San Antonio Spurs 97, Phoenix Suns 87 -- No small victories

PHOENIX – Lindsey Hunter spent the time after his team’s embarrassing loss to the Boston Celtics running his players through intense practice, and he treated Sunday’ night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs as an in-house scrimmage, running through a 12-man rotation.

A few days after he said the Suns didn’t get respect from the Boston Celtics, the theme arose once again in a 97-87 loss to the Spurs. Sure, Phoenix displayed more resiliency and a refreshing effort, but the frustrations within the game still lent evidence that the Suns have the tallest of mountains to climb. There are no moral victories when 18-39.

Take the matchup between Manu Ginobili and P.J. Tucker as an example.

The Spurs sixth made baited Tucker’s aggressive defense several times. In the first half, a three-point attempt by Ginobili on the left wing drew a foul from Tucker, who contested the shot but drew a flailing sell from the crafty Argentinian. Tucker, hit with the foul, was also hit in the face by Ginobili’s arm. Later on, Tucker was called for two consecutive fouls while getting into Ginobili’s body, the second time getting an elbow to the chest from Ginobili on a jab-step.

“That’s part of the game,” Hunter said. “That’s why they hang banners. Until we get that type of respect and earn that type of respect that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t make excuses for that. He’s earned those calls. So until we get to that level, we have to keep fighting, challenging him until we get those calls.”

And if it weren’t for a second-quarter burst, perhaps the Suns would be in the game. The starting unit played well, with Dragic tearing up the Spurs defense for six first-quarter assists, and the pick-and-roll game with Gortat appearing as useful as it has been all season. Gortat had eight points in the first, six off Dragic assists.

“He’s such a big part of what we do, and he facilitates for everybody and has been playing really, really well,” Hunter said. “The times he struggles, we struggle.”

Dragic’s production tailed off, and he hit just 3-of-14 shots. He had 10 points, 11 assists and five turnovers while Gortat played his most inspired ball in some time with 21 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Phoenix led 21-19 before a three-minute burst at the start of the second quarter gave San Antonio 14 straight points against the Suns’ bench. San Antonio had a 33-21 lead before Kendall Marshall, Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley were benched. In that brief period, Stephen Jackson got under Johnson’s skin before switching to Beasley, and Johnson reacted by forcing an off-balance airball fadeaway. Marshall threw a ball away after getting caught up in the air, and Beasley fouled a three-point shooter and came down awkwardly in the same play. Those three players didn’t play more than five minutes each.

“I think we had three minutes where it was one thing after another and when you play a team like they they capitalize,” Hunter said.

After the Suns held the Spurs to 36.8 percent shooting in the first quarter, they allowed San Antonio to hit 70.6 from the floor in the second. The Spurs only shot 44.4 percent from the floor on the evening, but they also adjusted to play the pick-and-roll better as the game wore on.

With Nando de Colo starting in place of Tony Parker, the Spurs only got 10 points from Tim Duncan and 12 from Ginobili, but six players total scored in double-figures with third-string point guard Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard leading San Antonio with 16 points in the game.

“When they take things away,” said Jared Dudley, “they have second, third options and they move the ball.”

Phoenix trailed by as many as 19 points in the second before chipping away at the lead. Heading into the second half, the Suns trailed 54-40.

The long rotation put Johnson, Beasley and Marshall on the bench in the second half while Marcus Morris and Diante Garrett took most of their minutes. And the list of Suns who played – everyone active sans Shannon Brown – was in part due to a fairly aggressive press that the Suns implemented in the second half.

It didn’t help Phoenix’s offensive struggles, however. As a team, the Suns shot 37 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 20 times. Once the Dragic-Gortat pick-and-roll was solved by San Antonio, there wasn’t much left.

Hunter said the team will continue to practice with “a sense of urgency” until the players show it in game action. It appeared on Sunday with Phoenix making a small push late in the fourth quarter against a significantly better team.

And there were signs – small ones – that maybe they were earning some of that coveted respect.

Go back to the Ginobili-Tucker dynamic. On one fastbreak, Tucker powered through an attempted Ginobili charge to score against contact. That earned a no-call. And when there were times that Tucker had calls against him, well, his complaints didn’t earn him a technical.

Though it’s a basic starting point to change a culture, as Hunter often puts it, those are relatively insignificant victories. Insignificant — so are these Suns in the NBA landscape, as the game against the best team in the league conveyed.

“There is no moral victories for me,” Dudley said. “For the most part, I think guys, we’re trying our best and we’re trying to find ways to stop the bleeding but it’s been tough.”

  • DBreezy

    They’re gonna need a bigger boat….

  • the real shazam


  • ajbaria

    Why don’t they buy out Shannon’s contract and let him sign with a contender?? He clearly doesn’t fit into any plan for the future…

  • Sillmarillion

    How do you want to win a game, when PJ Tucker has 11 FG attempts?

  • BoomShakaLuka

    The Spurs just moved the ball well against a Suns’ defense more hideous than Ginobili’s bald spot. In all seriousness though… I think this could easily be the worst Suns’ roster in history. Aside from Dragic, and Gortat occasionally what do we have? I really hope the front office stumbles into dumb luck. Dumb being the operative word.

  • Rich_Anthony

    I think people need to stop thinking of PJ tucker as a walk-on-contract type of player.  That guy is what you want on your team when you’re a good team.  He’s what you want on your team when you’re bad.  I would not mind it at all if he remained through the rebuilding process.
    He represents what the Suns have been trying to become for years and if he continues to earn his minutes he will continue to earn my respect. 
    If I’m Hunter, I rest Dragon for a game or two.  He’ll never admit it but you can see he could use a blow.  Let Garrett have a start & Marshall can come off the bench.
    I want Dragon around next season when help arrives.  I don’t want him on the shelf.

  • 4everis2long

    We simply are not good enough to compete against the Celtics and Spurs junior varsity teams. Keep the spirited practices Hunter, they cannot hurt. These losses do show however we need an athletic power forward with size who can rebound. Beasley, Markieff and Scola are all bad defenders. It also shows we badly need a scorer who can create his own shot and that Garrett has a better upside than lottery pick Marshall.. The sooner we accept these facts, at least internally acknowledge the screwups or the source thereof and plan accordingly, the sooner we can turn this ship around.
    Yeah it hurts that we look like the bad news bears of basketball fouling what 3 times on 3 point jump shots but we are a terrible team that needs a face lift. Markieff will never be a starting power forward so let’s move on from that experiment.. I am interested if Marcus can be decent at the 3 spot. Dudley is a good role player but really not a starter unless you have a team full of scorers. Hopefully Gortat has a number of good games so his market value will increase this summer. To his credit he really played Duncan tough last night. However he is moving on so let’s get something good for him. It is painful but I can live with it if management is learning something.

  • IowaPhXfan

    I agree…rest Dragic and give Garrett a shot….he showed in D League he can put up big numbers if given 30 mins…I watched him all 4 yrs in college and he’s the type that needs to play a lot because when he’s in the game he tends to control the tempo (which is very fast usually)….put him in for only few minute spurts and he doesn’t take charge as much as he should…if we gave him the ball and said this is your team for rest of the year I think most fans would be shocked at his production….when given confidence by the coaching staff he’s shown huge improvements (
    Only thing he has been questioned on is his outside shooting which judging from D league numbers it appears he has been working on that very hard… 10-16 on 3pt attempts….

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