Phoenix Suns 91, Cleveland Cavaliers 78 — Late knockout punch


Hand an NBA team an opponent that’s shooting below 30 percent, turning the ball over at a high rate and without its best player, and most teams would make due.

The Phoenix Suns didn’t look like that was enough of a gift during the first half of their 91-78 victory in Cleveland on Tuesday, but they finally made the needed knockout punch to roll past the woeful, Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers.

Goran Dragic overcame four first-half turnovers to finish with 19 points on just 11 shots attempted, and a third-quarter run sparked by Jared Dudley, Jermaine O’Neal and Luis Scola gave Phoenix the double-digit lead that a tired Cavaliers team couldn’t counter.

Phoenix’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 38-17 on the night, and about the only thing the Cavs had going for them was a valiant performance by center Anderson Varejao, who scored 20 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

In the third quarter, Varejao scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting as Marcin Gortat struggled to close out on the center’s jump shots. But after finding themselves behind 59-57, the Suns went on a 14-0 run in the final three minutes of the third quarter to lead 71-59.

They didn’t look back. Dragic hit back-to-back three-pointers with less than five minutes to play, and a Scola free throw — one of his eight points in the final quarter — gave Phoenix its largest lead of 21 with three minutes left in the game.

At the jump, the Suns wanted to ignite the erratic flame of a player that is Michael Beasley.

Knowing that building upon Beasley’s 21-point outing on Sunday was of much importance, the Suns were clearly pressing to get his confidence high early on. He shot four times in the first three minutes of the game and scored on a three-pointer and a dunk. From then on, Beasley looked engaged throughout — that, perhaps is his biggest problem — and finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

The Cavaliers didn’t get a point in the paint until seven minutes were left in the first half, but it didn’t mean the Suns were taking advantage of their position — not by a longshot. Despite holding Cleveland to 25 percent shooting in the first quarter and 27.3 percent in the first half, Phoenix only led by as many as 11 on a Dudley fast-break dunk layup.

Phoenix only led 37-32 at the half despite shooting 45.5 percent from the floor as the two teams combined for 23 turnovers. Cleveland stayed in the game with 12 offensive rebounds to the Suns’ single second opportunity. In correlation, the Cavs had 11 more shot attempts at the half.

The Suns did better in the second half and gave up just two offensive boards the rest of the way. Cleveland finished the night shooting 35.7 percent from the floor, not good enough despite the rebounding efforts to keep pace with the Suns’ 46.8 percent field goal shooting.

For all the good across the Suns’ roster, Gortat’s performance was the one glaring eyesore. His failure to close out on Varejao’s jump shots allowed the Cleveland center to hit 10-of-15 shots from the floor, eight of which came from at least 10 feet from the basket. Along with three rebounds, Gortat finished with six points on 3-of-7 shooting in 24 minutes.

O’Neal’s play off the bench was also a reason Gortat didn’t return after leaving right before Phoenix’s 14-0 run. The veteran scored nine points, had six rebounds and cut off Varejao’s hot night. He also got in the face of Cleveland rookie Tyler Zeller — the younger brother of the Suns’ Luke Zeller — earning a technical foul in the process.

Overall, the first half was another frightening realization that the Suns often take a lackadaisical approach in moments when they should be taking advantage of a struggling opponent. And in the end, Phoenix finally made the push it needed to avoid the upset, one good enough to give Alvin Gentry’s 1A and 1B rotation decent rest at the beginning of a long road trip.

  • David

    What’s with the negativity in the last paragraph? We won by a large margin, you can’t expect a team to be up 30 at half in the nba just cause the cavs are struggling.

  • john

    And you also can’t expect a team to go into the half with a lead when they only scored 37 points in the first two quarters.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    No, you don’t expect them to be up 30 points at the half. The Cavs are a bad team and they were playing awfully, yet the Suns didn’t take the opportunity.

    Call it playing down to the level of the opponent, something this team will likely do for the rest of this year.

  • Fan in Chi Town

    Sad to say, Mr. Zimmerman, but the suns aren’t much better than the Cavaliers, and if Irving is playing, they probably are worse than them. We are the opponent that good teams might play down to.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    Yeah, not to say the Suns are much better…

  • DBreezy

    It’s a W, take it, but I don’t think Zimmerman said anything that was off. The Cavs were missing the best player, a key reserve who could back that player up, and were in the 2nd game of a tough away/home back to back. Yet the Suns struggled for awhile to put this one away. It is what it is from a coach/player standpoint, more to take in from a front office standpoint.

  • shazam

    the suns will beat the heat in the finals 4-2

  • Keith

    We are a lot better than the Cavs with or without Irving. They’re headed for a top 5 pick, possibly top 3 due to his injury and we’re going to be in the 10-15 range being a fringe West playoff team. That’s a big difference. We’re likely to win twice as many as them this season. The game was okay, but yeah, we should have won by more.

  • David

    Not trying to offend anyone, just saying I think the game should be judged as a whole, and not off their sluggish first half. The suns won pretty handily (like they should), it’s not like they stole this game.

  • Scott

    I thought the Suns in the first half were playing down to the level of the opposition. They took it a touch easier than they should have, they moved a half-step slower, and they kept a small lead.

    I’m glad that it didn’t bite them in the end.

  • cdubb

    Gortat is not getting it done He is not the player I thought he was, maybe he just isn’t very smart but when someone is dropping wetters in your face every possession you DONT GIVE THEM SPACE! Gortat should be benched in favor of O’Neal. I’m not proposing taking away all his minutes, but just start O’Neal and keep his minutes right around the same… a message needs to be sent just like another player would deserve if his play is sub par. Gortat is not special and should not get special treatment, bench him and let him know if he ain’t performing he ain’t playing. Its happened to a degree in the 4th quarters, but it needs to be done from the start.

  • Luka

    @CDubb I think Gortat is on his way out of town. He’s privately lashed out at Gentry, and he rejected a contract extension by the front office. The Suns need to sell high, and get some solid young pieces for him. The Magic have been reportedly interested. The Suns could deal Gortat, and Marshall for Vucevic, and Afflalo. That gives the Suns the young talent they need.

  • Serek

    It’s disappoining that my boy Gortat didn’t show up for the game yet again, at the same time when even Beasley seems to be picking up his game. He should sign up for a training camp with Master Jermaine and study hard.

    I don’t know what’s sitting in his head, but this season he seems to only play well against rookies and any established center plays circles around him. If he didn’t contest Varejao’s jumpshots enough, I suspect Bargnani will get at least 10 treys on Friday.

  • David

    I wouldn’t mind trading Gortat for some good pieces judging by how well Jermaine is playing. They should at least listen if O’Neal is still playing healthy and strong around they all star break, and they are still a team fighting for the playoffs. If not, Jermaine really only has a year or two left and Suns would no longer have a center on the roster so it would be silly to give away a solid center like Gortat.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Kobe had a triple-double tonight….40 pts…10 rebs….10 turnovers….don’t look now but Suns & Lakers are tied in Pacific division at 7-8.
    Suppose they think Nash can save them when he returns….maybe 5-6 yrs ago but not now.

    I was wondering about Suns 1st round picks in upcoming 2013 draft and this is verbatim what RealGM says:

    “The Lakers will sent the least favorable of their own 1st round pick (top 14 protected), Cleveland’s own 2013 1st round pick, Sacramento’s own 2013 1st round pick (top 13 protected), and Miami’s 1st round pick to Phoenix. If the L.A. Lakers 1st round pick is in the top 14 selections , Phoenix will automatically receive the Lakers 1st round pick.”
    Very confusing….especially the last sentence.

    Also, Suns receive TWolves 1st round pick (top 13 protected), however, if (big if) Minnesota is entitled to receive Memphis’ 1st round pick (top 14 protected in 2013 draft), then Minnesota shall convey the least favorable to Phoenix.
    A little easier to understand…basically Suns get Memphis 1st round pick as long as Memphis makes the playoffs….but not sure about this “if” Minnesota is entitled business.

    “Cleveland’s own 2013 1st round pick”…..seems simple but if you read the contingencies in the Lakers-Cavs deal it is even more confusing …..basically no way Suns get Cavs 1st round pick if it’s in the lottery.

    Not sure, but it seems the Suns have 4 1st round picks this year.

    Only lawyers could make things so complicated.

    DBreezy, could you use all your powers to translate ?

  • Michael

    To me it seems all picks will be fairly late 1st rounders, which is pretty crappy when we look at the latest Suns picks. They have not been able to pick wise with mid 1st rounders (Clark, Marshall, Kieff (ok, he´s not bad, but he´s not developed yet as they have hoped)), and the 2013 draft is not really crowded with superstar talent.

    Will we get any lottery pick out of these traded ones?

    DBreezy, it´s your turn to clarify all this. :)

  • suns68

    Why are people always dissing Markieff?

    I didn’t see last night’s game but in the other games since he moved into the starting unit, he’s played really well and shown some moves nobody knew he had.

    Due to last year’s short season, he’s essentially finishing up what would have been his rookie campaign (82 games) right now.

    He’s contributing and improving, which is exactly what we should be expecting from him at this point.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    was in phoenix for the nov 2 game vs. detroit. by the way, big ups to downtown phoenix. hotel was sick, game was great, and no waiting afterwards at the hardrock cafe. well done.

    what i saw in that game was gortat wanting the rock, a lot. when he got it he produced at a decent clip but there were a lot of times where the ball didn’t move to him when it should have. i’ve watched a lot of the games as i’ve been darting around the planet and i do notice that trend.

    lets not get into the fact that he played all summer for his national team and that he might be a bit worn down. he isn’t using that as an excuse so I won’t either.

    he seems to wear his true thoughts on his sleeve and is quick to share them with anybody that will listen. Now going back to the start of this past off-season there was a lot of talk about going to Gortat more with other leaders no longer on the team. He probably expected this.

    what he got instead was a lot of guys not making that extra pass, (that would end up with him in pretty good position to score), while at the same time on the defensive end he is naked left to watch his guy and the 2 or the 3 who zipped around his defender and is on the way to the hoop. I’d be a bit upset too.

    what has happened so far this season is not what was promised during the free agency period. an offense that was supposed to be designed to benefit Dragon’s strengths while shifting away from the Nash-version of the offense hasn’t really come about. instead there’s more of the same out there with the negative effect being there are guys on the floor who no longer make that extra pass.

    all if this is bad for THORTAT – he sees it and he talked about it in that interview.

    if he wants to go then get what you can for him.

  • DBreezy

    @Hawki,

    I’m at the airport trying to catch a flight so I’ll try to look at it later, but from what I recall the Suns will basically end up with Miami’s pick unless the Lakers finish in the lottery. Fat chance of that, in fact if it weren’t for people being concerned/curious about D’Antoni they’d be talking about this Lakers team a bit like the one where Shaq got injured early.

    Remember that’s the year that they looked like they might miss the playoffs through Dec-Jan before turning it on? It’s also a year that screwed the Suns a bit as I believe that’s the season that Stern changed the first round from 5 to 7 games midseason in a blatant attempt to help the Lakers who looked headed for a poor seed. The Spurs would have been under a lot more pressure vs the Marbury/Stat/Matrix Suns in the playoffs if it was a 5 game series.

  • DBreezy

    @Michael,

    Whether they’re lottery picks or not, the Suns front office needs to be able to find contributors with their picks. Outside of the Dudley comments, I didn’t see anything wrong with what Mayo reported about the Suns presentation this summer. But they have to hit on some of these picks.

    Scott is right when he says hindsight is 20/20 especially in the late lottery, but the fact remains that roster wise the Suns are at a point they can’t afford to miss. Those players either have to produce here or entice others in good trades for the Suns.

    Sarver has a tough call here IMO. He isn’t the most basketball saavy person, but he has to evalute this front office nonetheless. The draft scouting season is upon us and right now the people who made the recent draft decisions will make the ones in 2013. Hiring someone new in the offseason if you don’t trust Blanks doesn’t give that person much time to prepare. They’re basically left using the work of the previous admins scouts which can lead to Alando Tucker or DJ Strawberry.

  • Voqar

    Well, somebody needs to give Gortat a reality check. He struggles against any remotely decent opponent, can’t finish layups, has an inconsistent jumper, and is inconsistent on defense. Yet somehow he think he thinks he needs to be featured in the offense. He’s delusional.

    He talks plenty but doesn’t back it up.

    O’Neal looks great but has injury history and you wouldn’t want him being your only real center so while I wouldn’t mind seeing Gortat’s big mouth dealt, it wouldn’t be good to lose a sometime decent quality center.

    IMO the suns play decent defense at times and you need that big guy anchoring or it all falls apart.

  • john

    My understanding of the Suns’ first round picks for 2013:

    The worst pick of the Lakers, Cavs, Kings, and Heat (read: Heat’s 2013 first rounder) unless the Lakers end up in the top 14 (not happening).

    Minnesota’s own pick if it’s not top-13 (not happening), or Memphis’ own pick if it’s not top-14 (happening).

    Their own

    I’m not sure where you read this thing about the Cavs pick for 2013. Maybe I’m missing something.

  • john

    By the way, why are we already thinking about the draft and spending so much time thinking about how to trade players away?

    The team is 8-8 despite having the worst scoring defense in the league. If they could even make slight adjustments to improve the defensive and offensive efficiencies, this team could easily end up in the playoffs as a 6-8. I know that’s not what some of you want, but I’d much rather go to USAirways to watch a decent team than one that doesn’t belong on the floor (and I’ll be at USAirways either way because I’m a real fan in the Phoenix area with a little bit of disposable income). Point is, this season is far from over.

  • john

    Sorry, *7-8.

    Also, I’m hoping Gortat doesn’t ruin his in-season value with his mood swing. He either needs to give the Suns some value on the court or show enough that he will be a big target for teams desperate for a big.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Here’s how the draft picks shake out. The Suns will get the worst out of the Lakers, Cavs, Kings and Heat 2013 selection, so in other words unless the Lakers go on a massive tear they will own the Miami pick. The Minny pick is top-13 protected, and Memphis also owes Minny a lottery protected first. If both picks convey, the Suns get the worse of the two. If the Memphis pick conveys but Minny’s doesn’t, it rolls over to the next year (best-case scenario to me). The Heat and Grizzlies have the two best records in the league right now, so if this were to stand and the Wolves don’t have a top-13 pick then the Suns could stand to be majorly screwed with two picks at the very bottom of the first round.

  • john

    @Michael,that’s great to hear that the Minnesota pick will roll over if Minnesota is top 13. I hadn’t picked that up before.

  • Dan Smith

    Yeah, the LA Kings did it in hockey as a huge underdog, why not? And they struggled all year being around .500 as well!

  • Scott

    Draft considerations are a year-round thing. We discussed this more in-depth back in the summer when the Suns were announcing their rebuilding status and collecting picks.

    If I have this right, since – due to injuries and all – Minnesota is likely to be drafting in the lottery, the Suns will have their own pick (probably late lottery) and a late first rounder from the Lakers/Heat, plus the Suns’ own 2nd round pick.

    There will be talent in the late first round, and even in the 2nd round. The question is: will the Suns find and draft this talent?

    As always, I recommend taking players with IQ, defense, and motor above all else, as I figure they’ll have the drive and smarts to get it done.

    There may also be players to acquire who aren’t in the draft, but have been playing in Europe, like SGs David Lighty and Zoran Dragic.

    And don’t forget … the Suns could still use their picks as part of a trade for a current NBA star.

    Looking at the current roster, I think it is likely the following players will not be around for the coming season: Scola, O’Neal, and Telfair. (I think O’Neal might come back to the Suns, but only if no contending team is interested in picking him up.)

    I could see Scola getting traded for future picks.

    Gortat is likely to be traded mid-season. I’m not saying it’s for sure, or that he’s playing poorly, or he needs to be traded because of comments he made, just that if there’s a suitable offer for him I could see the Suns bite on it.

    Dudley and/or Brown might end up added into a Gortat trade.

    Hopefully the Suns will have seen enough out of Tucker, Johnson, Marshall, Garrett, and Zeller to have made decisions about who to keep.

    If I was to guess, I’d say that Johnson would be out, and Marshall, Garrett, Tucker, and possibly Zeller would remain.

    If Johnson, Telfair, and Scola are gone, with no players in return, that would leave 3 openings in the summer for 3 Suns draft picks.

    The 2013 draft, at the moment, looks like it has a few centers toward the top of the draft, and after that a LOT of guards.

    I could see the Suns picking a SG and a PF, assuming they don’t need a C. Considering where they’re likely to be picking, they might take C Gorgui Dieng or SG Michael Carter-Williams with their own pick, and PF Patric Young with the Lakers/Heat pick. In the 2nd round, the Suns could take SF Deshaun Thomas (though I suspect he’ll be moving into the first round) or SF Oleksandr Lypovyy (just to have a player jersey with 3 Y’s in the name).

  • bill.thomas

    Wow, our point guards collectively had 2 assists in the entire first half.

    What is wrong with this offense and when will someone wake up and smell the coffee ??

    We’re getting hurt from 3 point range yet again.

    Can we have both Brown and a point guard on the floor with Detroit playing 3 forwards and a center??

    Again we’re down double digits and no one played heavy minutes last night, so they should not be so tired.

  • bill.thomas

    Maybe brown has to be on the floor, he’s one of the few
    rebounding.

    Still Brandon Knight alone has twice as many
    assists at 2 minutes into the 2nd half as both our point guards combined.

    What in creation is going on here and do we ever, ever make in game adjustments ?????

  • Dudotski

    Same old suns, best of intentions but poor in execution. I just dont get it coz I still love PHX :-)