PHOENIX – A three-game winning streak went to the Phoenix Suns players’ heads. And as Phoenix fell at home, 98-71, in a blowout loss on Wednesday night to the Toronto Raptors, coach Lindsey Hunter’s biggest worry before the game – a five-day break doing more bad than good – became very real.
“We won three close games, I felt like that had a lot to do with how we came out,” forward Michael Beasley said. “We practiced hard for four days straight but that winning streak pumped us up.”
As a result, the Suns came crashing down.
And to beat those Suns, who needs Rudy Gay when you’ve got Sebastian Telfair?
While both Toronto players have been publicly jabbing their former teams this week, it was the latter who made the bigger mark on Wednesday as his Raptors faced his former team and nearly coaxed Phoenix into a historically bad night.
Only a Marcus Morris three-pointer with 23 seconds left brought the Suns over the franchise record-low 68 point threshold. The otherwise meaningless bucket gave Morris 12 points, making him the only Phoenix player to score in double-digits. Meanwhile, Toronto had six players in double-figures – Gay wasn’t one of them and only scored five points – with no performance being more obvious a story-line than Telfair’s big night.
After saying he was bitter about how the Suns decided to trade him to the Raptors for Hamed Haddadi and a second-round pick, Telfair outplayed Toronto starter Kyle Lowry to score 13 points, dish out seven assists and pick up four steals.
“I wouldn’t call it personal, but you got to go out there and compete,” Telfair said, meaning it was definitely personal.
Telfair, after all, cranked up nine threes and played five more minutes than Lowry while gunning every passing lane and loose handle by a Phoenix ball handler.
Adding to the eventual blowout was a right foot injury to Marcin Gortat. X-rays on Gortat’s right foot didn’t show any breaks but the Suns center will undergo an MRI on Thursday. That compounded the absence of Jermaine O’Neal, who is taking off to spend time as his daughter undergoes heart surgery.
Haddadi was the next man up, and he made his Phoenix debut with nine minutes of play.
Phoenix trailed 28-24 after the first quarter, but Gortat left with 36 seconds left following an eight-point, four-rebound 11-plus minutes. The pick-and-roll game – also known as the only semblance of efficient offense for this Suns roster – suffered mightily. Point guard Goran Dragic had six first-quarter assists, but didn’t record another once his pick-and-roll mate left the game.
It was a night of admissions followed up by locker room speak.
“It’s a huge kink (in the plan) because Jermaine isn’t here,” guard Jared Dudley said of missing Gortat, then adding the usual veil that there shouldn’t be excuses. “You’re throwing in (Hamed) Haddadi, he’s practiced, looked pretty good in practice. Markieff played at the five where he’s seen very little minutes. We tried to put Beasley at the four, the three and the four, I think we went to a two point guard lineup.
“The tough thing for us is you have to be ready because you don’t know at any time when you’re going to go in. We play a lot of different lineups, a lot of different stuff. As a pro, as a professional, you have to be ready for everything.”
Suns scored their 34th point with 7:48 left in the first half but didn’t score for another four minutes as Toronto opened up a 14-point lead.
Trailing 54-40 at the half, the Suns put in a 15-point third quarter as the offensive anemia continued. They scored 16, 15 and then 16 points in the second, third and fourth quarters. Phoenix finished the game shooting 37.8 percent from the floor while turning the ball over 29 times that led to 39 points for the Raptors.
“I do not see one bright spot to take from that game other than it’s over,” Hunter said. “Twenty-nine turnovers, Marcin going down. It doesn’t get much worse that it did for us tonight.”
And that’s especially the case if Gortat is out for any extended period of time. If Wednesday was any indication, Phoenix’s roster nor its coaching staff was capable of scripting a new game-plan once the Dragic-Gortat pick-and-roll was lost in addition to the recent low-post offensive operation of O’Neal.
“They were better in every aspect of the game,” Dragic said. “They had a lot of weapons. We’re late in rotations, they scored easy baskets. We didn’t know what we were doing on offense. Maybe the first quarter we played OK, but after that everybody was holding the ball too much.”
Lakers rally to drop New Orleans
On a night the Los Angeles Lakers came to within a measly 1.5 games of the Utah Jazz, who appear to be floundering the final playoff spot and thus the Suns’ chances to pick up two lottery selections, the Houston Rockets also lost their buffer to Steve Nash’s new squad.
Los Angeles came from 25 points down against the Hornets, and behind Kobe Bryant’s 42 points and 12 assists outscored New Orleans 33-9 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Rockets lost 112-108 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Garrett sees more time
Diante Garrett saw the backup point guard minutes rather than Kendall Marshall in the second half. While he struggled with turnover issues in forcing passes and as a victim of Telfair’s defense, he did show some solid playmaking. He scored five points, had four assists and four steals to go with four turnovers. He displayed a pretty three-point stroke as well.
Hunter said Garrett seeing time over Marshall was for a “change-up” in pace by utilizing Garrett’s length as a ball-pressurer.
Brown continues to sit
Shooting guard Shannon Brown didn’t leave the Phoenix bench despite the game being easily out of hand for a good portion of the fourth quarter.