Indiana Pacers 97, Phoenix Suns 91 -- Another opportunity squandered

Indiana's Roy Hibbert (55) and David West (21) bottle up former Pacer Jermaine O'Neal. (Jessica Hoffman)

Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (55) and David West (21) bottle up former Pacer Jermaine O’Neal. (Jessica Hoffman)

Another late lead thrown away. Another road game lost. The Phoenix Suns fell to the Indiana Pacers 97-91 on Friday night in a game they should have won.

This season has been marked by long streaks, both good and bad. The Suns are in the middle of another very bad streak at the moment. This loss marks Phoenix’s seventh road defeat in a row and their fourth straight loss overall. The Suns, as they have so many times this season, trailed by double digits early in this one. Though they fought back to take a fourth-quarter lead, the ‘W’ was once again pried from their grasp. Poor defensive play early and ugly offensive execution late were to blame.

Indiana has overachieved this season. Playing without leading scorer Danny Granger, the Pacers are a surprising fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. Their success has been spurred by their incredible defense. Frank Vogel’s team allows a paltry 0.957 points per possession, which is tops in the NBA. Offensively, the Pacers have struggled. They are currently 28th in both offensive efficiency and FG percentage (42.6 percent).

In the first half of this game, the Pacers were stellar on both ends of the floor. They held the Suns to just 44 points, while exploding offensively for 58 points on 56 percent shooting. The Pacers netted 20 points in the paint and knocked down 7-of-10 shots from beyond the arc. The Suns’ defense was really nowhere to be found. Nearly all of the Pacers’ attempts from downtown were wide open. When they weren’t bombing from outside, Indiana got into the paint at will. Other than limiting David West to two points, the Suns literally did nothing right defensively in the first half. There was no better evidence of that than Tyler Hansborough scoring 12 points in under nine minutes.

The scouting report on the Suns no doubt says, “Move the ball constantly — a wide open shot will present itself.” Phoenix seems incapable of defending for all 24 seconds on a consistent basis. Opponents need only play with a small amount of patience and discipline to crack the Suns’ defense. Phoenix is too slow along the perimeter to deal with quick ball handlers, and they seem incapable of closing out on three-point shooters. Assistant coach Elston Turner was added to the coaching staff to improve Phoenix’s defense, but the team seems adrift on that end of the floor right now.

The Suns got back into this game in the second half not because they picked up the defensive intensity, but because Indiana cooled off from its hot start. The Pacers shot just under 29 percent in the third quarter. Phoenix also took advantage of them on the offensive glass, scoring 12 second-chance points. Both Marcin Gortat and Sebastian Telfair had their jumpers going, combining for half the Suns’ points in the third. They also hooked up on a smooth pick-and-roll that looked just like Nash-to-Amare circa 2010 (if you squinted). The familiarity of that play and the ease with which Gortat scored undoubtedly left every Suns fan wondering why Phoenix doesn’t run more screen-and-roll from the top of the key.

Phoenix played tonight’s game without starting point guard Goran Dragic, who continues to recover from back and elbow injuries. Starting in his place, Sebastian Telfair played one of his best games in a Phoenix uniform (19 points and six assists in 41 minutes). Telfair’s strong play kept the Suns in this game and made sure rookie point guard Kendall Marshall was glued to the bench for the entire second half. Marshall was unremarkable in his seven minutes of play in the second quarter.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Suns’ offensive execution was non-existent and their poor defense came back to bite them. After taking an 83-81 lead with five minutes to play, the Pacers rattled off a 10-2 run that put the game out of reach for Phoenix. The Suns missed five straight jump shots and turned the ball over twice during that stretch while Indiana got into the paint with impunity and had David West hit two clutch shots.

Phoenix appears to have no set offense. Their attack consists of occasional pick-and-rolls, spot-up shooting, and 1-on-1 isolation. If the Suns are hitting their jump shots, like they were tonight, then they have a chance to win. But if the jumpers aren’t falling, they’re likely to get blown out because their offense produces very few easy baskets. Down the stretch, Indiana got into the paint through off-the-ball screens, purposeful penetration, and rapid ball movement. Phoenix’s offense looked like Stonehenge by comparison. After the Suns took the lead, the Pacers pounded the paint and earned 14 trips to the free-throw line. Phoenix took nine jump shots and earned only two free-throw attempts. That was the difference in this game. And execution disparities like this have been the difference in the Suns’ season.

Phoenix’s need for a go-to scorer has been written about at length on this site and others across the web. I for one don’t believe that is Phoenix’s greatest need. A “go-to” scorer would only encourage more isolation in crucial situations, which is the opposite of what the Suns should be doing. This team needs more designed plays, more ball movement, and more off-the-ball motion. The offense is painfully stagnant. Phoenix struggles for easy buckets, and scoring seems far too difficult given the talent on the roster.

If a change is to be made it has to come from the coaching staff and the players jointly. Alvin Gentry is used to coaching a free-flowing style of offense, but his savant conductor now wears purple and gold. It’s time to get more involved and take more control. At the same time, the players have to buy in to what Gentry is saying. If they resist, the plot that played out tonight in Indiana will repeat itself again and again before season’s end.

In the meantime, Phoenix has the second game of a back-to-back tomorrow night in Minnesota and a New Year’s Eve tilt in Oklahoma City on the horizon. The sun may not rise to a victory in Phoenix until 2013.

Tags: Indiana Pacers Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap


    this years nba finals has been canceled.

  • azbballfan

    another day, another road loss

    i read somewhere that the Suns have had the easiest NBA schedule thus far in the season

    at 11-19 thats bad news

    Why didnt Beasley play more? 10 points in 17 minutes

    Why didnt Marshall get anything? 7 minutes?

    just trade him already if hes not gonna play at all even when Dragon misses a game

    So what are the chances the Suns win tomorrow?

    we need a scorer that can finish at the basket on this team

    everything is a soft layup

    Wheres the pick and roll?

    we need to see more of that!

    The Pacers missed all kinds of free throws in this game and still won

  • Luka

    It’s time for a firesale. Start packaging everyone and let’s get a legitimate young talent to build around. I’d strongly recommend Cousins from the Kings. This roster has no upside. Gortat won’t re-sign, and everyone else is a role player.

    Next decision go on and fire Gentry and promote Turner on an interem basis. It’s time for a change in philosophy. Enough with the pseudo SSOL.

    Use whatever cap space is left for a legit 2 guard. Then after the tanked season is over use the pick on a defensive 4.

  • David

    I just don’t understand how Kendall Marshall, lottery pick, could be so bad that he only sees 7 minutes of pt when Dragic is injured. Wasn’t he viewed as a solid NBA ready pg in all the draft talk?

  • Luka

    I think these Suns’ scouts just pick guys on a whim. Marshall has to be that bad. He can’t shoot, he’s an awful defender. The only thing he can do is pass the ball, but he isn’t getting that chance.

  • DBreezy

    Babby’s forte was/is supposed to be his ability to analyze the cba and find opportunities for the Suns. That hasn’t really happened thus far and it seems like it will be tested heavily going forward. Seems to me that the new cba is really having an effect on the trade market. Usually you hear a lot more rumors and perhaps a few minor deals after the Dec 15 deadline, but it’s been pretty quiet this season so far. Looks like there’s more reluctance than usual to take a flyer on big veteran contracts with the new luxury tax looming.

    I also suspect that the availability of the stretch clause and the smaller contracts in general for players signed last season have affected things. A team like the Suns for instance may really want out of their Beasley experiment, but he only makes 6M on a team that is under the cap. How much trash are you really willing to take in return for him when you can just stretch him this summer for a minimal cap hit if things still aren’t working?

  • hawki

    Wonder how much the Suns spend on the scouting dept. ?
    They could have got a guy off the streets for minimum wage to draft Marshall.
    On a night when SacTown beats the Knicks….Pistons beat the Heat & the Wizards actually win a game, the Suns let another one slip thru their fingers.
    Kings are now only half a game behind the Suns in the race to the bottom.
    Would have liked to seen Beasley in there at the end…still the Suns best one-on-one player as long as he has strict orders to not shoot the ball unless within 15 feet of the bucket.

  • DBreezy

    Great point about the Kings, Hawki. They are considered an absolutely dysfunctional mess, but they’re right there with the Suns and actually better within the division. Then there’s the oft injured and very young Hornets. Surely a healthy Gordon, among others would be worth a 2-3 more W’s putting them within the Suns range as well. They’re just not that good, but they walk around with an air that they are. Like all of this is some big surprise to them on a nightly basis, Scola excepted.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Stephen King would say: same shit, different day…
    Dudley had 36 points the other night and went cool vs the Pacers. Telfair had many points, but couldn’t shoot from beyond the arc. Brown was… well, he was Brown. Again I’m wondering why they didn’t give the ball to Gortat more often and most of all, why the Suns don’t use the PnR? Could anyone answer this question, it’s really bothering me.

  • hawki

    @ DBreezy
    David, I’m hearing that Gordon could actually play tonight for Hornets in game vs Bobcats…..but it seems New Orleans, Bobcats, Cavs & Wiz have stranglehold on the top 4 spots in the draft…..but there’s a long way to go as you know.
    Yeah, SacTown is as dysfunctional as the Congress but they have some talent & Cousins could be a beast if he ever matures.
    ps….any sign of Rude or EBJM ?…..”seen” xcas on Bright Side of the Suns a couple times.
    Over at AZC, there was not even ONE comment after last night’s game, back in the not so long ago day there would have been 20-30 pages….usually only gatofeo comments (he has to use his real name now) & he usually blasts mgmt for forcing people to use facebook.

  • Polish_fan

    No shit guys?! :))) Where are the screens and rolls? Well… I am asking that since the beggining of the season. Its the simplest way to – not only activate Gortat – but also the wings too….
    Thats the best way Gentry is able to set the team in the offense and thats the best way to play the money ball action.
    SPECIALLY that Gortat had a very nice tutor in Nash. You never know if he will sign for the next season and now You would increase the PnR abilities of Dragic/Telfair/Marshall with Gortat who played that really really well with Steve.

    Thats my thought…. I dont know if You agree guys….

  • Luka

    Gortat won’t be on the Suns much longer. In typical Suns’ lowball fashion, he’ll be allowed to walk for nothing. Sarver can’t be bothered to pay a center fair market value.

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  • azbballfan

    Its kinda rediculous that FO is apparently looking at Richard Hamilton in a trade.

    Hamilton is an expiring deal that makes someting like 9 mil

    the only way a deal like that happens is if we get to give them beasley.

    Chicago is not going to want to take on more $$$

    does our FO understand how bad this team is?

    apparently Hamiltons agent has already said he doesnt wanna come here.

    Come on FO you can do better than that

    by the way, analyzing the CBA is what Babby is payed to do, yet Sarver could have just hired Babby as a consultant if he needed someone to do that instead of making him GM

    The fact that Babby went out and got former clients to sign as free agents with the Suns is total B.S.

    I hope Sarver sells the team

    Tonights probably gonna be another loss

  • Ty-Sun

    I think Ryan is probably correct in saying the Gentry needs to exert more control and add more structure to the offense. It won’t cure all the ills of this team but it could at least make them more consistent and less dependent on someone just getting “hot” on any given night for the offense to be productive.

  • DBreezy

    The Suns are 14th in offensive efficiency which is basically average to slightly above average. The teams above them not only tend to have go to guys, but they have facilitators either at the point or another spot on the wing or post (LAC, MIA, POR, UTA, HOU, ATL, GS, BKN, DEN,SA, DEN,NYK, LAL). Without players of that caliber, I’d say the Suns are doing pretty well considering. Their biggest problems remain D and the lack of a closer.

    Over the course of the season just running plays late without having closing type players is tough. Mainly because of the amount of advance scouting that is done these days. Teams tend to know what you’re going to run. Even a team like BOS that runs a lot of plays late vs. isos or 1-4 flats, made it work because you had to pay attention to what Pierce, KG, and Ray could do individually. The Suns announcers love to reminisce over Channing’s back to back game winners, but they neglect to note how many times that same play has gotten jammed up subsequently because teams know it.

  • DBreezy


    I haven’t seen any signs of EBJM, Rude or any of the old regulars from AZC. I was wondering who that guy who keeps posting on AZC was. I was wondering if that guy who keeps posting was Bucky, but Gato does make more sense. I don’t know if we could have gotten to 20 or 30 pages this season as the circle of trust for Suns fans appears to have gotten very small.

    As for the draft, I agree on several of the Eastern teams likely ending up worse than the Suns, but I’m not so sure the bottom of the West is settled yet. The Suns have played hard, if not well, all season and have little to show for it. The schedule continues to get tougher and the opponents more serious as potential playoff berths and seeding begins to come more and more into focus.

    Also you have to wonder how much longer they can keep their spirits up when they just aren’t seeing the results in the win column. Outside of the Detroit game, there really haven’t been any games this season that were lost mentally before the team even took the court, but if this keeps up you can expect more of those. Personally, I think this why Gentry made those comments the other day about the losses not negating the progress the team made recently. Watching him, he’s clearly as frustrated as he was before, but he’s also smart enough to know the egg is close to breaking at this point.

    Scary as this might sound, we may look back and say that the Suns played their best ball during this first 30 games. Meanwhile I don’t think you can say that about SAC or NO. I’m not saying that I expect those guys to go on a playoff run or anything, but it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both of those teams perform a little better going forward. The Kings are only a half game back of the Suns and the Hornets are presently only 4 games back in the loss column. We could have a case of those squads ascending slightly at the same time the Suns sink.

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