shooting — typical Nash numbers — in four January games after putting up 8.3 and 7.8 on 30.8 percent shooting in four December contests.

It certainly helped that when Nash dished it to an open Frye, the Suns’ forward found the bottom of the net. The UA product busted out of his season-long slump by drilling 6-of-7 shots, including 4-of-4 threes, to score a season-high 16 points in just 19 minutes of play. Frye knocked down as many threes in this one as he did in his previous seven games when he attempted 23.

Frye said he had better balance tonight and thanked the Suns for sticking with him during his struggles.

“It’s great,” Nash said. “He’s a terrific shooter and a big part of what we do spacing the floor, so to see him make some jump shots I think is good for the team, but it’s also good for Channing to take some pressure off to enjoy his game.”

Added Marcin Gortat, “That opens up the floor for me personally if he starts nailing those jump shots then obviously I got a couple good looks inside so I’m glad he’s finally starting to hit those jump shots.”

Frye opened things up for Gortat to score a game-high 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting, making him an 83.3 percent shooter the last two games (15-for-18) since losing the brace on his shooting hand.

Gortat said it feels “great” not to have the “plastic thing” on his finger and that it’s really helped him catch the ball.

Grant Hill added 14 and Jared Dudley 11 for a starting lineup that decimated Milwaukee’s top unit. Hill was a plus 28 while Nash, Dudley and Gortat were plus 26 and Frye checked in at plus 17.

The starters helped the Suns set or match a season high in scoring for the fifth time in six games. In addition, the Suns have averaged 29.8 points on 63.3 percent shooting over the first and third quarters of the past two games when the starters have received the bulk of the time.

The offensive effort should not overshadow a Suns defense that held its fourth straight opponent under 100 points after never recording a streak over three all of last season. They are also limiting opponents to a very un-Suns-like 91.5 points per game, least in franchise history.

The Bucks shot just 39.7 percent through three quarters as once again the Suns’ defense shined. Sure, some of that could be attributed to dead legs with Milwaukee playing its fifth game in seven nights (not to mention the absence of Andrew Bogut and Mike Dunleavy) but the Suns’ defense is clearly making strides.

“We knew they were coming on five games seven nights, but it wasn’t about them it was about us improving defensively,” Dudley said. “You can obviously see the improvement with getting at it and starting to make shots.”

Gentry has been harping all along that the Suns’ early offensive struggles have nothing to do with their increased focus on defense, and after stringing together a pair of complete performances (albeit against exhausted opponents) we’re starting to see the potential of this Suns team.

With a healthy Nash creating open looks and his teammates finally knocking them down on top of the improved defense, the Suns suddenly look like a legitimate playoff contender, which is a far cry from what they seemed to be following their opening pair of home losses.

Gortat cautioned fans not to get too excited because this is just two games but he feels if the Suns continue to bring this kind of energy on both ends there’s no reason to think they can’t continue to win games.

With a visit to the Lakers coming up Tuesday and then a vicious five-game road trip starting next week, we will soon find out whether the Suns were just taking advantage of the schedule or if this weekend’s sweep portends a complete team that can be the playoff squad the Suns would be if the season ended today.

“Our defense has improved, our offense is coming around,” Nash said. “We’ve had some times to get in a little bit of a groove here, but we’ll be tested soon so we’ve got to keep it moving.”

And 1

  • Yes, the Bucks lost again in Phoenix. The Bucks dropped their 24th straight contest in Phoenix, meaning it’s been 9,087 days since Milwaukee emerged from the Valley victorious. The 24-game streak ties the Suns’ longest home winning streak in team history (Sacramento, 1988-98) and is already the longest in terms of days. Only the Spurs’ 27-game run against the Warriors is a better active streak.
  • Frye said his slump was in some respects “a blessing in disguise” because it caused him to focus on other areas of his game such as defense and rebounding. “I think the biggest thing last year was everybody’s like, ‘What are you going to do when the shot’s not falling?’ I wanted to work on other things and continue to be a better player,” Frye said.
  • The Suns are back to .500 for the first time since March 27 of last season. … Grant Hill knocked down his first trey of the year after missing his first 10 attempts. He raised his arms to make the three-point signal after canning the shot. … Nash’s 17 assists were one shy of an NBA season best. … Markieff Morris earned his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 boards along with his third outing of 3-for-4 shooting from deep. … Shannon Brown scored a season-high 14 points for the second straight game. … Josh Childress played his first minutes of 2012 with six minutes of garbage time. He recorded a steal but no other stats.
  • Gentry pregame: “This is a game that we should win. If we’re going to be a playoff team, this is a game we’ve got to try to take care of.” Mission accomplished.

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Channing Frye · Marcin Gortat · Milwaukee Bucks · Offense · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap · Steve Nash

32 responses so far ↓

  • 1 shazam // Jan 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    KEEF

  • 2 Scott // Jan 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Brown and Telfair had the lowest +/- … -12 … but I was pleased to see Brown go to the line again and again and again. That’s very much needed. Brown was 10 of 12 at the line, Warrick was 2 of 4, and Hill was 1 of 1.

    I’d still like to see the Suns run a front court of Gortat and Lopez, because I think the Suns have the potential to get opposing teams’ defenders in foul trouble if they use their bigs to attack the basket. Amare used to foul out D. Howard in short order, and that was always a key to beating the Magic. Though they have no force like Amare, the Suns can probably still soften up the defense of opposing front courts if they make a point of it. I think a combo of Gortat and Lopez is more likely to get it done than any other combo. Both men are also reasonably good FT shooters, and they can both defend and shoot jumpers.

    (Well, Frye is a better FT shooter, but he is generally more of a finesse player than a banger, and Morris has yet to establish himself as a guy who gets to the line. So Gortat and Lopez are the guys to use.)

    In other news … Childress played almost 6 minutes and scored no points, made no rebounds, and committed no fouls. Sure, it was garbage time, but it doesn’t do much to make the case for more minutes for Childress. My guess is he’s accepted his fate.

  • 3 JT's Hoops Blog // Jan 8, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Don’t know why they don’t start Markieff over Frye.

  • 4 Mel. // Jan 8, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    More bully ball, but I do love the fact that the season’s been filled with so much ruthlessly honest and self-reflective commentary about the brutality of the schedule.

    “Yeah, we basically kicked them while they were down… but we’re kinda supposed to. And they’ll probably get us back when we’re run into the ground from a back-to-back road trip, so… onto the next.”

    One of the more unique competitive cultures in NBA history, seemingly.

  • 5 Al // Jan 8, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I loved the Suns offense this last 2 games. There has even been some good defense with decent rebounding.
    @Scott- I think you’re right. Childress seems to be waiting to be amnestied. If the Suns amnesty Childress they should go and offer Jeff Green the same amount during the off season. I would like to see Jeff Green as a Sun.
    Brown had a good game at getting to the line. The reason he is hogging the ball so much is because he is playing for a contract and is only getting few minutes to showcase his abilities. He’s trying to pamper his stats as much as possible with the time that is given to him. I think Brown should be given more time to start at the 2 alongside Nash or be the first backup for Nash. Brown is only going to be a one season rental by the looks of it.
    As for next season. Who do you think the Suns will offer max level contracts? I was thinking Love, Deron Williams or maybe even Russel Westbrook. Love to see LOVE as a Sun or have a Green and Westbrook reunion in the Valley. Suns may even be able to acquire Jason Thompson at a bargain.

  • 6 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 1:26 am

    @Al -

    Actually, if the season goes extremely well, I could see Redd being the target of the Suns.

    Also, the Suns would rather trade Childress, if it is possible, instead of giving him amnesty. I’d trade him for either a solid backup PG like Udrih or a solid combo guard like Mayo. PG is the position I’m most worried about.

    With any luck, before the trading deadline some team will be in desperate need of a $6 million defensive wing …

  • 7 Elviro (Italy) // Jan 9, 2012 at 3:03 am

    well! we have only done our duty: to win with a weaker team of us that missed the starting center Bogut! I’m happy for the victory over Portland on I thought was more difficult than the Bucks …
    I’m happy for Frye as he pulled, as it is turned the ball during the challenge, as he played for Nash!
    I am overjoyed about how Morris is playing!
    But now there are the Lakers: Let’s see if these improvements hold their impact!
    I think we could better judge our expectations after 5 trips that await us!
    Yes, I also hope that we can get something out of an exchange of Childress Mayo would be a good buy in that role, but we have different players: Brown (“Rent”), Redd (“the bet”), Dudley (“which for me is a small forward “)… I do not know whether it is the right role in which to improve …
    Me too concerned about the role of a reserve point guard Nash … but Telfair and Price are good for this season if the goal for next season free agent who played in that role!
    Of course, we should aim for next season even on a guard to replace the current (perhaps taking Redd, if holding to the bench)!
    Perhaps we are better off under the basket: Gortat, Frye, Lopez, MORRIS, Warrick can ensure always something good, although perhaps not continuously, of course …. if it came to Howard next season would be the best!
    I would not mind, however, views the need to rejuvenate and rebuild the team, even an exchange of Childress for a good choice for the next draft: if you draw well like we did with Morris and soon we could really improve significantly this team (also considering the possibility of engage in 1 or 2 superstars for next season)!
    I hope it does only what is best for the Suns with an eye to the present and above all with an eye to the future!
    I close my remarks with a question to you fans, considering that I am writing from Italy (… there will have noticed also how I write …. I’m sorry but I use a translator online …) and in the championship play three of my countrymen (Bargani, Belinelli and Gallinari), I would like to know which of these you would like to see in Suns jersey (one, two or all three or none?)!
    it’s my curiosity: I thank you in advance who will answer!
    GO Go Suns!

  • 8 Bin // Jan 9, 2012 at 4:08 am

    @Elviro
    I would like to see Gallinari play for the Suns. Why? He’s 6’10, could shoot 3′s, could drive to the hoop, excellent BB I.Q., shows consistent effort on both ends of the floor and most importantly, create his own shot.

  • 9 steve // Jan 9, 2012 at 8:47 am

    The amnesty deadline has passed, so it’s not an option for Childress any more. after this year is the soonest we could do that.

    It’s great to see the Suns looking good again, even if it’s probably due to the fact that we’ve played a couple of teams on the tail end of back-to-backs. Nash’s efficiency the past two games has been off the charts.

  • 10 Brian // Jan 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Who we should go after in free agency all hinges on whether or not Nash is still around. We simply need to get the best pg available, especially if Nash is leaving. We have fairly decent depth at most of the other positions. But unless we can get a significant upgrade at a position, I hope they don’t just spend money because they have the space…like they did the summer Amare left on marginal players.

  • 11 Tony // Jan 9, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Great win for the Suns and it’s just so much fun to watch a healthy Nash play ball. It was a bit depressing watching him in the first few games of the season and look so old and slow. Now, he’s back to his usual self and hopefully the injury bug will stay away from him.

    Gortat made an interesting point that I think speaks volumes about why Gentry continues to start Frye. He said Frye making shots helps his own game and Nash also said basically the same. There’s no doubt that when Frye makes his shots, the offensive spacing is so much better and with that being so, other players are better able to get their own shots.
    Scott,

    I don’t like the idea of playing Gortat and Lopez at the same time for the above reason. The offensive spacing would not be good as a big part of the Suns offense is predicated on Nash having the room to penetrate and break down the opposing defenses. If the Suns don’t play either Frye or Morris, the paint becomes clogged and it becomes that much more difficult for Nash to penetrate.
    Also, who would be the backup center if both played at the same time? That would mean Frye would be put there and he’s barely a pf.

  • 12 fan in chi-town // Jan 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    When playing the lakers tomorrow I think they should at least try lopez and gortat together while bynum and gasol are on the floor

  • 13 Mel. // Jan 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    ^Couldn’t hurt. They can at least double Bynum with some force, since the safe dollar says that he’s going to steamroll Lopez (Who can’t stay out of foul trouble when it comes to front-up big men) and will give Gortat all he can handle.

    Gortat’s an intriguing matchup against Gasol, but… since we can’t clone Grant and have him D up against Kobe AND Pau, it might be another “trial-by-fire” opportunity for Markieff. He couldn’t do worse than Frye’s likely to.

  • 14 steve // Jan 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I see the potential merit in having Gortat and RoLo out there at the same time, but it’s not like having any combination of the two C’s (Gortat and Lopez) and two PF’s (Frye and Morris) would be “small ball” in the sense that we’ve used the word before. We have four more-than-competent players above 6’10″ right now, which is something I don’t think PHX has ever been able to say.

    I’m with Tony on this one, if for no other reason than “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Frye is finally starting to get his rhythm, and I wouldn’t want to screw it up right now. There might be a time for tinkering, but now is not it.

  • 15 Zak // Jan 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    I was glad to see Frye get his shot back. Yep, when he’s hitting the jumpers as he did last night, he makes sure his man can’t afford to lay off him and make it tougher for Gortat on the inside or harder for Steve to penetrate. There might be times to try Gortat and Lopez in together but I don’t think it’s a lineup that would work really well most of the time.

    It will be interesting to see how Gentry works Redd into the rotation. Slowly with limited minutes off the bench at first I’m sure but if he works out… ?

  • 16 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    @Elviro -

    I think right now Gallinari is the best of the 3 for the Suns, followed by Belinelli, and Bargnani would be last.

    @Tony -

    Yes, I saw the same comment by Gortat, but Gortat also apparently told reporters he’d asked Gentry if he could play PF with Robin as C.

    Possibly when Gortat asked about that change in playing position, Gentry responded that he’d rather have Frye at PF to stretch the floor and open up possibilities for him to score around the basket. Which is indeed the strategy from last year and this year.

    All I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be the only strategy. The Suns can be flexible enough to do both things. Clearly it can work to play two big men around the basket the way the Lakers do it with Gasol and Bynum. That’s a traditional pairing, isn’t it? Having a PF who shoots the 3 as on the Suns is actually more of an anomaly.

    Probably Gentry is thinking Gasol is better at creating for himself and Bynum than Gortat would be for himself and Lopez, but of course if you never check this out or try to develop this in practice, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I’d rather see the Suns capable of doing both things instead of being locked into one. They should at least try it for a bit in practice.

    Remember when the Suns bigs were basically Amare and Jake Voskuhl? Or Amare and Scott Williams? Obviously we had to keep offensive schemes simple back then, as Amare was raw and yet was the only offense around the basket the Suns had. Now the Suns have 4 decent quality big men (when Robin plays well), and I think they should develop some options on their attack. Running carbon copy combos of Frye / Gortat and Morris / Lopez is the easiest thing they can do. But it’s not the only thing.

    Additionally, if the Suns were to develop an attack where Gortat and Lopez work together, it would take offensive pressure off of Nash (or a future PG), as all anyone would have to do is throw the ball in to the big men when they’re in their positions, and let them go to work.

  • 17 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    BTW, viewing the Suns’ bigs by size, the ranking is:

    Lopez
    Frye
    Gortat
    Morris

  • 18 steve // Jan 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    @Scott

    The problem I see with letting Gortat and Lopez “go to work” is that they can’t. Neither one of them has shown they have consistent, reliable post moves that will result in easy baskets or double teams. Obviously they can get better and work to that point, but I haven’t seen offensive dominance from either one- not even in flashes.

  • 19 Zak // Jan 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I have to agree with Steve. If either Gortat or Lopez came close to having Amare’s moves then I’d be all for playing them together. They are both centers though and neither would probably be really comfortable at the 4 spot. I don’t see either of them being able to guard some to the more nimble 4′s on other teams, especially those who also have at least a good mid-range jumper. For once we have two really good centers and I just don’t thing we should try to make one of them into a PF. If Frye’s shot has really returned, the Frye/Morris combo at the 4 should work better than trying to make Gortat or Lopez into a 4. Frye may be starting but, if you look at the stats, Morris is playing the majority of the minutes at 4. I like it that way. The team is starting to settle into their roles this season. Changing that now to experiment with a Gortat/Lopez starting front line would probably just screw up the team chemistry they’re starting to develop.

  • 20 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    @steve and zak -

    Presently the centers and forwards, like the rest of the Suns, are entirely dependent upon getting the ball fed to them by Steve. To the best of my knowledge, they don’t even practice anything else.

    How can you expect to see something happen in the game when it is not practiced?

    Gortat and Lopez both went to the Olajuwon school for a week. Yet neither man is ever called upon to use that training, because all they ever do is catch a pass from Steve and shoot a short jumper or toss up a lay-in.

  • 21 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    @Zak -

    Do you seriously believe that having Gorat and Lopez practicing creating their own offense will disrupt their ability to play with Nash?

  • 22 steve // Jan 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I agree that Gortat and Lopez developing their post game is never going to happen if it isn’t practiced, and there are two things I would say to reaffirm my previous statement that neither Gortat nor Lopez should be given the freedom to go to work in the post at this point:

    1. As you mentioned, practicing might mess up the chemistry and flow the team is developing. Even if it’s not likely, it’s possible. I, for one, don’t believe you should spend a great amount of time practicing something you don’t intend to implement immediately or might never fully develop into a viable strategy (will either of them ever be a dominant, go-to scorer in the post?)

    2. You seem to be operating under the assumption that they haven’t already come up with this idea and/or tried it out. Just based on my eye test, the Olajuwon school didn’t greatly improve either Gortat’s or Lopez’s post moves (it didn’t hurt either). Maybe they run Gortat and Lopez at each other in practice and it has become quite evident that neither one of them are particularly good at creating their own shot.

    I’m leaning toward #2 being my reason for not wanting to tinker. I don’t think Gortat or RoLo are good enough to do work on the majority of big defenders in the NBA, and I think our offense would be better off (for the time being) in Nash’s hands.

  • 23 Al // Jan 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    The few times I’ve seen Lopez post this season have almost always ended up in turnovers and steals by the other team. Robin needs to improve his ball handling when posting.

  • 24 fan in chi-town // Jan 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    When I mentioned that they should try playing gortat and lopez, I meant it more for defensive purposes, not really to dump the ball to them and let them go to work. Nash can create plenty of offense against the lakers, I believe.

    On a side note, I really hope brown has incentive to decimate his old team, but for some reason I’m thinking it will be more of a buddy-buddy reunion.

  • 25 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    @steve -

    My take on it is that they haven’t tried Gortat and Lopez together in practice, and this is why we don’t see them getting batter at creating their own shots: because the don’t ever do it in practice.

  • 26 steve // Jan 9, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    And that’s just as likely as my assumption… Assuming neither of us has access to the team’s practice sessions, and I know I don’t. :)

  • 27 Scott // Jan 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Nope … I can fairly describe myself as being clueless on a number of things, and what the Suns do in practice is a mystery to me. :)

  • 28 Zak // Jan 10, 2012 at 4:09 am

    @ Scott – All I said was that I like the lineup and rotation as is for the moment. With this year’s compressed schedule, practice time is more limited than during a normal year. Depending on how the season goes, a Gortat/Lopez front line might be something they want to experiment with at some point. Perhaps they already have in practice and are just waiting to use it against the right team (Lakers?).

    And I never said anything about Gorat and Lopez practicing creating their own offense even possibly disrupting their ability to play with Nash.

  • 29 Scott // Jan 10, 2012 at 8:57 am

    @Zak –

    Not to argue, but just so you know where I’m coming from, you said “The team is starting to settle into their roles this season. Changing that now to experiment with a Gortat/Lopez starting front line would probably just screw up the team chemistry they’re starting to develop.”

    But it’s not really an issue for me. Hopefully we’ll all have more good Suns games to enjoy, maybe beginning tonight with a win against the Lakers. :)

  • 30 Zak // Jan 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    @Scott – No biggie but in general I believe that any big changes in the lineup at this point could screw up the chemistry they seem to be starting to build, not just the Gortat/Lopez starting combo. I’m even more against starting Morris over Frye at the 4 for the same reason and I also against moving Redd into the rotation too quickly.

    My opinion is simply that I don’t think that only 16 days into a compressed season – with only half a training camp and several new team members – is the right time to be experimenting with major lineup changes.

    I suppose the only reason I responded was because out of my original statement you somehow got that I was saying that the change would “disrupt their ability to play with Nash”. Actually I would be more concerned with disrupting the chemistry in the second unit. I see signs of them developing into an exceptional group as 2nd units go in the NBA.

  • 31 Scott // Jan 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    @Zak -

    FWIW, I think we’ve seen Morris and Frye out on the floor together several times already.

  • 32 Zak // Jan 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    @ Scott – Unfortunately I don’t get to watch the Suns play as often as I want (which would be every game) but I can see times that a Frye/Morris combo could be an advantage… just like at times a Gortat/Lopez combo could be an advantage. While I don’t think that Gentry should take too many chances with changing up the lineup, I also hope he’s flexible enough to adapt the lineup/rotation to the different team challenges that the Suns will face.

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