There is no other way to put it. The Suns played their worst game of the season tonight in Detroit. They were absolutely crushed by the Pistons, 117-77.
Phoenix is now 0-4 on the year in the second game of back-to-backs. The Suns looked exhausted and disinterested from the start of this one, and they let this game get completely out of hand.
The Suns certainly have their fair share of excuses to make. Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley both picked up two fouls in the first quarter. The referees whistled the Suns for four technical fouls in the third quarter. The Pistons shot 52 percent from the field and 75 percent from beyond the arc. These are all valid points, but none of them justify the outcome of this game.
There are three reasons the Suns got blown out. First, Phoenix had no ball movement whatsoever. The team isolated and attacked one-on-one all game long. Second, the Pistons are uniquely-suited to exploit the Suns’ biggest defensive weaknesses. And third, Phoenix completely quit down the stretch.
The Suns recorded a season-low 11 assists in this game. They struggled mightily on offense because of a complete lack of ball movement. The Nash-led Suns initiated their offense from the top of the key, allowing the ball to stay in Steve’s hands for most of the possession. This year’s team forces the ball to one side or the other almost immediately, taking the ball out of Dragic’s hands. This approach relies on off-the-ball movement to generate open shots.
That strategy is fine so long as the player with the ball on the wing or the high block can hit the open man. Tonight, the offense completely stagnated after the first pass time and time again. Dragic hit Gortat in the post or Beasley on the wing, and the ball would stay in their hands for 6-8 seconds before they even faced up and made themselves a threat. It doesn’t matter how adept the other four players on the court are at setting screens or moving to open areas if the man with the ball cannot or will not pass to them.
So the Suns settled for one-on-one play time and time again. Unsurprisingly, that led to 19 turnovers (including nine in the first quarter) and 34 percent shooting from the field. The Suns aren’t talented enough to beat teams one-on-one. They have to move the ball and make defenses work. That’s exactly what Detroit did to them tonight.
The Pistons are a great inside-outside team. The frontline of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Jason Maxiell is one of the most formidable in the NBA. They may not have the offensive prowess of Memphis or Utah, but they more than held their own against the Suns, scoring 24 points and grabbing 23 rebounds between them.
Detroit didn’t have to rely on its bigs to score because its perimeter attack was so effective. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey got to the rim at will all night long. They combined for 37 points and 18 free throw attempts. The Suns had no answer for Stuckey’s physicality or Knight’s quickness. The pick-and roll between Knight and Monroe was particularly nightmarish for Phoenix. Knight’s quickness consistently forced a hard show by Gortat or Scola, which allowed him to draw contact or hit a wide-open Monroe, who can score in a variety of ways.
Strong, aggressive big men and quick, attacking guards are both Kryptonite for the Suns. Detroit gave them a double dose in this game. The constant penetration got the Suns into lots of foul trouble. It also forced Phoenix’s frontcourt guys to leave their men to help out. That in turn led to lots of dunks and layups for Detroit’s bigs. The Suns are too slow to defend on the perimeter and not athletic enough to defend in the paint.
Typically, in a situation like the one Phoenix faced tonight, Coach Gentry might throw out a zone defense to keep Detroit out of the paint. But Detroit was on fire from downtown and a zone would only have made matters worse. Detroit hit 12 of its 16 attempts from downtown, including 5-of-7 in the fourth.
At times this season, Phoenix has overcome its lack of quickness on defense with great effort. That was not at all the case tonight. When the technical fouls started piling up, and it was clear another double-digit comeback was not in the cards, the Suns simply stopped trying. Coach Gentry made a five-man substitution with eight minutes left in the third, but that didn’t stem the tide. Detroit ripped off a 28-2 run early in the fourth, which turned a disappointing loss into a complete embarrassment. Every one of the regular rotation players looked like they just wanted out of the arena. The team quit, plain and simple.
Phoenix still has four games left on its six-game road trip, with a very winnable game in Toronto next up on the slate on Friday. The team’s focus moving forward must be to put this loss behind them. This could be the low point of this still-young season if the Suns can rebound and move on from it. If, however, the team carries this loss with them, this road trip and perhaps this season could get very ugly very fast.
- Rookie Kendall Marshall scored his first NBA points with a 3-pointer in the third quarter.
- Marcin Gortat’s rebounding numbers have fallen off lately because he’s giving up rebounding position. Marcin is venturing too close to the hoop, allowing rebounds to go over his head. He needs to keep his backside on his man, no matter how far he is from the hoop, and attack the ball when it comes off the rim.
- Luke Zeller and Wesley Johnson both logged season highs in minutes played.