Another game against the Grizzlies. Another poor second-half effort from the Suns. Another loss for Phoenix who fell 104-99 at the FedEx Forum tonight. This game was split in two for the Suns. Over the first 30 minutes, Phoenix shot over 52% from the floor and 60% from downtown (9-of-15). Halfway through the third, they led the Grizz by 7 points and looked to be fully in control of the game. The frontcourt was hanging tough on the boards, and making Zach Randolph work hard for his points (7-of-18 from the floor.) The backcourt was raining threes and keeping Memphis on its heels defensively. But then the momentum of the game completely flipped and everything that had been working for the Suns began to work against them.
Over the final 18 minutes of the game, the Suns fell in love with the 3-ball, but the 3-ball did not love them back. Phoenix went just 2-for-15 from downtown including an 0-for-5 stretch by Channing Frye. Phoenix shot just 25% from the floor in the final quarter and a half, allowing Memphis to erase their lead and eventually overtake them for the win.
Worse than the Suns frigid shooting was the way their defense collapsed in the latter part of the game. Tired legs led to wide open jumpshots. Though the Grizzlies always had one or two inept offensive players on the floor, the Suns did not even try to double team Z-Bo in the post or throw another defender at Mike Conley on the perimeter. Coach Hornacek’s failure to adjust his defensive plan as Memphis was gaining ground is as much to blame for this loss as the Suns cold shooting.
For more on this disappointing loss, let’s answer our three preview questions.
Can the Suns win the points in the paint battle?
An emphatic no. The Suns were absolutely abused inside getting outscored in the paint 52-32. They also gave up 14 offensive rebounds. Much of the Suns paint scoring deficit was built early in the game when second chance points helped keep Memphis close. Zach Randolph ended the night with 20 points and 13 boards. He and Ed Davis combined for 30 rebounds, 10 of which were the offensive variety. For most of this game, Phoenix’s frontcourt was powerless on the glass against Randolph and Co.
As I posited in the preview, the Suns went big for most of the first half. The Morris’ didn’t play in the first quarter at all. Channing Frye played all 12 minutes matched up against Z-Bo, and Alex Len spelled Miles Plumlee late in the first and in the early part of the second. I actually like the defensive effort of the Suns on Randolph. They blocked his shot at least four times, including one by Len, and forced him into 12 missed shots overall. But as is Memphis’ philosophy, Zach will grit and grind his defenders down, and eventually get his point. The issue for Phoenix inside wasn’t really Randolph, it was whoever was playing alongside him. Plumlee and the Morris twins were a bit hapless inside when they weren’t matched up on Z-Bo. They allowed Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis to combine for 18 points, many of which were wide open looks and dunks. The painted area is the focus of the Grizzlies offense, so they’re going to get their points there, but the Suns’ big men could have done more to make the lesser Grizzlies’ big men work for their points.
What it really came down to for the Suns was Channing Frye. When he was making Z-Bo work and knocking down shots early, he gave the Suns a huge advantage. When he went ice cold down the stretch, he was a liability who shot the Suns out of the game. Markieff Morris chipped in 9 points in the fourth quarter to help Phoenix stay competitive but those came on 12 shots. He finished with 17 points overall. Kieff has to get more comfortable putting his head down and getting to the rim. He settles for midrange jumpers too often. Alex Len once again looked much improved both on offense and defense, but he did not play at all in the second half.
Which bench unit will shine brighter?
The Suns’ bench barely edged out Memphis’ in scoring 37-31. The Morris twins had 26 of those points, while new hire Leandro Barbosa showed flashes of his former self with four points on two very pretty floaters. With Eric Bledsoe set to miss significant time, Barbosa should be a welcome and calming influence for this team. He looks to have some if not all of the speed that earned him the Brazilian Blur nickname. He was a solid secondary ball handler in this game, a good sign of things moving forward.
In reality though, the Suns actually lost the battle of the benches. Though they outscored Memphis’ reserves, they also conceded ground to the Grizzlies every time the Phoenix starters went off the floor. Every one of Phoenix’s reserves was on the negative side of plus/minus while all of the Grizzlies’ bench players were on the positive side. Ed Davis, Nick Calathes, and new addition Courtney Lee played very hard and very efficiently. They were a serious change of pace from the plodding starters and the Suns did not have an answer for them.
Can Dragic carry the team once again?
Dragic once again gave his best effort, and once again it was not enough to beat the Grizz. Goran finished with 21 points on just 10 shots. He added eight assists and committed only one turnover. But he played just 32 minutes. I’m not sure if Dragic was exhausted of if Coach Hornacek was just conserving his energy. But the Suns could certainly have used a bit more of him when the Grizzlies were clawing their way back into the game in the fourth.
The one place Dragic was not stellar was on defense. He could do absolutely nothing to stay in front of Conley who ended the night with 31 points. Dragic was asked to do a lot in this game, so I’m not sure why Coach Hornacek didn’t put P.J. Tucker onto Conley until the final minute of the game. Tucker spent most of the game on Tayshaun Prince, who isn’t really much of a threat at this point in his career. Dragic was good, but Conley was better.