Screen-master Spurs show refusal to change NBA hierarchy

Posted by on December 19th, 12:17 am

PHOENIX — Hours after the Miami Heat roared back to the beat the Indiana Pacers in the biggest game of a busy Wednesday NBA schedule, the San Antonio Spurs put a similar elbow into the chests of the Phoenix Suns and their recent success — literally.

It’s not that the Suns are anywhere close to how far the Pacers have come, but the storyline is similar. It’s always about how the league’s hierarchy is about to change, but rarely do the best teams let it happen without some pushback.

Phoenix wasn’t using inexperience as an excuse after a 108-101 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.

“I think we’re past that point in moral victories,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek.

The Suns committed 19 turnovers, and they looked like a young team they are down the stretch against the Spurs. It hasn’t happened much this year, but Phoenix doesn’t play a team like San Antonio much, either.

Goran Dragic had 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Eric Bledsoe had 15 points, five rebounds and seven assists while hitting 6-of-15 attempts. And despite Phoenix’s two point guards struggling from the field, the Suns were in it. San Antonio had its own turnovers issues, after all.

So the game came down to the physical Spurs, without playmaking point guard Tony Parker, getting great looks with great screen action. Stretching the limits of legality, San Antonio elbowed, grabbed and created the space to score.

Call it a lesson from a championship-caliber team.

“The way the whole team runs their offense, we were talking about that in the cold tub,” said Phoenix center Miles Plumlee after the game. “Just how sharp they are, they’re always moving. There’s always options … I think we can take some notes from that.”

Without Parker, the Spurs put steady ball pressure on the Suns point guards to disrupt the offense. Patty Mills, Cory Joseph and even Kawhi Leonard did their work defensively, forcing the Suns into mistakes that led to 25 San Antonio points.

“I think we (have) turnovers when things get stagnant and guys don’t know what to do,” Plumlee said. “We just need to really solidify our jobs on the offensive end and run our sets, and I think we’ll be OK.”

Down the stretch, the Spurs got the job done, but they did it the same way they had throughout the game. Manu Ginobili scored 11 of the Spurs’ 15 points in the final 4:11 of the game, snaking his way around off the ball to get open when the pass finally hit him.

“Every time — I mean, you chase Ginobili, you chase one of those guys off of screens — they’re going to hit you every time,” said forward P.J. Tucker, accepting his own miscues — he went over the top of screens rather than chase the veteran Ginobili around them, he said. “They know how to use (the screens) and they know how to play each other.”

And in what was, for the most part, a very competitive and even game across the board, the screens set between the two teams were comparatively different.

Chalk it up to experience, even if the Suns don’t want to admit it.

Channing Frye scored 15 first-quarter points but only played 28 minutes and finished with 22 because the Spurs went small. They began covering every pick-and-pop play with Boris Diaw or even smaller defenders after Tiago Splitter made the start but played just 13 minutes after the hot opening quarter for Frye.

After the Phoenix starters built a lead as big as 10 points, San Antonio rallied and took control for the most part. Only an offensive rebound and bucket by Plumlee with five minutes to play gave the Suns hope by putting them ahead 95-93, the first and only Suns lead in the second half.

Then Ginobili, who scored 24, went off. The young Suns saw what happened, and despite the loss and the refusal to take in moral victories, probably learned something. Perhaps their first-year coach did as well.

As the Heat showed the Pacers out in South Beach, Wednesday was day of learning experiences and refusals by the NBA powers that anything has changed since last season.

“We set really good screens sometimes,” Frye said. “It’s just, we don’t do it as consistent as them. I think they set screens with a purpose. I think we’re still trying to be more consistent with why we set screens all the time.

“You can’t win all of them,” he added, “but you look at it and you’re like, we can better from this.”

Kevin Zimmerman is the lead blogger and editor for Valley of the Suns. He is also editor of, an Arizona Wildcats\’ blog, and a contributor at SB Nation and

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Tags: Channing Frye · Miles Plumlee

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 john // Dec 19, 2013 at 6:45 am

    “I think we’re past that point in moral victories.”

    I can’t say this enough. I love Hornacek. Loved him as a player, love him as a coach. He’s a smart guy who knows the game and knows players. I really appreciate that he would say something like this. I feel like most coaches would avoid it altogether, but Horny just gets right to the point by saying he expects more from himself and his guys. Good stuff. It sucks to lose to the Spurs, but I think with a guy like Hornacek as the coach, this will be a LESSON learned and not a HABIT formed.

  • 2 SOUTHPHILLY // Dec 19, 2013 at 7:29 am


  • 3 Voqar // Dec 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

    No, no, and no. We don’t need washed up dinosaurs and those fools can’t get their own shot any more than Bledsoe or dragic.

    Dragic looked tentative at the end of the game like he didn’t want to try to drive or shoot and Bledsoe was a little off too. SA’s defense has a little to do with it but both need to not be so easily intimidated.

    SA does get away with a frickin ton of touching and hacking, they always have, and you just have to play thru it and not let it psych you out.

    The foolish turnovers, poor shot selection, people handling the ball too much who shouldn’t be, poor shot selection, lack of movement and passing, and people forcing it when they’re clearly not on – address these and the game won’t come down to such a tight margin or the need for a closer to come back from 5 points down.

    The suns lack the mental discipline of a team like the spurs – but they can get there, this group is just getting going in their potential.

    At least the FO doesn’t suck horribly anymore, we have a seemingly good coach and coaching staff, and the team is heading in the right direction.

    No need to panic and make a completely stupid trade for a burnt out player that doesn’t fit the team’s style or identity in any way.

  • 4 Roger // Dec 19, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Still need a closer !!

  • 5 Bill Danforth // Dec 19, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Suns have already formed the habit of losing to the Spurs. So having Hornacek as coach makes up for the lack of personnel necessary to beat them?

    Where did the Suns fail in this game? PF despite Frye going for 22. He grabbed his season average of 5 boards and was shut-down by former Sun Boris Diaw when it counted.

    Also how do you let old men Ginobilli and Duncan post big numbers?

    This was a statement game for the Suns and they failed. They are in no-mans land, too good for a lottery pick and not good enough to compete for a title. Been there too many times already.

  • 6 SOUTHPHILLY // Dec 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm


  • 7 Sonic // Dec 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I think right now is the time to revaluate this team. Suns can go 2 ways: tank or improve (their team), the worst thing (3rd way) is to leave things as it is, because it will leave us with 7-10th seed and 1st round playoff exit/missing the playoffs. We are pretty much last year’s Denver Nuggets ver. 0,5
    So now is the time to make moves: accumulate assets or improve roster.

  • 8 Sonic // Dec 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    1) IMPROVE (part 1)
    That’s a first option.
    We got to look who’s available: Omer Asik, Jeff Green, Dion Waiters, Iman Shumpert, David Lee, Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry. We also can pretty much pick (almost) any (veteran) player from rebuilding teams: Celtics, 76rs, Orlando.
    Sacramento made their moves, Utah got only young players, same with the Bucks.
    Oh, and we can pick anybody from Knicks, outside of Melo. Not that we want to…

    How to improve this team?
    - Rebounding and post defense
    Miles Plumlee and Chaning Frye averege (together) 13 rbs per game. That’s less than Kevin Love (13,7).
    Who would help Suns rebound? Easy answer is Asik. He averaged 12 rbs per game last year playing 30 min. per game. There are no other defensive centers on the market. How about Power Forwards? If we want to improve our rebounding, Kevin Love and Greg Monroe are who we need. Neither of them is a good defender, but they can get those rebounds.
    Kevin Love is not available this year (but next summer…). Greg Monroe is not athletic, can score but I’m not sure what Detroit demands for him (Tucker, Morris or picks?). Best answer right now: Omer Asik.
    Rockets failed to trade him today and his price is going down. I think we can get him.
    Omer Asik for Frye and Indy 1st rnd pick
    or Omer Asik for Frye and Plumlee
    Rockets need a stretch 4 and Frye is a very good 3pt shooter. Plumlee as a backup to Dwight or pick (Morey always want more picks)

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Plumlee, but he’s overmatched against bigger centers and is not as good at altering shots as Asik is.

  • 9 Sonic // Dec 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    IMPROVE (part 2)
    Somebody that can shoot off the dribble, but is not a ballhog. There is no easy answer for that need, but I would roll the dice with Dion Waiters as a 3rd guard of the bench (a’la Jamal Crawford).
    Jeff Green is also an option, but he’s not… that.
    After all it’s not that bad, we got 2 PG who can take that shot.
    *I would like to mention that I don’t consider us trading for old players like Gasol or Randolph, players without upside or even more – players that get worse.

  • 10 Dave:f32 // Dec 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Here’s thinking outside the box: what about trading for Amare Stoudemire?

    Can it be done for cheap some way, or would the Suns have to pay dearly… Amare’s probably not satisfied or happy in New York – and he has a fan base in phx … With him, management knows what their getting and he would fit well with Bledsoe and dragic and the young guys until we can get a youngster through the draft (Randle) (as bleacher has the Suns getting him at número cinco)

  • 11 Evan // Dec 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    If we are going to trade for anyone it should be Melo, the is the only way we get more then we give up. Seriously, for Melo we could give up 2-3 picks and one or 2 players (NOT Dragic or Bledsoe. Asik? I would rather have a pick, he is not better than Plumlee or even Keif (right now). Stat? Come on there is a reason we did not sign him, he cannot stay healthy, Randolph? Not a closer, but I can see the potential, and no standing pat without making a deal is a BAD idea, that gives this team NO shot at either the championship or a good pick in the lotery which is the team every year except 2004-2007 and 2010, and last year because we actually had a good shot at the #1 pick (in the worst draft in decades) As a life long suns fan I HATE being in that position, we cannot beat the top teams in the NBA (except the Blazers, but does anyone outside of the pacific north west, really take them seriously?) We need a real star.

  • 12 john // Dec 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    @Bill Danforth

    What habit has been formed on Hornacek’s watch? He’s been the coach for 24 games. Gain a little perspective.

    What I said was that Horny seems like the kind of coach who will turn poor games (which is what this was) into lessons learned rather than habits. I guess you can disagree with that statement if you want, but you’d have no basis of reason. By all accounts, Horny is a fantastic coach, and I believe those reports (the fact that the Suns will beat their Vegas over/under in 1/3 of the season seems to tell of his quality, imo).

  • 13 john // Dec 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    And to all you guys talking about how much you want the Suns to suck so they can get a better pick, don’t stick in no man’s land, blah blah blah…

    How many games did you go to last year? How many times did you give up your money to watch that team play? I go to about 15 games a year. I would much rather watch a good but not great team than establish a loser like they had last year. It wasn’t fun to watch that team, and the empty stands proved it. The road to the championship isn’t always paved by the draft.

  • 14 Sonic // Dec 19, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    @john that’s only true if there are free agents that want to play for you. And in near future both New York (Knicks) and Los Angeles (Lakers) will be in need of new superstar. So tell me, FA will choose: A) Phoenix B) New York C) LA
    You need at least 1 star to get another and I don’t see any on this team.

  • 15 SHAZAM // Dec 19, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    fantastic article…lots of stuff here that cant be found anywhere it when kevin posts with out deadline pressures..good job

  • 16 foreveris2long // Dec 19, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    It appears the Lakers have signed Kendall Marshall to a non-guaranteed contract. Sucks for them. I cannot wait to see that bum in a Lakers uniform Monday.

  • 17 john // Dec 19, 2013 at 8:49 pm


    Free agency isn’t the only route either.

    Btw, where’d you get your crystal ball? Mine is getting kinda dated.

  • 18 john // Dec 19, 2013 at 8:50 pm


    Wow, I didn’t realize the Lakers were THAT desperate.

  • 19 foreveris2long // Dec 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Yeah John, things are falling apart in LA. They owe a broken down Kobe $50m over the next two years and they have given away 2 first round picks for Nash who has not done anything this year. Could not happen to a nicer team.

  • 20 Scott // Dec 19, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    @forever -

    I’m curious to see how LA’s Marshall plan works out. Will he clash with D’Antoni? Will he take instruction from Nash? Is he any different after his experience of getting cut from the league?

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