Loss to Nets provides lessons for Suns

PHOENIX — Jeff Hornacek isn’t blaming late-game execution for the Phoenix Suns’ last two losses, both of which came in the final seconds of regulation and overtime, respectively. The first real bumps of a long season came nine games in, but it’s not necessarily a sign that opponents have figured out the Suns just yet.

After all, it’s not easy to stop a young, athletic team whose defense is the last of the problems so far.

Phoenix has been in every game, but a 100-98 overtime loss Friday to the Brooklyn Nets included the first signs of offensive inconsistencies that went beyond hot-and-cold shooting. Brooklyn seemed stumped by the run-and-gun Suns but bridging the two halves went on a 20-0 run. It came down to poor defense allowing no runouts off rebounds, but the lull for the Suns also wasn’t aided by the offense.

“Every third quarter, we come out slacking,” Eric Bledsoe said afterward. “We kind of stopped pushing the ball. It was all on us.”

Bledsoe scored 13 of his 15 points in the second quarter, but he often times looked lost playing off the ball as Goran Dragic finally finished a game. While both guards thrive with the ball in their hands, Hornacek admitted that Bledsoe is still figuring things out when Dragic is running the show.

It showed early in the third quarter. Hornacek started Markieff Morris in place of Channing Frye to get a boost, but that didn’t do much. Bledsoe, Morris and Miles Plumlee — who was getting torched by Brook Lopez off pick-and-rolls — were replaced with Channing Frye, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green. With that trio along with Dragic and P.J. Tucker, things settled and shots finally began falling.

They fell because the ball movement finally ratcheted up. Bledsoe was at the forefront of a passive offense. He caught the ball swinging his way and hesitated before taking a few dribbles and then, more often than not, passed the ball anyway. Bledsoe said he was simply playing off Dragic, but that’s not going to fly for a player with those skills and whose free agent stock is rising quickly.

“If nobody’s hot, you have to play as a team,” Dragic said, in a way hinting he was not the hot hand Bledsoe alluded to. “Try to make the open shot from those actions. We didn’t do that tonight in the third quarter and I think that cost us the game.”

Hornacek said over-thinking kills — and that might be Bledsoe’s issue.

“When we come off the pick-and-roll and we hit that big, we’re hesitating,” the coach said. “We’re looking around. ‘Do I shoot it? No. I’ll pass it to the other side and they’ll set a screen.’

“That stuff all has to be done quicker,” Hornacek added. “As soon as a guy is throwing the ball, the ball’s in the air, you should know if it’s a shot or not. If it’s not, just catch it and hit the guy on the wing; the guy on the wing has to pop open and you’re right in to another pick-and-roll.”

P.J. Tucker knows darn well when to shoot, even though he’s still working hard to become a consistent shooter. On Friday, Tucker scored 17 points, grabbed key offensive rebounds down the stretch and hit a big corner-three off a Dragic pass that helped to send the game into overtime. That shot was exactly what the Suns offense wants — penetrate, kick and have the shooter ready to fling it.

“I knew Goran was going to pass it,” Tucker said. “He was going to the left, and my man went in, I knew it was coming. So I was already set. I already knew it was going in. When you get that good of a look, you got to knock it down.”

Tucker said the offensive lull between the two halves was simply about poor execution. There was little ball movement, few set screens and too much isolation. Add it up, and the Suns were forced into late pick-and-roll, or worse, isolation situations that went awry.

It’s that execution that needs fixing. The late-game stuff? Hornacek preaches that those go in your favor at a 50-50 rate in the NBA.

The Suns don’t want to be in those positions in the first place.

  • Sunsn7

    Bledsoe needs to do the little things off the ball ala Hornacek’s great former backcourt mate, John Stockton. If lil Johnny can set bone crunching picks and float to open spots to either shoot or re-create offense off the dribble. Just saying, he needs to stay aggressive at all times, even without the ball.

    That is, if he even wants to touch greatness…


    Although Hornacek is doing a great job, you can see his inexperience in the final minutes of games.Why he has Frye in at the close of games is beyond me, let alone shooting a three in the closing minutes of a game when he could not hit a shot all night. Or playing defense and rebounding when over his career they are his two biggest weaknesses.It is obvious that the Suns are not prepared to close out games and work must be done.

  • Foreveris2long

    One problem with playing two point guards together when one of them is only 23, it causes the off guard to think more than they ordinarily would. Basketball is an impulsive game so it will take a lot of patience for Bledsoe to get comfortable with this style especially when he is the 2 guard.

  • Sunsn7

    @Foreveris – exactly, he’s thinking and second guessing far too much, wondering when the ball will come back to him. That and he’s in a contract year (dont underestimate that aspect)so he’s eager to keep his numbers up.

    Bledsoe could do just fine with what Hornacek wants to do. He needs to COMPLETELY buy in and I guarantee his numbers will be on par to get him the money he covets this summer.

  • Sunsn7

    This young team is going to be dropping games with the weight of early unrealistic expectations. This is like a 35-47 team so Im not heartbroken when they lose. Still want to see what we have (or dont have) in Alex Len.

    Enjoy the ride Suns fans. Next year is when realistic expectations set in. McDonough has the Suns in the right direction. Thats enough for me this season

  • Ty-Sun

    This is from Stein’s power rankings on the ESPN site:

    “Interesting theory volunteered last week by ex-Sun Marcin Gortat, who says the new defensive coordinator in Phoenix — Mike Longabardi — is as much of an impact newcomer in the desert as Eric Bledsoe or boss Jeff Hornacek. All four losses by just 13 points combined for the Cinderella Suns so far.”

    All I know is that this Suns team is playing great D overall this season and I’m loving it.

    I know that the team needs more strength at the 4 but I’m against any trade that brings in anyone that isn’t up to playing tough D too. Unless a trade opportunity comes up that is very one sided in the Suns favor, I’m content to ride out this season with this team as is.

  • Foreveris2long

    Sunsn7 I probably agree with ya with regards to this being a contract year which could factor into the equation. However I think another factor is this is the first time in his NBA career he is regularly playing in crunch time adding pressure to perform but at times, performing from the 2 guard spot in addition to the point guard spot. He plays the point without thinking too much but it does not appear he has a grasp playing the 2 guard in the 4th quarter with the game on the line.

    I think if he had the Westbrook mentality I am going to destroy you when I am in the game, playing the 2 would be easy for him but I do not think he has that killer mindset yet. However I suspect he will get it, this season. Good post

  • BCrayZ

    SouthPhilly has no clue.

    Jeff knows exactly what he is doing.

    Frye was 2 for 3 on his treys in that game before the miss. Suns are very fortunate to have him back, as he is not only their best shooter but plays good D in the post. Jeff knows it is important to have his best free throw shooters in at the last few seconds of the game. Frye & Gogi were part of that “killer bench unit” that destroyed the Spurs four games to zero, last time we met in the playoffs.

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • JK

    Following up on Ty-Sun’s comment about Gortat, here is a link to some additional statements made by him about the Suns’ surprising start.


    In the article, Gortat seems a little disappointed that he is missing out on the fun here in the valley while his team has struggled out the gate. It’ll be interesting to see if he stays in Washington if they don’t have much success this year.

  • Al

    I don’t know about Gortat. I am glad he got traded before the start of the season. He would have been either disgruntled or made comments to make himself look like the best player on the team deserving of a big contract in the off season. Gortat probably had boxes at his house labeled OKC until McD pulled a fast one and traded him to the Eastern conference. The trade to Washington has diverted attention away from him and will keep him grounded throughout the rest of the season.

  • foreveris2long

    JK thanks for the good article. It sure would be nice if the Wizards started playing better.

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  • Mel.

    Great read, Ty. It boggles me that–even after years of Gentry preaching a “defense-first mindset,” and a dozen empty promises of emphasizing it as much as the offensive character of our various rosters–that this is the first time in a LONG time that I feel like I’m actually seeing the Suns play defense.

    Hell, they actually looked better at it than the Clippers did during their contest in pre-season. Considering Doc’s rep, that was definitely surprising.

  • Scott

    Bledsoe won’t always play like an experienced starting PG this early in the season. He’s going to take his lumps and learn from them.

    He’s learning he has to keep the game up-tempo even in his extra minutes on the court, he has to play better off the ball (he was a SG in college, so …?), and overthinking is likely to happen any time a player is in a new situation, which is part of what happened in the 3rd.

    In time he should pull through all of this.

    As for Frye being on the court late in the game, my assumption is that it was to open up the court and maybe get a 3 as well. Frye is also one of the few players on this young and unexperienced team who has been a top option for taking the final shot of a game.