Phoenix Suns 101, Sacramento Kings 90 — Tale of two halves


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65BKowcDolQ?rel=0]

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns entered tonight’s game coming off their two most impressive victories of the season and faced an opponent that had won just a single road game all year.

So naturally the Suns trailed by 19 points before fighting back with a scintillating third quarter to win going away, 101-90 over the Sacramento Kings.

“Well, that was interesting,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “I think Scola said it best in the locker room when we were gathering and that’s that we have to play hard for 48 minutes. Not for 24 or 30 or whatever. We have to play hard for 48 minutes and we did not do that tonight. We played a great second half but we don’t want to have that kind of start.

“On the flip side I thought we were really good in the second half. Our defense was terrific, we did a great job of moving the basketball and we even passed on some open shots but all in all it’s a win and we will take it. We just need wins any way that we can get them. I thought we were excellent in the second half.”

Nothing comes easy these days for the Suns, who trailed 52-33 after the Kings stuck a 23-4 run on them. It doesn’t get worse in the NBA this season than being blown out by Sacramento on your home floor when you just had two days off and they were crushed the night before.

Making matters worse, the Kings were missing the services of Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins was suffering through an awful game, so the large deficit really came down to Phoenix not playing hard enough and getting killed on the boards (30-19 in the first half) and in the hustle department.

After reaching that 19-point low point, the Suns finally asserted themselves as the better team by ripping off a 34-10 run, much of it coming in a dominant third quarter in which Shannon Brown scored as many points as the Kings (14). Suddenly the ball movement was crisp, Phoenix was ahead on the glass and Sacto was suffocated with 31.8 percent shooting.

“NBA, 10-15 points is not big, especially early on,” Jared Dudey said. “That’s a team that will let you back in it. I thought just the energy level, and it’s tough. It’s Monday, it’s not a good crowd out there when it comes to attendance-wise, and sometimes you can let that bring you down. We have to do better, and the more wins we get the more fans we’ll get.”

Indeed USAC was a morgue in the early going, with the announced crowd of 13,068 not providing the Suns with much energy and the Suns not giving them much reason to cheer. The Suns must know by now that they must play with optimum energy every night if they want to avoid losing to even the worst teams in the league, and if not they learned it once again tonight.

“We are in no position to overlook anyone,” Gentry said. “I look on the right side and we have 15 losses. So we can’t overlook anyone. Not anyone in this state, including Chaparral High. We can’t afford to overlook anyone. I think we got off to slow start but it didn’t have anything to do with being overconfident or anything like that. We just didn’t have the energy to start the game and we found a way to get the energy in the second half.”

Phoenix’s new starting lineup of Dragic-Brown-Dudley-Scola-Gortat improved to 3-0 as the Suns won three in a row for the first time all season, and they owe the victory to the efforts of this starting unit. In the 22 minutes they shared the floor, the Suns outscored the Kings 54-30, according to the NBA’s advanced stats tool. They shot 59 percent from the field, yielded 35.3 percent shooting and held their own on the glass.

Each of the starters played well, with Brown exploding for 22 on 10-for-13 shooting, Dudley scoring 20 including a pair of critical late treys, Gortat filling the box score with 14 points, 13 boards and six blocks, Dragic dishing seven dimes, and finally Luis Scola doing it all with 14 points, a career-high 10 assists and six boards.

“I hope he’s going to play like that every game,” Dragic said of Scola. “We need those assists, and we need guys to knock down their shots. Today we played a lot of pick-and-roll and they were helping from Luis. I passed to Luis, he was open, and he made that pass to some open guy and they made shots.”

Dudley praised the unselfishness of this lineup with Scola being the triggerman quite often tonight and shooters spacing the floor in Dudley and Brown.

Defensively, the key to the Suns’ efforts unequivocally revolved around shutting down DeMarcus Cousins during his 1-for-10 performance. Cousins destroyed Gortat and the Suns last season by averaging 27.7 points and 11.7 boards per game, including a 41-point evisceration on 16-for-25 shooting the last time these squads met up on April 3.

The Suns’ game plan this time around was to double team Cousins to take away Sacramento’s best option and force others to beat them. They did at times, as Jimmer Fredette scored a career-high 22 points with some hot shooting, but ultimately with nothing offensively from Cousins the Kings could not hang on for the victory.

Gortat got three of his six blocks against the Kentucky product and for once thoroughly dominated their matchup down low.

“I think I came ready to play,” Gortat said. “The past two weeks I’ve been lifting really hard, so I felt really powerful and energetic at the same time. Quite honestly, I don’t think he really wanted to play today. That’s just how it is.”

By neutralizing Cousins the Suns were able to overcome yet another double-digit deficit, their sixth in 10 home victories, and the finish was good enough that Phoenix has now won consecutive games by double figures after doing that just three times in its first 23 games.

The Suns somehow also own the third-longest winning streak in the NBA (to be fair it still pails in comparison to OKC’s 11-gamer and the Clippers’ 10-gamer), as they have started to move past that ugly seven-game losing streak that directly preceded it.

At the end of the day, you can’t really get too excited about beating Sacramento at home, but it sure beats the alternative on a night the Suns trailed by 19.

“We won a game we’re supposed to win,” Dudley said. “Now we need to come back on Wednesday and win a game we’re supposed to get.”

And 1

Dudley has now scored 20 in consecutive games for the fourth time in his career. He did not score that many points in any of the team’s first 23 contests. … Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Greg Monroe and Nicolas Batum were the only non-guards to post double-digit assists before Scola did so tonight. … Gortat has recorded back-to-back double-doubles for the first time since Nov. 5-7. He also tied an NBA season high with four games of five or more blocks.

  • SHAZAM

    in this years finals the heat are in BIG trouble

  • silver

    Gonna be there for the Bobcats. Better play for 4 quarters.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Could someone please ban bill.thomas?

  • john

    @Sillmarillion – Agreed. I’m just curious as to what type of a person feels the need to make 10 consecutive posts over a 30 minute span at 3am. Drunk on a Monday night/Tuesday morning (and, apparently, on every other night of the week, based on his comment history)?

    Just a note about the game since he always seems to be such a hot topic:

    Marcin went for 14/13 with 6 blocks and was a +24.

    I still think he needs to be traded because I feel like he has given up on this team and wants to go to a winner/contender, but I think it’s obvious that a motivated Marcin is still a double-double lock. Here’s to hoping he decides he wants to play hard for the Suns every night.

  • Scott

    @john -

    I don’t know if he’s given up on the team, so much as maybe it was obvious the team wasn’t being run well, with Beasley starting.

    Now that Beasley is on the bench and the team is winning, I’d expect Gortat to have fewer gripes.

  • john

    @Scott

    That’s a possibility as well. Hopefully that’s the case over my proposed scenario. Gortat’s history and public persona would indicate that he’s NOT a quitter, so it very well could have been on-court chemistry issues that were causing Gortat’s lackluster performances. We’ll see.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    If Gortat was a quitter he wouldn’t be in the NBA for sure. It’s a tough way from Poland (plus he started to play basketball at the age of 17) to the best league in the world!
    But I agree with john; a motivated Gortat is a great player to have. 3 blocks vs Cousins are not that bad.
    It was nice to see Scola with 10 dimes as well. But Dragic was kind of weak, wasn’t he?

  • Serek

    If the team starts winning now, I don’t see the point of trading anyone before offseason, since it will just blow up the rotations and chemistry for another month or so.

    Unless of course the FO wants to admit that “rebuilding while staying competitive” was not really a plan, but just a ruse that didn’t last as long as they expected.

    The only guy the FO can trade now is WJ, since his contract is expiring and he in the very end of the bench. Too bad.

  • Voqar

    Dragic’s shot was kind of off but he still hustled on defense and made some nice moves to the hoop.

    With Dragic it seems like he gets tired and maybe it’d be better to sub him earlier in the 1st and 3rd and bring him back earlier in the 2nd and 4th rather than playing him for nearly a full period all at once.

    I don’t think Gentry is bad but our substitution patterns seem odd at times (beyond doing simply trying to get production from somewhere when any number of our current players are yielding nothing, which is often).

    I also get Gentry wanting to stay with hot/productive players at times since it’s borderline miraculous when it happens these days.

  • JR

    @john

    Gortat is not getting any younger, he have max 2 years of playing on decent level as a starter, probably he is looking for some last chance to accomplish something, that’s my guess on not signing extension

  • Serek

    Gortat certainly wants to get the highest possible contract, and that means its against his interest to sign an extension at this time. I read somewhere that the best they could offer him was 2 additional years with something like 10% raise in comparison to what he gets now, so no surprise he refused. On those terms, I believe he would not extend even with the Heat.

  • Scott

    @Serek -

    I would add Beasley to the trade pile. I don’t think trading either Beasley, WJ, or both, would negatively affect the Suns.

    If in his few outings WJ had played defense, I would have been a lot more impressed with him.

    I had favored the Suns picking up James Johnson for a 2nd rounder last summer, before they picked Beasley. JJ is not a complete player, but at least he plays defense and passes well, can handle either forward position, and his contract is expiring. (Not long after I proposed that move, the Kings sent the Raptors a 2nd rounder and snagged JJ.)

    I see JJ as being a superior selection over Beasley, because he’s an intelligent player who defends and shares the ball, which a team can always use. He can also score if he’s under the bucket. If he develops a 3 point shot (which he’s been working on), he’d potentially be a keeper.

  • Ty-Sun

    I think a lot of the problem early in the season was that, especially as a starter, the offensive focus was on giving Beasley every opportunity to prove himself and that was part of the problem with Gortat not getting as many touches as he wanted. Plus Dragic was more familiar with Scola’s game than Gortat so he might have favored him a little more. No matter what the problems were things seem to be getting sorted out. I would be very surprised if things improved to the point that the Suns make the playoffs this year but perhaps they are starting to at least develop some chemistry and understand their roles on the team.

    As for trades, at this point I don’t think there is any reason to rush a trade. No matter who else is involved I’m fairly certain that the only way Wes J. is going to finish the season in Phoenix is if the Suns just make no trades this year. His contract isn’t huge but it’s still a nice chunk of change since it’s an expiring contract which will be an attractive bargaining chip.

  • JR

    @Serek

    I like to pretend that they play for championships rings, but your theory about millions of dollars, houses and cars makes more sense

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    I was dismissive of Shannon Brown pre-season but he’s winning me over.
    I’m starting to think he doesn’t get the ball as often as he should.

  • Scott

    @hawki -

    IMO Brown’s been inconsistent, but he’s better at everything this year than he was last year.

  • Oppermann

    since we are getting no were this season, isn´t better to get something in return fo Gortat, than just watch him walk away next summer ?

  • SHAZAM

    serek is right about gortat extension status..his declining is a non story

  • john

    @Oppermann

    That line of thinking, while prevalent, is flawed. It assumes that teams receive no value for the player’s on-court services. Trading Gortat just for the sake of trading him could be worse than keeping him and getting 1 1/2 more years of production out of him.

    If the right trade comes along, I’d be all for it. But it’s not like the Suns would get “nothing” if they let Gortat play out his contract.