PHOENIX — Entering the season, many expected the Phoenix Suns to struggle for a variety of reasons, including defensive rebounding, a weak bench, a lack of a go-to scorer and the inconsistency of Michael Beasley.
It took just one game for all of these issues to result in a Suns loss, as Wednesday’s 87-85 season-opening defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors showcased many of Phoenix’s shortcomings.
First and foremost, the Suns failed to make a field goal after Luis Scola banked in a nine-footer with 1:43 remaining to put Phoenix on top by one.
Scola followed a Carl Landry dunk with a missed jumper, and after Landry hit a ‘J’ of his own to stretch the lead to three, Jared Dudley bricked a wide-open three at the top of the key.
“Myself, I had multiple chances to knock it down to tie, take the lead,” Dudley said, “Those are shots that we’ll make throughout the season but obviously it hurts now, losing that game, because it’s just one or two possessions.”
After Brandon Rush missed a trey with 10 seconds left, Golden State fouled Dragic rather than allow Phoenix to attempt another game-tying triple and he split the pair. That appeared to be the game when the Suns sent Stephen Curry — a 90 percent career foul shooter — to the line to seal it, yet Curry continued his horrific evening by somehow missing both foul shots to give the Suns new life with 4.4 seconds left.
Goran Dragic charged into the frontcourt with a full head of steam for a potential game-winning attempt, yet he inexplicably passed to Sebastian Telfair as time ran out before he could even hoist up a last-gasp shot from well beyond the arc.
“I tried to shoot the ball, but there were three guys on me so I passed to Bassy but it was too late,” Dragic said. “Before we had three, four open looks, the shots didn’t go in and then they scored.”
The Suns were only in this position because of fantastic games from Dragic – who filled the box score with 17 points, eight assists and six boards – and Luis Scola, who went for 15 points and 11 boards in his Suns debut.
Phoenix yielding 17 offensive rebounds was nothing new, and the preseason bench concerns became a reality in the first half, as the Warriors stormed out on a 17-4 run to open the second quarter with the bulk of the damage coming against the Suns’ reserves (along with Beasley to begin the period).
The Warriors led by 17 at that point, yet with three minutes left to go in the third the starters managed to battle all the way back to take the lead. The bench pushed that advantage all the way up to eight about three minutes into the fourth, but the game was back to even by the time Gentry brought all his starters back with five minutes remaining in the contest.
The Suns were a shot away from winning anyway despite getting practically nothing from Michael Beasley, a player Gentry said he hopes becomes “the man” on this team earlier in the evening.
On this night, he spent more time cheering on P.J. Tucker than on the court, as he finished with just eight points on 2-for-9 shooting in 22:08. On one particularly rough sequence late in the third after the Suns had regained the lead, Beasley grabbed a board, dribbled down the court and missed a jump shot before getting his own rebound and immediately firing up another brick. We know the Suns don’t want him to pass up any potential good shot, but it would be a stretch to describe both attempts like that.
Before the game, Gentry said the Suns are asking Beasley to do things no team ever has before and added, “The star players in this league are pretty consistent in what they do. They’re pretty consistent night in and night out in what they’re doing. That’s where we hope that we can get Michael to where we can pencil in pretty much what we expect from him, and on a good night know that that’s going to go up. That’s where we have to try to get him to.”
Tonight shows they have a ways to go on that count.
Beasley did not even play in the fourth quarter because Gentry so adored what Tucker — who last played in the NBA in 2007 — brought to the court. Tucker played his heart out by hustling all over the floor, locking up Klay Thompson at times (6-for-16 overall) and scoring 10 points to go with two rebounds, a steal and a block in the fourth quarter alone.
“I just thought P.J. Tucker was going pretty good,” Gentry said about why he left him in. “We’ve always been that way here, and we’ll continue when guys are going good they’re still in the game. … I thought that he just did a good job and was giving us the presence that we needed.”
Added Tucker, “Coach knows I’m going to play hard. At the end of the day, that’s what I do. I’m going to go in, push the ball up and make the right play. I appreciate it. I just go out there and put it all out.”
In many ways, Tucker and Beasley could not be more different. Tucker has not even played basketball in this country since Beasley was in high school (and the top high schooler in his class to boot). Beasley’s the player with all the offensive skills and athleticism, yet Tucker was the player pouring in 10 fourth-quarter points, including six in a row at one point.
Beasley is all talent and Tucker is all work. And you know what they say about what wins out when talent doesn’t work hard.
Beasley can put up 29 points in his sleep as he seemed to do in the Suns’ preseason finale, yet Tucker felt good just playing basketball in this country again.
I asked Tucker what his role on this team will be and he replied, “Exactly what I did today, playing hard, being in when they need me, staying tough, hard-nosed.”
If only Beasley could be a little more like that, some of the Suns’ most important problems would disappear.
Overall Gentry lauded the Suns’ “great defense” for limiting the usually high-scoring Warriors to 87 points on 38.4 percent shooting. Aside from Thompson’s 6-for-16, Curry and David Lee combined to shoot a pitiful 4-for-30 in the worst shooting game of Lee’s career.
For the Suns to still lose despite locking up the Warriors’ stars does not bode well for the rest of the season even though Gentry chose to focus on the positives.
“Am I disappointed? Yeah,” Gentry said. “Do I think there were a lot of good things? Yes, I do. Do I think we’ll get better? Yeah. I think we’ll get much better.”
Suns decline Johnson’s 2013-14 option
As expected, the Suns did not exercise Wes Johnson’s $5.4 million option for 2013-14, and thus he will become a free agent at the end of the season.
This news was somewhat of a foregone conclusion given that the decision needed to be made before his first game with the team, the fact that he’s not worth that much money and the fact that the Suns need to save as many salary shekels as possible to make another run at a max free agent.
Johnson did not play by coach’s decision tonight, and the fact that Tucker logged so many minutes instead of him does not bode well for how the team views him. He will get his opportunities without a doubt, but the days of Johnson being given anything for being the No. 4 overall pick are over.
- Gentry: “When you guys talk about us I would like for everyone to say, ‘Man, they play really hard and they compete like crazy.’” Shocking that a coach with an expiring contract would want something like this.
- Marcin Gortat blocked four shots in the third quarter alone, two shy of a franchise record for a period.
- The Suns were a minus 15 in Shannon Brown’s 16 minutes; he shot 2-for-8. Dudley by contrast led the team in plus/minus with a plus 13 in 35 minutes. Beasley was the only starter in the negatives with a minus six.
- I joined NPR Phoenix on Wednesday to preview the Suns’ season. Listen to the segment here.