PHOENIX — What exactly is a Phoenix Suns defense? In the past decade, we’ve never seen an exact identity of it, nor known how the various roster makeups could ever develop one.
But if there were any indication of what the definition of a Suns defense might be, the past three games would be the exact text in your basketball dictionary.
The Suns rolled out of the All-Star break with a different attitude, one that’s admitting that they’ll need to stick with their defensive muscle rather than any hope their offensive firepower can take them places with such little ammunition.
Through the current three-game winning streak that came from dominating rebounding and defensive efforts, a little more accountability from the Suns’ interior players has them clicking.
“We challenged the big guys to be able to guard their guys so we didn’t have to come down to double team,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “They responded and did a great job. We challenged everyone, including our perimeter players. They have to be better rebounders … and they’ve also responded to that.”
Less double-teaming in the post thanks to Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye holding down the fort has allowed every Suns player to box out their man. Off of rebounds, Gentry said that making contact with every opponent on the floor and bumping them off straight paths to the bucket has been the priority.
It seems to be working, even against All-Star forwards in Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
“Individually, we haven’t had to double, which means we haven’t been able to get in rotation, which has really helped our rebounding,” Gentry said.
The Timberwolves, Clippers and Kings that Phoenix has faced in the past week are all top-10 rebounding squads in the NBA, and the Suns have beaten all three on the glass. And keeping the Suns’ big men in one-on-one situations, even against talented players, has come without any negative side effects.
Phoenix has held its three post All-Star opponents below a 40 percent shooting mark during the current winning-streak. In fact, it could even be argued that the Suns’ going without post traps has baited the likes of Griffin, Love and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins into taking more shots — and poor ones at that.
Against Phoenix, Love shot 8-for-25, Griffin shot 6-for-19 and Cousins only 7-for-20; add that up, and three of the NBA’s best big men only connected on 32.8 percent of their attempts against the Elston Turner-coached defense.
Of course, hitting the road to face the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks doesn’t mean those numbers will keep looking so good for the Suns.
Still, they now have three games to refer to when they need a reminder about the definition of Suns defense.
Channing Frye’s game still in expansion mode
Nobody should discount that in 2009, Channing Frye’s career was resuscitated by joining the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns because of his offensive game. After all, it’s where the power forward fit into the stretch four position that works so well in a Steve Nash-ushered offense.
But while he’s become known as an offensive weapon who could get hot at a moment’s notice, it’s Frye’s defense that is largely behind the Suns’ current, although brief, success.
“For me, it’s the whole … just trying to be a complete player,” Frye said after Tuesday’s practice. “I figure, what do I have to lose? No matter what I do, (defense is) not going to be my stigma.”
Listen to a national broadcast, and that stigma still hangs over Frye’s head. It’s one that, in a way, assumes the seven-year pro has reached his peak potential. From the outside, it causes doubt in his abilities.
But in the past week, it was clear Love and Griffin had mounting frustrations as shots didn’t fall against Frye’s defense.
His presence has gone beyond his physicality, too. Frye says he’s grown the most this season in his mental toughness — where Love and Griffin openly showed their frustration, miss after miss, Frye continued to make a difference on the defensive end despite his own shooting woes (25 percent in the past three games).
“The sign of a great player is someone that maybe isn’t shooting well or maybe is really getting taken away on offense, who can still have an impact on the game,” Frye said. “You look at the great players — Rondo, Steve, Dwight Howard, even guys like Kevin Love, Tim Duncan — those guys impact the game not just on offense.
“I think for me, I understand that people are just going to come at me all the time,” he added. “It’s just making them work. If I got to work, they’ve got to work.”