After a three-game respite, the Phoenix Suns played to the script they have followed most of the season by getting down big early before fighting back and ultimately falling short thanks to far too many turnovers and a barrage of New York threes on Sunday morning.
However, the end result in this 106-99 loss to the Knicks was as frustrating as it was predictable for a Suns team that committed 17 turnovers (including nine in the first quarter) to the Knicks’ seven and allowed New York to bomb away from distance (12-for-29, 41.4 percent) as Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak hit four treys apiece and Raymond Felton three.
“We started the game with too many turnovers,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “We turned it over seven out of our first 15 possessions and they immediately got separation. We’re battling uphill from there. Our handling the ball, whenever we turn it over like that, it puts them out in the break and then transitions. They have shooters that spread the floor. It puts you in a bind.”
Starting the game with too many turnovers and giving their opponent immediate separation has been a recurring theme that the Suns just can’t seem to break.
Phoenix never led in this contest, but the Knicks got out to a 20-point lead just before halftime and maintained a 17-point advantage at the end of three quarters. That’s when the Suns made their move with a 13-2 run fueled by eight points from Sebastian Telfair to make this a six-point game with 6:55 to play.
Tyson Chandler scored on a follow of a Felton penetration and after that the Melo/Felton duo took over by scoring the rest of their team’s points before free throws at the end when the Suns were forced to foul to stop the clock. That pair combined to score 10 points to keep the Suns at bay in this time, as by the time Phoenix cut the lead to four with 29.3 seconds left on a Shannon Brown driving layup, their only chance at victory involved New York choking at the line.
Anthony (34 points, six boards) and Felton (23 points on 10-for-17 shooting to go with seven assists) were the offensive stars all day for a Knicks team that let the Suns back in the game but never felt seriously threatened.
“We have to stop digging ourselves into a hole,” Michael Beasley said. “When you get down 15, 20 points you need a perfect storm to come back, and I feel like we are relying on that perfect storm in too many games. If we play our system and the effort we gave in the end there is no reason we can’t win games. If we dig ourselves into a hole and then the effort comes out we can’t win games.”
What Beasley’s not saying is that he’s part of the problem in having such a hole dug in the first place. He did not play during the furious fourth-quarter rally, but in the 21 minutes he did play the team lost 20 points. Goran Dragic’s -11 makes him the next closest Sun in this statistic.
This has been a season-long trend as the Suns are nearly 21 points per 100 possessions better when Beasley sits than when he plays, according to the NBA’s stats tool. Almost all of this difference comes at the defensive end, as the Suns possess a superb 95.0 defensive rating when he sits and an abysmal 114.7 rating when he plays.
To put that in perspective, the Suns without Beasley would be the best defensive team in the NBA but they are the worst by seven points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, which is a pretty wide margin that covers the difference between the No. 11 and No. 30 defensive teams in the league.
Marcin Gortat put in one of his better performances with 18 points and 10 boards on 8-for-11 shooting in 41:23 with Jermaine O’Neal sitting this one out with a strained right quad. He took full advantage of that and perhaps should have gotten the ball even more often. Although it was often a power forward like Markieff Morris with a smaller defender on him when the Knicks went small, Phoenix never could capitalize on that size advantage all game.
Shannon Brown hardly made a whimper in the first half, but exploded for 17 points in the second half. He’s always been a microwave guy on offense, and he caught fire during a 13-point third-quarter explosion that kept this game from being a laugher at that point.
Goran Dragic failed to score in double figures for the first time all season, finishing with nine points on 4-for-9 shooting. Because Telfair was so good to start the fourth, Dragic did not play a second in that period and the fact that he logged just 26:28 for the game is the biggest reason he did not tally double digits.
I’m all for riding the hot hand, but at some point I feel Gentry needed to go back to The Dragon in the fourth. He’s just a bigger scoring threat than Telfair, and the Suns needed him out there down the stretch. If you really want Telfair in, play both of them in a small ball lineup like the Suns did at the end of the second quarter with the two point guards flanked by Brown, Tucker at the four to guard Melo and Gortat.
The loss to the Knicks, who remained undefeated at home, dropped the Suns to 1-4 on this treacherous road trip and 2-8 away from US Airways Center overall. This was not a game the Suns could have reasonably expected to win, and perhaps this is a pattern we just need to expect to become the norm this season when the Suns face playoff teams.
@Dorie_says for winning our ValleyoftheSuns-Crowd Seats ticket giveaway. Dorie predicted the Suns to lose to the Knicks by a score of 105-98, and amazingly she was only one point off on both counts.