It wasn’t pretty down the stretch, but the Phoenix Suns held on by the score of 117-110 to earn a much-needed win against the Charlotte Bobcats and salvage what had been a disastrous Southeast road trip.
Marcin Gortat and Michael Beasley both flirted with triple-doubles, and Shannon Brown hit all six of his three-point attempts in the fourth quarter to lead the Suns to victory.
After holding their first two opponents to less than 90 points, the Suns hit the road and left their defense behind. They allowed 115 and 124 points to Orlando and Miami, respectively, in the first two games of this three-game trip. The defense was no better tonight in Charlotte, but the Suns shot a season’s best 46 percent from the floor and had six different players in double figures. At this point in the season, the Suns need any win they can get no matter how ugly it might be.
The offense was really clicking in the first quarter as Phoenix raced out to 31-22 lead. Marcin Gortat was locked-in and agile around the hoop on both ends. He had nine points and two blocks after 12 minutes and finished with 23 points, 10 boards, and seven blocks.
Michael Beasley also looked good early. Beas was intent on scoring inside via penetration and post-ups instead of settling for his jump shot, and he finished with 21 points, 15 boards, and seven assists. Goran Dragic looked like he was on his way to a big night as well by scoring eight points and handing out three assists in the first, but foul trouble forced him to sit for nearly eight minutes of the second quarter.
Dragic being sidelined combined along with Jermaine O’Neal’s continued absence put the Suns’ rotation into disarray. Coach Alvin Gentry was forced to play Gortat extra minutes and use Luis Scola at the five spot to get Marcin rest. This discombobulation allowed Charlotte back into the game, as the Bobcats cut the Suns’ lead to five points in the second.
The Suns fired back as Jared Dudley hit a three in transition and followed it up with a short jumper from the elbow. It seemed, for a moment, as if Dudley had found his shooting groove, but he made only two more shots the rest of the night and thus his cold streak continues. It looks to me like Jared is thinking too much when he’s on the court and that in turn is making him tentative. Last season, Dudley was at his best when he was the energy guy — a player the rest of the team could feed off of. He didn’t hesitate to shoot open threes, even if they were in transition, and he penetrated with a purpose. He is not doing any of that this year. Though Jared is the locker room leader, that doesn’t mean he can’t play with the free-wheeling style he did last year.
The third quarter was a period of furious runs by both teams. First the Bobcats reeled off 12 straight unanswered points to cut the lead to four. Spurring Charlotte on was the outside shooting of 7-footer Byron “B.J.” Mullens. The former Ohio State player hit four treys in the third quarter and 6-of-10 for the game. Most of his makes came against Luis Scola, who refused to honor Mullens’ shot and sagged off in help defense repeatedly. Michael Beasley stemmed the flood by hitting two successive shots, which started the Suns on a 14-2 run of their own. Charlotte then closed out the quarter on a 16-5 tear that cut the lead back down to four points heading into the final period.
Charlotte’s momentum continued into the fourth as they tied the game at 85, but the Bobcats were never able to grab the lead thanks to Shannon Brown. I didn’t watch the game in HD, so I can’t be sure, but Brown may have been engulfed in actual flames NBA Jam-style in the fourth quarter. He was that hot from beyond the arc. It didn’t matter if the shot clock was dying or a Bobcat defender had a hand in his face, Shannon could not miss. His six threes were the only reason the Suns didn’t squander this win. Charlotte had all the momentum, and their crowd, which had been silent all game, had finally started making noise. Brown squashed any hope of a comeback.
While Brown’s shooting was very impressive and very clutch, the Suns should not have needed those shots to maintain their lead. Phoenix should have won this game by 20 or 30 points, but shoddy defense prevented them from putting the game away. The Suns’ defensive plan was very clear from the outset: 1) Don’t respect Charlotte’s outside shooting. 2) Pack the defense in inside the arc.
On paper, this seems like a solid plan. No one in the Bobcats’ backcourt is a great jumpshooter. Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jeffrey Taylor are athletic slashers, not shooters. So the Suns played five feet off of everyone and never ventured beyond the arc to defend. This approach proved to be problematic for two reasons.
First, it allowed B.J. Mullens to score 24 points on the night. His shooting brought Charlotte storming back into the game in the third quarter when Phoenix should have been putting them away. Second, it allowed the Bobcats’ guards to penetrate freely into the key. Playing five feet off Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker only allows them to get into the key with a head of steam. On one hand, their constant penetration allowed Marcin Gortat to rack up a career high in blocks, adding to his NBA-leading total. On the other it put Dragic and Gortat in foul trouble at unfortunate times in the game and put Charlotte on the line way too much.
Sessions should never shoot 14 free throws in an NBA game, but he did in this one, as he and Kemba Walker went 17-of-20 at the line. The Suns made no adjustments over the course of the game. They really had no one other than Dragic who could stay in front of anyone consistently, and Goran only played 33 minutes.
Another glaring defensive issue was transition defense. The box score says the Suns only gave up 15 fast-break points, but that figure doesn’t account for layups off made baskets. There’s no excuse for getting beat down the floor after scoring a bucket. Charlotte used its speed to do just that several times and keep themselves in the game. Their inability to get back on ‘D’ nearly cost the Suns a win.
When asked about blowing another big lead, Gentry told Paul Coro “We did this a few days ago and ended [up] losing the game, actually getting blown out. We rectified the situation so hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.”
The last thing worth discussing is how Gentry handled the rotation. Beasley played 43 minutes and was too winded to make a shot down the stretch. After shooting 50 percent in the first half, Michael finished 7-of-21 from the field, shooting mostly jumpers in the second half. Beasley’s jumper is inconsistent because he doesn’t always have his feet underneath him. Sometimes he’s leaning way too far forward. Sometimes he fades back as he releases. There simply too much variability in his motion right now.
He needs to be more consistent in his mechanics if he wants to have any hope of shooting a higher percentage moving forward. I thought the Suns would have been better served by having Scola on the floor instead of Beasley for some of those minutes. Scola didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t in foul trouble and was productive earlier in the game. The Suns played the first half of the fourth with the lineup of Brown, Telfair, Tucker, Beasley, and Morris.
That group had no creativity on the offensive end and no focus on defense. The only reason they didn’t choke the game away was Brown’s clutch shooting. It seemed as though Gentry wanted to see how that group would play with the game on the line. He held off bringing Gortat and Dragic back in until 5:20 left in the game. I think he knew once Gortat and Dragic came back in, Phoenix would pull it out, but that didn’t stop the final period from being unnecessarily close down to the final minute.
In the end, the Suns got the win and that’s all that matters. They don’t give points for pretty in the NBA.
- Scola, Gortat, and Beasley are developing some great passing chemistry with one another. They combined for 14 assists between the three of them. Both Scola and Beasley hit Gortat with fake shot-jump passes that completely froze the defense and led to uncontested layups.
- Goran Dragic is sixth in the NBA in assists with 8.8 per game.
- Marcin Gortat continues to lead the league in blocks with 4.2 per game and is currently fifth in rebounds with 11.8 per game.