Phoenix Suns 108, Cleveland Cavaliers 83 — Putting the ‘O’ in Ohio


Marcin Gortat hot start set the tone for an easy Suns victory. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Marcin Gortat scored the first 10 points of the game and Markieff Morris had a career-high 22 points as the Phoenix Suns dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-83 Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena. The Suns matched their season high margin of victory and shot 52 percent from the field as they finished their Eastern Conference road trip at 2-2.

Phoenix’s other 25-point win came back on Jan. 6 against Portland. Just like in that matchup, Phoenix jumped out to a big lead early against the Cavs and never looked back. Gortat scored the first five baskets of the game, four of them without a Cavalier anywhere in his vicinity. After a pair of Grant Hill free throws, the Suns led 12-0. That lead would shrink to 33-31 with eight minutes left in the second quarter before the Suns went on a 26-7 run leading into halftime.

Gortat had 22 points overall to go along with eight rebounds. Most of his points came from wide open rolls down the lane. From the outset, Cleveland was determined to double team the ball handler on every ball screen. This strategy, on its own, wasn’t a bad decision, but Cleveland’s other defenders rotated too slowly or forgot to rotate at all. This left Gortat free to dive toward the rim after setting his pick. He caught passes over the top from the original ball handler or from the wing after the ball had been swung out of the double team. He scored or earned free throws almost every time.

Cleveland’s television commentators, calling the game for NBA TV, chastised the Cavs throughout the entire game for this defensive failure even as Gortat was sitting on the bench with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter. It was certainly not Gortat’s finest game this season as he fumbled several entry passes and was pushed off the block by Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson on a few possessions.

What was on impressive display, however, was Gortat’s athleticism. His ability to catch passes from the perimeter and score without dribbling is one of the skills that sets him apart as a center in the league. The thing that has also impressed me about Marcin is his resiliency. After playing one of his worst games of the season against former teammate Dwight Howard and the Magic, Marcin has scored 45 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the last two games. His ability to bounce back is one of the biggest reasons the Suns won the final two games of this road trip and are above .500 once again.

When Gortat was on the bench, it was the Markieff Morris show. Markieff’s career high came on 9-for-12 shooting. Having been in a funk with his jumper over the last few games, Morris took the ball to the basket early and often using his athleticism and strength to score against the against the Cavaliers’ front line. Once he established his inside game, Markieff found himself with lots of airspace beyond the arc, where he connected on two of his three attempts. Matched up primarily against Cleveland’s second unit, Morris looked nearly unstoppable in the second and fourth quarters. Moving forward, Morris should definitely attempt to utilize this approach more often. He is a strong presence in the paint, and the more he decides to let his post play and dribble penetration set up his outside shot, the more successful he and the Suns will be.

Overall, Phoenix scored 50 points in the paint — one of their more dominating performances of the season. They also dished out 31 assists and turned the ball over only 11 times. The Cavs defense was in complete disarray and had no answer for Gortat, Morris, and Channing Frye. One of the most telling aspects of Cleveland’s defensive issues was the number of possessions where Kyrie Irving ended up guarding Gortat or Frye. Switching screens and rotating quickly are keys to playing defense in the NBA, and it’s clear the Cavs still have some work to do in these areas.

As the Cavaliers scrambled to rotate to Suns in the paint after their big first half, Phoenix got hot from the perimeter and began to knock down jump shots. The Suns hit eight jumpers in the third quarter alone for 19 of their 26 points in the period. Those jump shots more than Phoenix’s first half domination in the paint are what appeared to break the Cavaliers spirit and ensure the Suns’ starters wouldn’t be needed for the fourth quarter.

The reserve unit of Robin Lopez, Markieff Morris, Michael Redd, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair played nearly the entire fourth quarter together — providing the starters with some much needed rest after four straight games on the road. The bench scored exactly half of Phoenix’s total points. Partly this is due to the extended minutes they played, but mostly this can be attributed to their improved cohesion as a unit. As the Suns make a playoff push with 17 games left in the year, the reserves seem to have firmly established their roles and are playing exceptionally well.

This particular performance having come against a lottery bound team from the East begs caution before making assumptions about the remainder of the season, but if the Suns can get this level of intensity and efficiency on both ends of the floor from their bench the rest of the way, they have just as good a shot as anyone to grab the eighth and final playoff spot.

Defensively, the Suns played as well in this game as they have all year. They held the Cavs to 38 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. Phoenix came up with 11 steals and forced 22 turnovers. The Suns ran off of those turnovers, getting 17 fast-break points and providing several flashbacks to the SSOL era. The Suns challenged shooters and got into passing lanes. They frustrated the Cleveland offense for the entire 48 minutes.

The only non-stellar features of Phoenix’s defensive performance were the 13 offensive rebounds given up and Kyrie Irving’s constant penetration. With Grant Hill occupied elsewhere, Steve Nash needed a consistent double team to help him stay in front of Irving. Kyrie was impressive in his ability to split that double and get to the rim. There is little doubt that Kyrie Irving is one of the quickest players with the ball in his hands in the NBA.

Coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com, “We did a good job on Kyrie. The guy ends up with 16 (points), six (rebounds) and four assists and we talk about what a good job we did on him. That’s a testament to the kind of player that he is because that is doing a good job on him.”

The only other Cleveland performance of note was that of new Cavalier and former Arizona Wildcat Luke Walton, who hit three of his four shots in his first extended minutes with the team.

This win is meaningful for the Suns. “We owed it to ourselves to have a better performance,” Steve Nash told Suns.com. “(Cleveland) got us at home. We’ve clawed back into the playoff picture and we had to try and get one here.” Nash had only four points, but dished out 13 assists in just 29 minutes.

Phoenix is back above .500 after dropping two games to Eastern Conference powerhouses Miami and Orlando. Though their schedule will only get harder from here, the Suns should carry the confidence gained from this decisive victory back to Phoenix and use it as a foundation for a strong finish to the season.

Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Marcin Gortat Markieff Morris Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap

  • Brian C.

    Got a good win b/c they did it the way they were supposed to against a weak team. I bashed Gortat the other day after the Orlando game and I think he has come back with more focus…however he still needs to perform with more strength around the basket and hit his free throws. I’m GLAD that he admitted in an article that he should have had 30 if he “executed better.” YEAH YOU SHOULD HAVE!! That could be the difference in a game against a good team in the future. Also, Redd and Lopez need to produce a little bit more and I was disappointed that they didn’t perform as well today. Morris just shocked everyone but let’s just wait to see if that becomes consistent play or if it was just a one time thing against a demoralized team. FINALLY, is G-HILL OKAY?? Hopefully he’s able to recover and continue his hot play. Get well soon G-HILL cuz we need yo a$$!! Let’s get that BIG WIN STREAK and capture that 4th seed at least! LET’S GO!!!

  • Scott

    Something seemed wrong behind the scenes with Lopez. Either he got mentally derailed because he didn’t get any touches early, or he was having some sort of dispute with Telfair.

    It seems plain to me, you give Lopez a real opportunity to score early on and he stays awake and involved, but if you don’t send the ball his way, or only pass it to him when he’s 14-20 feet away, then he starts to disengage.

    That may be less than ideal or immature behavior, but it’s also a PG’s job to try to keep everyone happy and productive on offense.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    Nothing went wrong with Lopez. They were just messin’ around since it was a blow out. Telfair & Lopez like each other.

    I was listening to Cav’s commentators watching the game, even they know that Nash leads everything that the offense the Suns execute. They know so much about the value of Steve, and that coming from a Cav’s commentator. It’s too bad that those who have been watch Nash for years are still dumb thinkin’ that you can trade Nash away like that, even for the likes of Westbrook, well…that’s unless you’re A-Rock. What an a$$.

  • PennyAnd1

    Gortat! Keep it up like that every game! Focus! Nice game!

  • steve

    Let’s try to keep the infantile name-calling out of this thread, guys. I know you want to respond to that cheap shot A-Rock, but you don’t need to.

    I’d like to see an update on Grant whenever possible. I hope this isn’t the case, but what I saw didn’t look good at all. When I see guys tweak a knee with no contact, it typically means they’re going to be spending some time in street clothes. The Suns have been EXTREMELY healthy this year, and this would be an awful time to lose such an integral part of the team.

    Also, as far as the value of Nash… I don’t think any Suns fan would say that there are more than a handful of players in the NBA who could provide more value to this team immediately than Steve Nash can. Anyone who knows anything about advanced stats can tell you what everyone else who judges with their eyes can see… Steve Nash impacts the game as much as anyone else in the NBA by making everyone around him better.

    All of his adjusted numbers are astronomical, and they suggest that if you put 4 average players on a team with Steve Nash, that combination would be as good or better than any other player in the NBA with four other average players. They crunched some numbers and mentioned this at the Sloan conference a few weeks ago.

    The thought behind trading Nash was kind of two-fold, from my perspective:

    1. The Suns have never been able to get over the hump because they can’t get stops when they need them most, and Steve Nash perpetuates that problem.
    2. Within the next two or three years at the longest, Steve Nash is going to be gone anyway. We might as well get something for him.

    I fall in camp #1. I do recognize the value of Steve Nash. He’s a fantastic player, and I’ve tried to emulate his game as much as possible in my own rec-league endeavors, but his major flaw is quite possibly the worst flaw to have in basketball.

    Anyway, great win. It’s always nice to blow someone out on their court.

  • Tony

    @PennyAnd1

    I couldn’t agree more with Nash’s value to the Suns. It’s not just his on the court skills, but his leadership and uncanny ability to make others around him better players is what is truly remarkable. I hope he starts getting a little credit for his improved defense this past season as well. I know he’s not a solid defender but he’s not an atrocious defender like most make him out to be.

    Anyway, great win for the Suns against the Cavs. They played with intensity and focus the entire 48 minutes, something I’ve only seen them do a couple times this season. So after a bad start to their roadtrip, the Suns finished strong and are poised to beat the Spurs next.

  • Scott

    @Penny -

    Everyone has been talking that way about Steve since about the 2nd year he played under D’Antoni. Probably the most common phrase is “head of the snake,” which I think came from Popovich.

  • grover

    This is going to be a fun playoff race to watch with only 4 games separating 11th place and 4th place in the West. The good news for the Suns is Utah’s loss to Atlanta last night. Not only was it a loss, it was a four overtime game on the first night of a back to back on the road and 3 games in 4 nights on the road.

    I like the improvement we’ve seen in Telfair of late. I’m not saying he’s a great backup, but he’s a much better backup PG than he was in Janurary. At $1 or $1.5 mill a year, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Suns re-signing him for next year as long as they’re using that cap space to do something good or Telfair is the 3rd string PG.

    I hope Hill isnt injured. He’s critical to the Suns success – probably second only to Nash in terms of a requirement for a good playoff push. His defensive contribution is obvious, but his leadership is important as well. He talks a lot on the floor and you can tell the other players key on Nash and Hill for guidance.

  • steve

    I’ve also been very impressed with Telfair of late. Almost all of his top performances this season have come in February and March, which tells me he’s beginning to understand the system, his role, and his teammates’ roles. I still don’t think he’s a good backup or even a backup the Suns should look to keep moving forward, but at least I don’t cringe every time I see him enter the game any more.

  • Scott

    @steve -

    I’m a little worried about Telfair. He played poorly enough in the first half of the year that it was unlikely he’d be brought back for next year. But now he’s playing just well enough to be kept.

    Will this keep the Suns from looking for a better solution at backup PG?

    I don’t think Telfair has been playing as well as Dragic.

  • A-ROCK

    @penny you better be glad my comments didn’t go through.

    About trading nash for westbrook do you know what this means (…………..) in a paragraph? Don’t put words in my mouth assuming stuff A$$ hole!

  • Grover

    Agree Dragic is much better and also that Telfair is hardly my ideal backup PG. My point is Telfair is playing better of late, and if his very cap friendly salary allowed the Suns room to pursue some sexy free agents, we could do worse than Telfair. Obviously I’d prefer both sexy free agents and an upgrade at backup PG, but there are financial realities to consider.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Steve

    Trying to get something out of Nash? Would you even feel right about that? If you meant that you would have Nash go to a contender that’s alright with me, but to get something in return for him? That’s exactly what I’m talking about, there is no honor & respect in this game today. I’m old school so that pisses me off. Having Nash retire as a Suns is the 2nd best thing for this organization to do with the 1st winning that championship.

    @Tony

    I agree with you about Nash defense, it’s great! Even for an old man.

    @A-Rock

    Get over it. You know you got it wrong.

  • steve

    @PennyAnd1

    I did mention that’s not the camp I’m in, HOWEVER, how is there “no honor” in trading an asset in a league that permits it when all parties involved know and agree upon the regulations?

    Steve Nash signed his contract, agreeing to the price in it and its terms, including the fact that he can be traded. Steve Nash knew what he was getting into. It’s not dishonorable to seek your best interest within the laws/codes/ordinances/morals/etc you are under. It’s not a matter of “being old school” to say that trading him would be dishonorable and disrespectful. I’d say that’s more a matter of being stubborn (with perhaps a dash of ignorance).

  • PennyAnd1

    @Steve

    Trading him to a contender is fine with me as long as he agrees, trading him for assets to a non-contender team is not. Being old school means doing the right thing.. Stubborn is not the word I’m feelin, it’s more about pride. You have to have pride about your organization.

    To me, Pippen, Malone, etc….retiring in another team doesn’t seem right. Stockton, Reggie Miller, etc retiring in their team does. Did Jazz ever get better or Bulls ever get better when their respective franchise player left their organization? Nope. But it was fine cause they wanted to leave. Nash however doesn’t want to leave. And as long as he is being productive, I don’t think we should ever consider about trading him. Maybe if he shows a decline in his game, maybe then it’s okay to think about trading him. But if he still good? Why bother trading him? It don’t make sense?

  • grover

    Damn. Utah, Houston, and Denver all won tonight. They are not going to just roll over and let the Sun walk in to the playoffs unfortunately.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Grover

    What I noticed about those team is that they have been getting lucky. Winning from buzzer beaters, to coming back from behind, to a lucky shot… it pisses me off.

  • steve

    That’s understandable. I don’t think the Suns would ever send Steve to Milwaukee just because they offered up Brandon Jennings and two first-rounders. And I also don’t think any Suns fans would have suggested that either. I think the FO is going to do the “right” (by right, I mean “most popular”) thing in this instance by offering Nash a better contract than anyone else will be willing to give him. It Steve Nash isn’t a Sun next year, the public perception will be that it was Steve’s choice, and not simply a result of the organization failing to offer him an adequate contract (as has been the perception with Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire).