How the Phoenix Suns shut down Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony

The Suns held Amare Stoudemire to 7-of-22 shooting on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

It’s no surprise to see Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have inefficient shooting nights.

Even Spike Lee would admit that STAT (40.8 FG%) and Melo (41.1 FG%) are high-volume chuckers with awful shot selection.

But it was somewhat shocking to see a Phoenix Suns team that just allowed 118 points to the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls hold Amare and Carmelo to a combined 35 points on 12-of-44 shooting and seven turnovers in Wednesday night’s win.

Yes, the Suns team that let Carlos Boozer and C.J. Watson combine for 54 points on 22-of-33 shooting on Tuesday essentially shut down Carmelo and STAT, on the tail end of a back-to-back nonetheless.

And Anthony and Stoudemire are the type of players who usually give the Suns problems.

Amare averaged 32.0 points in two games against the Suns last season, while Carmelo posted 16.7 points and 11.7 boards in three contests. They would take advantage of Phoenix’s lack of an interior presence and minimal perimeter defenders. But not this time around.

So how were the Suns able to stonewall Amare and Melo and regain the defensive form they had earlier in the season? Here’s an in-depth look at how the Suns handled each player:

Amare Stoudemire

Marcin Gortat and the Suns’ weak-side defense made Stoudemire look like a shell of the player who barreled down the lane for highlight dunks in US Airways Center for eight seasons.

Gortat, Robin Lopez and Channing Frye combined to block four of Amare’s shot attempts as they anchored the paint and turned STAT into a jump shooter. The Suns’ bigs held Amare to 2-of-5 shooting at the rim, where he shoots 64.1 percent on the season, and 2-of-8 shooting from 3-to-9 feet.

Phoenix turned away both of Amare’s dunk attempts and forced him to shoot seven shots between 16 and 23 feet, where he made only two. The Suns took Amare completely out of the game in crunch time as the explosive power forward didn’t attempt a shot in the final 4:48. Here’s a look at Gortat and the Suns’ defensive performance against STAT:

The Suns forced Stoudemire into six turnovers, mostly because of help defense and Gortat’s ability to stay in front. Here Markieff Morris is on Amare but gets caught in the pick and roll. Gortat rotates over to pick up STAT, giving Morris time to recover and trap.

With Nash dropping down to take Chandler, a new wrinkle in the Suns’ defense with Elston Turner, Stoudemire has to drive baseline where Gortat holds his ground and forces STAT to step out of bounds.

Although the play above isn’t out of the pick and roll, Gortat does the same thing here as he keeps Stoudemire from turning the corner along the baseline. STAT gets caught in mid-air and turns it over. Great individual effort by Gortat.

After proving he can stay in front of Amare, Stoudemire opted to run through Gortat on the two plays above. But Gortat does a great job stepping in to take the charge, one play in help position and one playing on-the-ball defense.

More great help defense here as Gortat sends away STAT’s layup attempt. Frye does a poor job recovering to Stoudemire out of the pick and roll, which gives Amare an open lane to attack. But Gortat steps over and meets STAT on the other side of the rim to pick up the block.

Chalk this up to stellar man-to-man post defense by Gortat. He doesn’t bite on the spin, stays with Stoudemire and contests Amare’s airball. Gortat’s footwork and physicality allowed him to best Amare in one-on-one situations.

Here Amare tries to take Gortat at the end of the first half. Gortat keeps Amare in front until Frye does a great job stepping over to double STAT as he gets his shot blocked to close out the half.

This is where the Suns have been lacking in the past. Usually, Amare would blow by Hakim Warrick — as he does above — and throw it down along the baseline. But Lopez is in perfect position to slide over and meet Amare at the rim. The Suns have been hurting for weak-side defense and shot-blocking, but they flaunted exactly that against the Knicks.

This was Stoudemire’s last shot of the game, a runner to his left that didn’t draw iron as Gortat and Frye were in his face. STAT took a few questionable shots on Wednesday night, but to hold him to 0.68 PPP after Boozer torched the Suns gives Phoenix and its interior defense hope moving forward.

Carmelo Anthony

Locking Stoudemire down was impressive, but the number Hill and company did on Anthony was even more admirable. The 39-year-old forced Melo into 12 points on 5-of-22 shooting, his worst clip of the young season.

Hill contested every one of Carmelo’s patented mid-range jumpers and often pushed him off of his spot, forcing him to operate from unfamiliar areas. The Suns also did a great job swarming Anthony on the block or out of the pick and roll.

Anthony made only 3-of-8 shots at the rim, his second-worst percentage all season as he shoots at a 67.2 percent clip at the hoop. Melo also missed all four of his attempts from 3-to-9 feet, forcing him into a jump shooter. But with Hill in his grill, Anthony shot a porous 1-of-7 between 16 and 23 feet and made one of his two triples. Here’s a look at Hill and the Suns’ defense on Melo:

The Suns did a great job forcing Melo out of rhythm, which they did here as Gortat and Hill trap Anthony out of the pick and roll, moving him near halfcourt before he can go into his offense. He beats Hill off off the dribble but Gortat steps over and helps as Anthony’s shot isn’t close. Driving floaters definitely aren’t Carmelo’s bread and butter, so that’s a win for the Suns.

This time Hill forces Melo out of position by himself. Anthony tries to post up at the left elbow and go to work against the 39-year-old. But Hill fronts Carmelo and eventually pushes him off of his spot, forcing Anthony to operate just inside the three-point line. Melo jacks up a contested jumper with Hill right in his face and misses short.

Hill battles Carmelo in the post again above. Gortat shadows Anthony as Hill gives up no ground, forcing Melo into a bad shot that misses short. Another great individual effort by Hill.

On this play Melo has good post position against Hill. But Frye realizes that and comes down to help. With Frye on the high side Hill cuts off the baseline, giving Anthony nowhere to go but down. He falls and the Suns take over possession.

Carmelo finally gets into the lane here out of the pick and roll. But Frye, who’s laying back in help position as he plays both Melo and Chandler, blocks Anthony’s shot at the rim. Anthony is able to grab the ball and put it home eventually, but this play shows how nothing came easily for Anthony and the Suns swarmed him early and often.

The Suns’ offense and defense have stalled late in games so often this season, but not against the Knicks. With New York needing a bucket down five, Hill again gives Melo no daylight as he has to double-pump on his jump shot that misses well short.

It’s one thing to take away STAT’s post game, but to also limit Melo to 0.5 PPP is a testament to Hill and the Suns’ defensive potential when they’re right. The Suns may never be the Celtics or Heat on the defensive end, but to shut down both Carmelo and Amare is encouraging moving forward.

  • shawn

    Your the man Mike great post!!!

  • Claudio

    I don’t want to take anything away from these great defense sequences, but is worthy note that as you see all these were mainly individual efforts by Amar’e and Melo, reflecting more than anything the trouble the knicks have at PG and creating a flow of plays. The suns have more problems when the other teams move the ball… the passive defense or defense without the ball is normally the problem, that’s where rebounding comes into account for example.

  • Mel.

    Agreed, Claudio. When you’ve basically got a couple of guys whose approach consists of “me + ball = offense,” it doesn’t take much to completely destroy what little flow is being generated by the strategy. In as much, they’ve basically become the pharmacy toy version of the Lakers… if Kobe and Pau both alternated running the ball down the floor on 97% of the plays, and tried to run isos with at least FIFTY percent of those. That nobody seems to acknowledge that this is an issue is the real problem, as well. I did a stroll-by on the NYK forums at ESPN, and there were plenty of generic soundbites about “getting stops” and “finding our shots…”

    Or.. wait. Maybe that was the postgame interviews from the Suns’ last six games. It’s tough to tell, sometimes.

    Anyway, it’s a sloppy way to run a supposed “aspiring contender,” especially when they can’t seem to get a lick of traction on the Celtics and their statistical woes. I like that the boys DIDN’T manage to blow the game in the final six minutes (Though they did give it their best for a little while, there), but calling it anything but a solid win over a severely lacking opponent would just be silly.

    Though a shout-out to Gortat. It’s been lost in the sludge of the recent slump, but his lateral movement and foot speed is out of control; these clips are the first time where that Olajuwon school of big-man defense are really obvious, at least when taken on in bite-sized increments and specific highlights.

  • steve

    Could you perhaps give a more thorough synopsis next time… and a little more quickly too. ;)

    Hill did a great job, and the team did a good job picking up whatever slack there was. I think Claudio is partly correct in mentioning that the Knicks just aren’t that good at moving the ball, but hopefully the Suns can continue to make strides on the defensive end. This offense isn’t going to win them games. It’s going to take defense.

  • Kevin

    A common theme this season is that the Suns have been a poor rebounding team, especially last night. Is there any kind of system issue and positioning or is that we don’t have dominant rebounders like other teams (i.e. Verajao, Humphries)? This seems like the biggest problem right now.

  • Mel.

    ^Agreed. Chandler blowing it up for 17 boards is a hell of an indication of just how true that is, and I’d be curious to see what the nature of the problem is.

  • steve

    I’ve only watched four or five games this year, and I haven’t done any sort of in-depth analysis, so this should be taken with a grain of salt:

    I have seen two root causes of the Suns rebounding woes.

    1. Failure to find a man and put a body on him (defensive glass)
    2. Attempting to out-jump opponents.

    They’re both closely related, and I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to rip out my remaining hair watching Gortat try to out-jump people or watching Frye standing around admiring the beautiful arc of the basketball as it’s heading to the basket without thinking about how he can get that ball or how he can keep the other team from getting it. I named those two guys, but I have seen each member of the Suns either fail to box out or attempt to out-jump the other team. It’s especially painful to watch Dudley try to out-jump others, as he always miserably fails, and usually falls to the ground afterward to make it look like he’s at least trying hard.

  • Scott

    @steve -

    From what I’ve seen, it helps if players know that someone one the team is a designated rebounder, then they can position themselves to block out opponents and make it easier for the designated guy to get the ball. It looks like right now rebounding on the Suns is by committee, with responsibility for a specific rebound going to whoever is closest.

    It could be that the Suns do a little of “Are you going to get that one? No? Well I guess I’ll try. Oh, wait, turns out you’re closer. Oops, no one blocked out that dude. Drat, there goes the rebound.”

    In a (cough) Lopez / Gortat scenario, with Gortat as the designated rebounder for all inside balls … unless the ball literally fell to him, Lopez would help box out or tip it to allow Gortat to snag the ball.

  • http://h Sun-arc

    Great post and comments. True that nYC’s O is pretty stagnant. We played some good individual and some help D, but it won’t stop passing teams. We need that and good perimeter defense. What I don’t get is seeing hill, Nash, and dudz (& others) pulling away from the outside players to act they are going to help inside- but they don’t help, AND leave thei players wide open for an uncontested shot. Why?? Stay on your man and let the big men do their job. They are doing it fine. Do your job. Seems reasonable.

  • Jeff

    I see the Suns ‘defensive improvements’ in the Knicks game as somewhat misleading in determining how good the D really is. While Hill was solid on Melo and the team defense was better, the Suns were doing a lot of standing around. It’s obvious the Knicks offense has a ways to go, and teams that run a lot of Isolations take less energy for the team as a whole to defend.

  • Drew

    While some of you are right that this game doesn’t prove that we’ve arrived as a defensive juggernaut, you’re missing the point of this post. Mike is not saying anything more than we’ve made improvements (mostly on the individual level) on people that usually burn us. At the end, Mike even says that we may never be Boston or Miami, but it’s still encouraging to see the improvements on individuals that have given us trouble in the past.

    Great write up and analysis, Mike!

  • shazam

  • Snusianic

    Admissible evening! Communication describing my at liberty is indeed completed, proceed to out of tune with implementation.