PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns played a near flawless offensive first quarter in which their starters played almost the whole time.
But once the bench entered to start the second the Suns looked like a different team as they bricked their way to a putrid final three quarters in their 87-80 loss to the Utah Jazz.
“I thought the first quarter was the best we’ve played all season,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought the last three quarters were just the worst we could have possibly played. The second quarter was as poorly as we’ve played the whole season. The last two quarters I didn’t think we really did anything in those two quarters, too. So we had a really good first quarter and then I think the last three quarters we just never got anything going, had no rhythm. “
The Suns shot an unsustainable 77.8 percent in the first quarter while drilling 14-of-18 shots with Shannon Brown’s 1:21 for Jared Dudley being all the time the bench received.
After the bench unit hit its first two shots to begin the second, the Suns failed to score a single point over the next 8:27 until Luis Scola mercifully ended the drought with a jumper. For the quarter, the Suns made as many shots (four) as they missed in the entire first quarter for as shocking of a turnaround as you will ever see at this level.
The Jazz went on an 11-0 run during the first four minutes of this drought to tie the game at 36 before going stone cold themselves. The Jazz then failed to score for the next four minutes of the Suns’ scoreless streak during a period in the game in which the teams combined to miss a whopping 15 consecutive shots.
The second quarter was so bad that the Suns yielded an opponent season low in scoring and were still outscored by eight. Yes, this was an NBA game we’re talking about, and this came against teams ranked 23rd and 26th in defensive efficiency entering the night, so this wasn’t exactly the early 90’s Knicks shutting people down.
“First quarter we just had good rhythm, ball movement,” Dudley said. “Second quarter it was isos, shot clock winding down, fadeaway, shot clock winding down, jump shot. Anytime we get in these iso situations we’re not going to be that good because we’re just not an iso team.”
The poor shooting was contagious as the Suns shot just 35.1 percent over the game’s final three quarters and scored as many points in the second and third quarters combined as they did in the first after that nine-point second quarter effort.
“We were always on the clock,” Gentry said. “We weren’t executing and we weren’t getting into the play sets quickly enough and so we got on the clock. So we end up taking some really difficult shots or forced shots because we were on the clock and we have to do a better job of getting ourselves in a position and getting ourselves set so that we can run the offense and execute it to the point that we can get good shots.”
Perhaps the rotations had something to do with the Suns’ poor effort as after Gentry pondered staggering his subs after Wednesday’s win, he went right back to the full second unit to begin the second quarter, and the Suns never regained their momentum from there.
His solution in the second half was just to ride his starters until the game was over for the most part, as Goran Dragic got his first rest with 5:18 remaining in the contest, Dudley did not sit until 2:26 remained in the game and Gortat played the entire second half.
Even if that had worked this time, riding the starters that hard is not a sustainable strategy, and at some point Gentry has no choice but to take them out for a rest. It’s tough when the starters are playing that well together, but perhaps staggering rest is the least of two evils if Gentry determines this bench as currently composed should not play together in a shift.
Making matters worse tonight, the Suns turned the ball over 20 times when they weren’t bricking jumpers, and they allowed the Jazz to score a whopping 60 points in the paint, which accounted for over two-thirds of their scoring for those non-math majors out there. The Jazz shot 51.7 percent in the paint and 32.3 percent outside it.
“That’s really a high number when you talk about the percentage of points scored in the paint compared to the overall points,” Gentry said. “Almost everything they did was in the paint except for a couple of jump shots.”
The silver lining in this one is that the Suns really did play incredibly well offensively in that first quarter. They moved the ball, played together and got easy shots. It was basketball as it’s meant to be played as Dragic tallied 11 points and three assists and both Scola and Gortat went for eight.
That lineup just seems to work with a nice combination of offensive and defensive players and probably Phoenix’s overall smartest combo of guys. I hope Gentry continues to trot out this lineup because it should only get better with more usage.
“The first quarter we all had fun playing together,” Gortat said. “We shared the ball, we swung the ball, we had an inside-outside game. First of all we had some stops, we had a good defense and we were able to run the break. Then all of a sudden second quarter, third and fourth quarter we did not do this. That’s just how it is. If you don’t play the game you’re supposed to play, you’re going to lose it.”
The Suns did indeed lose it for the seventh time in eight games, a losing streak that has dropped them 10 games below .500 in early January after losing to a traditionally porous road team.
The season is still young, yet after a poor performance like this the Suns must face the reality of being the second-worst team in the Western Conference.
“We’re just not a consistent team right now,” Dudley said. “That’s the only way to slice it. I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’re good one quarter, then other quarters we’re not. Defensively sometimes we’re in there and sometimes we get lapses and because of that it’s indicative of our record, and right now we’re not a real good team.”