PHOENIX — Kyrie Irving scored a career-high 26, Antawn Jamison added 23, and the Phoenix Suns did nothing but trade baskets in the second half as they fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-90 on Thursday night in US Airways Center.
But Irving blowing by the Suns on the perimeter wasn’t the problem itself. It was his penetration that forced Phoenix’s big men to rotate.
The result? Either open three-pointers (the Cavs shot 10-for-19 on the night) or poor rotations that allowed Cleveland’s big men to grab 15 offensive rebounds.
“They shot the ball real well. Obviously they shot well from three,” Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry said. “But to me, I think the game was on the boards. We did a poor job on the boards.
“I told the guys, ‘Here’s a team that shot 43 percent against us and found a way to win the game,’” Gentry added. “That shouldn’t be the case.”
Steve Nash’s 16 points — he became the 15th active player to score more than 16,000 career points — and 15 assists weren’t enough, and neither was a 12-point lift from Michael Redd in his Phoenix debut.
Redd was the first player off the Suns’ bench, coming in with 9:43 left in the first quarter for forward Grant Hill, who only played seven minutes due to a quadriceps tendon injury in his right knee. Hill is probable for tomorrow’s game against New Jersey and said he came into the game with soreness.
Redd, standing alone two times in a row, hit his first two shots on his first two possessions as a member of the Suns.
Though Gentry said he wouldn’t run Redd into the ground, he played seven minutes in his first stint, scoring eight points in that time. He ended up playing 19 minutes and said he felt good considering the rust.
“My wind felt pretty good, surprisingly,” Redd said. “Just got to find my game legs and game rhythm and figure out the system.”
Rookie Markieff Morris, who added 13 points and eight boards, hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 30-30 to end the first quarter, when the Suns (4-6) shot 65 percent from the field yet failed to get to the foul line. The rookie then blocked a shot to ignite a fast break two minutes into the second quarter — that resulted in guard Shannon Brown getting to the line, the first such trip for Phoenix more than 14 minutes into the game.
Phoenix finished the game shooting 45.3 percent to the Cavs’ 43.8 percent, but the Suns also gave up 15 offensive boards, allowing Cleveland 14 more attempts.
“We definitely got to rebound the ball better,” said Suns’ center Marcin Gortat, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “I’m going to take the blame for that. That’s my responsibility.”
But with the dribble penetration of Irving, the help defense from Gortat was part of the reason Cleveland’s big men hit the offensive glass. Of the failed rotations behind himself and the Suns’ other big men during help situations, Gortat said that the Suns “were all messed up today from the first whistle.”
“We just have to watch the tape … figure out what we got to do,” he added.
At the end of the first quarter and early in the second, it was the Suns’ bench that built a lead. Nash exited with the Suns down 28-25, but they went on a 15-6 run before Irving returned to the game.
That’s when he caught fire, and that’s when the game changed.
Part of an 18-2 run, the rookie point guard went on a 12-0 run all by himself to give Cleveland a 46-40 lead four minutes before halftime. They went into the locker room with a 56-48 advantage.
And without many scoring options for the Cavaliers, Phoenix failed to stop the only two players capable of putting up points. After a Jamison three-pointer with 4:43 to play in the third quarter, Irving and Jamison both had more than 20 points.
Phoenix traded buckets in the third, and the deficit remained at eight points, 79-71, going into the fourth.
There, it didn’t get any better for Phoenix, and they only put in seven points during the first 7:21 of the final period. Nash cut the lead to six points with a driving layup and 1:12 remaining, but the Suns never got over the hump.
“This one will sting for a little bit,” said guard Jared Dudley, “but obviously short time, have to get ready for New Jersey tomorrow night.”
A game of chess
Both teams got hot to start the game, shooting 7-for-12 combined from three-point range.
Gentry decided to start running out on Cleveland’s three-point shooters, but that’s when Irving took over.
“There’s a reason he was picked No. 1, … he’s a real talented player,” Gentry said. “We tried to force him to shoot long jumpers. We went under the screen — he hit those, too.”
Still, Gentry was most upset about his team’s rebounding.
“You have to come down with the ball at the end of the possession,” he said.
Alvin Gentry on the Cavs’ dribble penetration: “They broke us down and had dribble penetration and we end up in rotation. They play like we played in the past, like we’re trying to play right now. They spot up and they dribble penetrate and they help, they kick it to a guy who makes a three-point shot. You don’t help, you know … Kyrie Irving is talented enough he’s able to get to the basket.”
- The Suns are a Jekyll and Hyde team so far this season. In wins, Phoenix averages 101.5 points per game while in losses the Suns score only 87.7 points.
- Phoenix allowed Cavs forward Anderson Varejao to grab a season-high 17 rebounds.
- The Suns turned the ball over 16 times that resulted in 19 points for Cleveland. While the defense of the Suns has been effective, they often times struggle in turning the opponents over. The fairly-youthful Cavs gave it up 12 times against the Suns.