Los Angeles Lakers 99, Phoenix Suns 83 -- Same old Suns

Kobe Bryant torched the Suns for 48 points on Tuesday, but Phoenix's problems run deeper than Black Mamba.

Six minutes and 13 seconds.

That’s how long the Phoenix Suns went without a basket to close out Tuesday night’s 99-83 loss to the Lakers in Staples Center.

Phoenix played the Lakers to a near stalemate for three and half quarters, withstanding Kobe’s eventual 48-point onslaught with solid team defense and big-time games from Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye.

Until the 6:13 mark in the fourth quarter, the Suns actually resembled a legitimate playoff team.

Frye poured in 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, Gortat played like the NBA’s most efficient scorer with 16 points and 12 caroms, and even Shannon Brown chipped in with nine huge fourth-quarter points.

After trailing 79-74, the Suns scored on three consecutive possessions midway through the fourth to cut the Lakers lead to 83-82 with 6:13 remaining. There was light at the end of the tunnel.

But, as was the case so often last season, the wheels came off. The Suns missed their last nine shots and scored one, yes one, point in the final 6:13 to move to 4-5 on the season.

“Obviously, Kobe took the game over at the end there. We just couldn’t make a shot, part of it was their defense, part of it was that we just couldn’t make the doggone things,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com after the game. “I thought we got some good looks.”

While it’s easy to chalk the draught up to a bad shooting run or Kobe’s 14 points during that period, the Suns’ untimely stall is more a product of Phoenix’s lack of a go-to scorer and playmaker.

Consider this: Of the Suns’ final nine shots, only one came inside of 16 feet. Five of those nine shots came from beyond the arc and the Lakers pressure-pick-and-roll defense wore down a tired Nash, who had 13 points and eight assists until he returned to the lineup in the fourth.

The Suns couldn’t dump it to Gortat due to his still-developing post game, Grant Hill couldn’t buy a bucket as he labored through a 1-of-12 shooting night, and there was no Amare Stoudemire to barrel down the lane and save the day.

That was the case all too often last season, a campaign in which the Suns gave away game after game due to their inability to score, defend and rebound down the stretch.

Tuesday night was much of the same. The Suns settled for jump shots, while the Lakers scored all of their final 16 points inside of 12 feet or at the free throw line as they made six of their final nine shots. That’s how good teams win close games, not by jacking up contested three pointers that aren’t in the flow of the offense.

But that’s why the Suns aren’t exactly pegged in the “good” category this season. They lack the offensive firepower to steal close games on the road, especially against a team like the Lakers.

Sure, there are a handful of other reasons for the Suns’ loss. Kobe turned back the clock five years. The Lakers outrebounded Phoenix 49-35 and turned in 18 second-chance points. The Suns knocked down only 42.5 percent of their shots, while the Lakers drilled 48.8 percent.

But ultimately, it comes down to a lack of offensive execution and personnel in crunch time. It’s that simple. The Suns did everything they could to win the game up until the 6:13 mark.

They jumped out to a 19-10 lead that the Lakers eventually squashed after a ridiculous 22-2 run, but even then, Phoenix battled back and stayed within striking distance.

They limited Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to a combined 30 points and 20 rebounds, which is a win considering how the Suns have played the twin towers in the past. Phoenix also only turned the ball over 11 times, while turning 15 Laker turnovers into 23 points.

“I thought we did a good job on both (Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol),” Gentry said. “Some of the baskets they got freed up because we were either rotating to Kobe or trying to help or something like that, and it freed them up a little bit. But, you know, I thought we played well, it was a one-point game with around 5:40 left in the game and we went south from there and just couldn’t make a basket.”

In the end, the Suns couldn’t get the stops and buckets they needed to in order to fend off Kobe and the Lakers. While losing to the Lakers on the road when Kobe has 48 shouldn’t be seen as a huge disappointment, this one is tough to swallow given all of the good things the Suns did for three and a half quarters.

If they’re unable to find a way to score down the stretch — whether it’s through sets or a secondary ball-handler — there will be a handful of losses to throw in the “tough to swallow” category, just like last season.

The Suns do have a chance to redeem themselves, however. They’ll play host to the Cavaliers and Nets on Thursday and Friday, respectively, before heading on a brutal nine-day, five-game road swing to San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas. If there’s such thing as must-win games in January, it’s Phoenix’s next two against Cleveland and New Jersey.

And 1

  • Tuesday’s game was Kobe’s 108th career 40-point game. “He’s the best player in the world,” Nash said of Kobe. “You come to expect that type of performance from him. He does it regularly throughout the season and he was phenomenal tonight.”
  • The Lakers defeated the Suns without key bench players Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy.
  • In Shannon Brown’s return to Staples Center he missed his first four shots. He made five of his next nine to finish the game with 11 points in 19 minutes but racked up a -23. “It was fun,” Brown said of his return. “I got a chance to do a lot of things. I got a chance to come back to where my career got a real start to it. Two championships later I’m in a different situation, but I’m still thankful for what happened in LA.”
  • In his last two games Channing Frye is averaging 16.5 points on 13-of-16 shooting and 7-of-9 from three.
  • Marcin Gortat looked about as good as he has all season. He thrived in the pick and roll, crashed the boards hard and finished the first half with eight boards and nine rebounds. He even flashed a turnaround fadeaway out of the post over his right shoulder against the outstretched arms of Bynum.

  • Scott

    The Suns really need to get to the line, especially against opposing bigs. I realize the Lakers pack the paint, but is it really that hard to go in there and get fouled?

    It seems to me that even if the Suns’ own bigs weren’t aggressive around the basket, that Dudley and Brown could have drawn more fouls in the paint. I’d say the Suns have to work on their aggressiveness, which was also absent for much of the Dallas game.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    Here’s what happens when a good team is a superstar, makes the difference and you win games by himself!

    P.s.: We also lost the rebound!

  • Bin

    Gentry should have taken advantage of the fact that Odom is no longer a Laker. No one is going to save Bynum and Pau if go into foul trouble. Instead Gortat became a spot-up shooter and Frye and Robin didn’t offer any resistance to being outrebounded by smaller guys.

    Gentry wouldn’t even stop the jumpshots late in the game. I hope Sarver fires Gentry and all the assistant coaches. I don’t what the fuck they teach during practices.

  • http://jtshoopsblog.blogspot.com JT’s Hoops Blog

    One a positive note, at least Channing Frye looked more like a strarter out there.

  • steve

    The Suns were being outworked from the tip. We gave up easy rebounds and loose balls to LA that just showed this team was nowhere near prepared in the way that the Lakers were.

    The Lakers played like they wanted to show the world they’ve still got it. They looked like they were trying to prove they’re still the team to beat in the Pacific. The Suns didn’t look like they had anything on their minds, really.They just looked like they were out there.

  • MadhouseHoops

    The Suns were unable to score inside late in the 4th quarter, because in large part, the Lakers did not respect the outside shooting of the Suns, in particular Grant Hill. The Lakers clogged the middle of the lane and contently let the Suns take outside shots. Since Kobe was getting his no matter who was guarding him, substituting the hot-hand of Shannon Brown for Grant Hill may have proved beneficial.

    Had Brown been in the game in place of Hill, his slashing ability and long range shooting could have helped clear the middle of the lane for Nash and Gortat to work their pick-n-roll. Certainly it is no guarantee Brown would have made any more shots than Hill in the final minutes, and hindsight is 20/20, but the team has shown time and time again they need a different dynamic in the late stretches of games. If not Brown, hopefully Redd will be able to provide and be given the opportunity to be that extra spark — an extra sharp shooter on the outside will only help to soften the middle of opponents’ D — to get the Suns over the hump late in games.

  • http://godaddy.com Big Daddy

    Didn’t score for about 6 minutes? That’s why they lost. Let’s not kid ourselves here, Kobe is going to be Kobe. The guy takes about 35 shots a game, so obviously he will score his points. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t bounce our way last night.

  • Ty

    I completely disagree with the article. I thought this was an extremely encouraging game. If you look at it from a glass half full point of view instead, it was a 1 point game with 5 min left in the game. We played a very solid game both offensively and defensively (other than Kobe). Kobe is not going to have 48 points every night, and Hill is not going to make only 1 shot every game. I thought the Suns were able to spread the share of the offense in excellent fashion with 4 players in double figures. We are right there on the edge, I saw a team that looked good and competitive last night. I really had my doubts about our talent level before the season, but after watching this game and the last few, I feel like we can be a playoff team.

  • steve

    Ty, I get some of the glass half-full feeling as well, but ONLY if the Suns will start hammering the defensive glass harder. The Lakers had WAY too many second and third chances in the first half, and that’s completely unacceptable. The Suns are doing fairly good on the defensive boards (about even with their opponents, but they’re getting handled on the offensive glass. They aren’t good enough to give up those extra looks.

    The biggest reason that makes me worry is that it looks like the drive and determination to do the little things isn’t there. Typically, when you have a team like that, the team will roll over when the going gets tough (no points for 6 minutes) rather than rise to the occasion. The season isn’t lost because of one game, of course, but I think things are more likely to trend downward than upward.

  • Al

    Grant is a good defender, but he can’t handle Kobe on his own. Kobe should have been double or triple teamed from the start. Force Kobe to be a passer, defend the paint, and force players like Fisher and Walton to beat you with outside shooting. It was encouraging to see the Suns rally back from double digit deficit twice, but it was embarrassing to have the Star player of the other team score half of his team’s points to lead them to victory. In the last quarter the Suns should have used a different line up like Nash, Hill, Warrick, Morris, and Frye to stretch the floor.
    It was a good thing the Lakers don’t have Odom anymore or this game may have been over much sooner. Gentry really needs to improve his coaching in the last 6 minutes of close games. It’s like he puts Nash in, crosses his fingers, and hopes to pull off a win with Steve running the floor. Anyone see the Miami-Warriors game? Mark Jackson has the look of a great coach, Gentry…not so much.
    Also, I think it’s time to part with Robin. Trade him and Childress to Hornets or Cleveland for either Kaman or Varejao. Unless, maybe the Suns are hoping to lure Brook to Phoenix by keeping Robin on the roster.
    Next two games are very beatable. Time to get REDDy.

  • Brian

    Al, if you were Cleveland you would trade Varejao for Lopez and Childress?

  • Zak

    If Redd can play at his old level, even for only 5-10 minutes a game, I want him in the lineup during the last 5-10 minutes of every game. Even if he’s only 75% of what he was, other teams won’t be able to ignore him which should at the very least open up other opportunities for the Suns to score. I’m not expecting great things out of him during his first few games… heck, I’m not really expecting “great” things from him at all but just having him in the game should change how other teams defend the Suns… unless of course he turns out to be a total bust.

    At best he could be a game changer for the Suns. At worst, a veteran minimum 1 year contract that really doesn’t hurt the Suns. A good gamble IMO.

  • Zak

    @ Brian – I wouldn’t make that trade if I were in control in Cleveland… unless Varejao wanted out and it was the best deal I could get for him… which I doubt.

  • abby

    Question for Micheal and MIke:
    what do you think of this starting and bench line up.
    Starters: Nash, Redd,Dudley,Frye&Gortat.
    I feel it give a better balance to the team , Hill can anchor the defense & offense for the bench but Gentry make changes at a snail pace so it might after we are 10-40 lol…..just kidding….

  • Mel.

    “…and there was no Amare Stoudemire to barrel down the lane and save the day.”

    Not to pick nits and bring up the ghosts of the past, but… we all remember how STAT “saved the day” in his final games in a Suns uniform, against most of these same players.

    Aside from Odom no longer being around to “get lucky,” I can’t say that I would have expected to see Amar’e do any better than he was against these guys in the 2010 WCF. He certainly wasn’t scaring ‘em when they played the Knicks a few weeks back.


  • steve

    Since Amare has been brought up, has anyone else noticed how average he looks? All I know is that I’m glad I’m not the guy paying him $17M this year, and I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel about paying him $20M three years from now.

  • Scott

    The contracts for Gortat and Frye are more efficient than Amare’s, even if neither player ever makes it to All-Star status.

    But I don’t buy the crunch time argument in the article above, nor do I buy the idea that the Suns need an All-Star PF/C. They just need to play more aggressively around the basket, all of them.

    The Dallas game was similar to this one. At Dallas, the Suns only got to the line 15 times, while Dallas got to the line 21 times. Against the Lakers, the Suns got to the line 12 times, while the Lakers got there 23 times. At Dallas the Suns scored 89, while vs the Lakers they scored only 83.

    If Redd is able to enter the lineup and score, that will mask some of the difficulty the Suns are facing. But he’s not a player who drives in for contact either.

    The Suns need to play tough around the basket, get fouled, and go to the line. Getting the opposing big men in foul trouble will open the paint up for more rebounds and scoring. Jump shots are great for helping to open up the paint, but if they’re not falling the Suns won’t win unless they have a second mode of attack.

  • Mel.

    “Since Amare has been brought up, has anyone else noticed how average he looks? All I know is that I’m glad I’m not the guy paying him $17M this year, and I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel about paying him $20M three years from now.”

    Agreed. I know that this topic is bound to light up the ol’ “sour grapes” indicator, but… truth be told–as a guy who was torqued to see him go, and who held hope that he’d remain a Sun until the eleventh hour–I can’t say that the outcome is the nightmare scenario that everybody (Again, myself included) predicted.

    Aside from the fact that the training staff in New York clearly isn’t able to pull out the miracles that we saw during his Suns’ years (The “how bad is this, really?” back-spasms-thing from the playoffs last year is a pretty worrysome development), there’s the fact that his game appears to have regressed… perhaps more mentally, than anything. We got acclimated to seeing “Beast Mode STAT” as being a rare and awesome treat here in the Valley, but it’s been even LESS of an occurrence since he donned the blue and orange.

    The real litmus test comes down to this: if Amar’e didn’t make it to the NYK before Melo, he’d be in the same position that Boozer was with the Bulls, last year (The “big contract savior” whose play isn’t buoying the team up to title-ready heights)… but since he was the catalyst for the team’s consequent signings, he’s getting something of a “bye” from the viciously critical Manhattan press corps.

    I don’t know how much longer that’s going to last, at the rate they’re going. The axe of underachievement should claim Mike D’s head first, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Amare’s less-than-max-money efforts doesn’t put him on the firing line… sooner, rather than later.