The Phoenix Suns switched up the script a bit, yet the ending remained the same.
As has been the case in nearly every game this season, the Suns played some quality stretches of basketball but enough inconsistency persisted for the Celtics to win rather easily, 87-79.
This included a monster 17-0 third quarter run after Boston started to run away with the game in the second quarter and a weak ending that followed the big spurt.
“We play well at times, but we weren’t all season long able to play well all 48 minutes, one game of 48 minutes of good basketball,” Luis Scola told reporters. “We always have lapses, sometimes it happens early, sometimes it happens a little bit later. Sometimes it’s the first unit, sometimes it’s the second unit, but it always happens. And we just lose games because we couldn’t fix it and it happens pretty much, even in the games we’ve won it happens.”
After playing an even first quarter, the Suns’ bench unit once again faltered against the Celtics’ reserves, and as has been the case recently the starters didn’t exactly turn the tide in that second period after the bench’s subpar start.
Meanwhile, Jared Sullinger (12 points, 16 rebounds, game-high plus 24) and Jeff Green (14 points, a few monster dunks) combined with Jason Terry (13 points) to score more points than any Boston starter.
“It think it would have been a little easier to swallow if it had been Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “But at the end of the day it was the bench that really hurt us the most.”
The Suns’ bench was poor enough tonight and has been enough times of late that Gentry tried to shelve the idea of a bench altogether in the second half.
After the starters exploded for the 17-0 run to put the Suns back up by three, Gentry decided to ride them rather than turn the game back over to the reserves. He ended up going with a seven-man rotation that included Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris, but played Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker (who limited Paul Pierce to seven points on 3-for-10 shooting) the full 24 minutes and gave just 17:38 of playing time to the bench.
It’s almost a situation where Gentry has no good options. He clearly felt the best chance of winning this game involved not going back to the bench, yet in the end it could be argued that the Suns ran out of gas without any rest for most of those players after the big run. Of course, based on the bench’s performance in the first half, it’s not very likely that unit would have fared any better. It’s also not sustainable to ride the starters that hard, and it’s a bit crazy to think that Tucker would turn into an indispensable rotation player when he was originally seen (to me at least) as an afterthought of the summer.
Overall, the Suns were much better with the starters on the floor tonight, as in 26 minutes with such a lineup they outscored the Celts by 22.9 points per 100 possessions and held them to a 74.9 offensive rating (the six-minute scoreless stretch in the third may have boosted this just a bit), according to the NBA’s advanced stats tool. Phoenix was 13 points better in these 26 minutes, so that goes to show how bad they were when even one starter sat.
It could also be argued that the starters were tuckered out after the big run with no rest, as in the last quarter and a half once the spurt ended Phoenix scored just 21 points and shot 21.4 percent. That’s after scoring 17 points on 61.5 percent shooting in the first half of the third quarter.
In short, Gentry has tried just about everything, and yet his personnel makes it so he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Regardless of his decision it will probably be the wrong one, which makes this the opposite of 2010 when he couldn’t go wrong playing his starters or his reserves at any given time.
“Obviously it’s difficult to win on the road anyways in the NBA,” Gentry said. “But we’ve had numerous opportunities where if we did the right thing and executed the right way, we could have had a win or put ourselves in a position to win. We just got to do that, we’ve got to get better at it, and we’ve got to be able to complete plays and we’ve got to be able to come up with possessions by acquiring the rebound.
“But we’ve just got to, like I said to the guys, no one’s going to dig us out of this, we’ve got to dig ourselves out of this. And no one feels sorry for you in the NBA. So it’s got to be us with the execution, and us completing the plays, and us doing the right things.”
The loss dropped the Suns to 2-16 away from home, and their 11th straight road loss makes this the fourth-longest road losing streak in franchise history. They still have not won a second game of a back-to-back in eight tries.
Gentry can talk about execution and turnovers (16 tonight) and all that good stuff all night, but at the end of the day the Suns just aren’t talented enough to sustain stretches of quality basketball, and their good runs never seem to overshadow their inevitable ruts.
Until that changes, the Suns will likely continue to play more games like tonight where they make a few good runs but ultimately fall short.
Dragic told The Arizona Republic that some of his teammates “don’t care.” “We got three guys battling on the floor, and the rest of the guys aren’t on the same page,” he said. “It’s tough. Right now, we’re not together as a team.”