Detroit Pistons 110, Phoenix 108 – Josh Smith plays the villain

Posted by on January 11th, 9:21 pm

Josh Smith and Gerald Green battled back and forth in the final minute to see who could bring their team a hard fought victory. Though Green had a chance to win it at the buzzer, Smith and the Pistons prevailed 110-108.

Gerald Green gave the Suns their only lead of the game when he hit a three just a minute into the game. He very nearly gave them their second lead as time expired, but his leaning three-point attempt form the corner nicked the side of the back board on its way to the hoop. Another inch or two to the right, and the Suns could have won a game that early on looked like a blowout.

The first quarter of this game was the worst basketball Phoenix has played all season. That is not an exaggeration. The Suns gave up 32 points in the opening frame, the most they’ve allowed this season. 14 of those points came on fast breaks. Brandon Jennings dished out 11 first quarter assists, most of them for layups and dunks as 30 off Detroit’s 32 points were scored in the paint. See, I told you I wasn’t exaggerating.

On the other end, Andre Drummond recorded three blocks. The Suns turned the ball over four times, and failed to reach 40% shooting from the field. Down 14 points after just 12 minutes, Phoenix looked as though all their travel had finally caught up to them. They had no answer for Detroit’s size on offense or defense and seemed either uninterested or unable to get back on defense.

On offensive, teams have two choices when a shot goes up, they can commit players to hit the glass, or make sure they get back on defense. In the first half, the Suns did neither. The Pistons ran every chance they got, ending the game with 28 fast break points. At the same time, the Suns were helpless on the boards against Detroit’s frontcourt trio of Smith, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe. By halftime, Detroit was already +14 in rebounds. Detroit went into the locker room looking like a sleeper in the East while Phoenix looked like a team poised for a collapse in the wake of their star point guard’s injury. But the Pistons never built a lead bigger than 18 and never put the Suns away.

The comeback started midway through the third. Coach Hornacek decided to go small after starting Len and Plumlee together in the second half. He brought on Channing Frye and Ish Smith and the Suns shooters started to heat up. Detroit’s lead evaporated in less than 10 minutes as Phoenix hit 8 triples including four by Frye.  The Suns tied the game at 92 with just under seven minutes to play. Detroit responded, but once again could not put the Suns away. Channing Frye scored And 1’s in the post on two straight possessions which brought the lead down to five with under three minutes to play. After two consecutive stops and a pair of Dragic free throws, P.J. Tucker tied the game with a dagger from the corner. On the ensuing possession, Phoenix had incredible defensive effort, but a deflection bounced right to Josh Smith who nailed a three. With time winding down, Wednesday’s night’s savior, Gerald Green, was fouled on his attempt to tie the game and hit all three very clutch free throws. With four seconds left, the Pistons got the ball into the hot hands of Josh Smith who banked in an improbable leaner over Frye with just over a second left. Green’s attempt at a game winner missed the mark, and the Suns endured yet another heartbreaker.

Phoenix won the final three quarters, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their slow start. They played with incredible heart down the stretch, and that’s something this team can be proud of and build upon going forward. For more on this wild game, let’s answer our preview questions.

Can the Suns get to the rim?

Yes the Suns were very focused on getting to the rim right from the outset of this game. They ended the night 40 points in the paint. When the Suns weren’t getting their shot blocked, their penetration and interior passing led to easy baskets, including 12 points and at least four dunks for Miles Plumlee. The problem was that all the penetration put the Suns in bad positions to get back on defense. Andre Drummond’s five blocks not only made the Suns nervous around the hoop, but they also started fast breaks that led to easy buckets for Detroit. The penetration was an excellent offensive adjustment from last night’s game for Phoenix. The next step it to tweak their offensive rotations to ensure they are in proper position for transition D.

Can the Suns turn Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings into jumpshooters?

Early on, the Suns had no answer for Jennings or Smith. 15 of J-Smoove’s 25 points and 11 of Jennings’ 18 dimes came in the first quarter. P.J. Tucker did an admirable job on Smith throughout the game, but Josh was on fire, so it didn’t really matter if the Suns made him a jump shooter or not. As for Jennings, Dragic played off of him for most of the game, trying to encourage him to shoot jumpers. In the first half, Dragic being a step off simply allowed Brandon the space to find open teammates for easy buckets. But in the second half, Jennings started settling for jumpers instead of penetrating and dishing. That stagnated the Pistons’ offense and allowed Phoenix to get back in the game. Phoenix stuck to the game plan of keeping Smith and Jennings out of the key in as best they could, but given both guys’ ridiculous stat lines, the Suns can’t really claim a win in those battles.

Which Phoenix reserve will be the biggest weapon?

Phoenix’s bench was a huge reason this game was close at the end instead of a lopsided defeat. Marcus Morris had 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting. His jumper was falling, and he was one of the few Suns who wasn’t afraid to bang with Detroit’s bigs and get to the line. Ish Smith was the spark that ignited the comeback. He handed out six assists and committed no turnovers. Barbosa looked ever more comfortable handling and scoring the ball. Really the only disappointing bench player was Alex Len who committed five fouls in just seven minutes. Both he and Miles Plumlee were totally outclassed and physically dominated by Andre Drummond (13 points and 13 boards) and Greg Monroe (20 points and 12 boards).

As a final note, P.J. Tucker played his heart out in this game. He posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards. He hit big shots, didn’t shy away from all that size, and was the emotional leader for the struggling Suns. Without P.J., Phoenix would have gotten destroyed in this game, one of the wildest and most frustrating the Suns have played in a long time.

Ryan Weisert

Ryan Weisert is a staff writer for ValleyoftheSuns. You can also find him at his sports and pop culture blog Spectavius.com.

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Tags: Detroit Pistons · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ShanMan // Jan 11, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Beating a dead horse, but the Suns sure need an upgrade in size at the 4. Kevin Love is probably a pipe dream, but they need something. When Bledsoe returns, him and Dragic seem to be able to man down the backcourt. Tucker is that role player Sefalosha-Horry-Finley type player who plays awesome defense and can hit a corner 3. Plumlee is a solid double double threat most games at center. The glaring weaknesses are obviously missing Bledsoe, and the power forwards. I hope the GM recognizes this as I would hope he is more in tune with his team than a fan on the outside looking in.

  • 2 Luka // Jan 12, 2014 at 12:58 am

    The Suns have had interest in Thaddeus Young. He’d be a great fit on this team. He’s not exactly the big PF everyone is clamoring for, but he’d be a good scorer and create mismatch problems.

    If the Suns really wanted to push the envelope they’d put all their cards on the table and try and get Turner as well. If Phoenix offered Okafor, the Morris twins or Frye, and two draft picks that could be enough to convince Philadelphia. The Suns take on Young’s deal, and Turner had an expiring contract, so he won’t impact the Bledsoe situation and gives Phoenix a stop gap.

  • 3 foreveris2long // Jan 12, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Man Tucker plays with a lot of heart. If we ever get a four (power forward) with Tucker’s heart and defensive skills, the opponent is going to be in trouble. I think a few weeks ago someone was making a case for a power forward at Iowa State. If so they play Kansas tomorrow night on tv so it should be a good game to watch.

    No shame in the loss last night as we played tough after the 1st quarter. They are a physical team and the Suns are not but I am convinced McD will address that between now and next season. Glad we play the Lakers next Wednesday as every sick team needs those doormats on their schedule after a losing road trip.

  • 4 the real al // Jan 12, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Honestly, 1-3 on this 4-game road trip. I’ll take it, and as a direct contrast I’m actually quite pleased with the trip. Here’s why:

    I look at this road trip the same way I looked at the beginning of the season where the Suns were in a lot of games but weren’t winning many of them. It’s a learning / “what is my role” process all over again with Bledsoe out and without the luxury of figuring it out at home.

    The incorporation of Barbosa and Len with the exclusion of Bledsoe multiplied by the role adjustments the entire team has been forced to go through just when they were settling into cemented roles prior to the bledsoe injury is a lot to digest and they went 1-3 while having chances to win every game they played over that stretch. I don’t see a problem here.

    There is no need to panic. This team is fine. They’re taking their lumps. Most importantly it’s critical to understand that the team is YOUNG! I’m not talking “average age” young. I’m talking, in terms of having “winning-games important” roles, nobody on this team outside of Dragon, Frye, and Tucker have had to be counted on to perform on a level needed executing certain things so the team can win. That is a BIG DEAL.

    They need to be on the court learning. Not traded away or behind some guy the Suns trade for who probably isn’t going to be around long term anyway.

    NO need to panic the team is good. They’re learning to play without one half of what makes this team dangerous. It’s going to take a little time.

  • 5 the real al // Jan 12, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Most suns fans went from understanding the rebuild strategy, to being so excited with the team’s early success that they’ve blinded themselves to the simple fact that no matter what, this is STILL a rebuilding season with a ton of youngsters getting their feet wet.

    No matter how much success the team has earned, this is still a rebuilding season!

  • 6 Emanuel // Jan 12, 2014 at 10:26 am

    I agree 110% with you Al, first of, am new to this site as far as posting stuff, but I read here everyday….No matter what, the Suns have over achieved this season…..they’ve shown they can play with anyone, night in, night out…..this is a team that less than a week ago were 5 in the west, they’re leading the league in top categories, they were slotted into an ESPN game in favor of a Houston team that at the beginning of the season was suppose to be one of the best teams in the league……am sure if we had Bledsoe playing right now, the outcome of this games would’ve been, not to mention the adjustments we’ve had to make to incorporate Len and Barbosa……GO SUNS……..

  • 7 Emanuel // Jan 12, 2014 at 10:30 am

    The outcome of those games would’ve been WINS….at least half of them…..

  • 8 Dave:f32 // Jan 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Suns: lets get us a handle on that Julius Randle

    Markieff Morris only played 8 min. and went 0/4. Marcus played way more and went 5/10 from the field. Gerald Green went 5/17 and Barbosa went 3/9. Just a bad shooting night… Ish went 1/7 and Dragic only shot 9 times, hitting 5 of those shots.

    The Suns are right where they are supposed to be for a rebuilding team. Expect a trade or two in the next couple weeks or so…

  • 9 Russell's Suns // Jan 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I’m not sure what to think of Tucker he shows great hustle and goes after every single rebound. But Tucker cannot guard bigger small forwards, Josh Smith was scoring easily last night, the NBA is dominated by bigger small forwards, Durant, Lebron, Paul George, Josh Smith, in order to contain these guys in any way you need a big small forward like Luol Deng, Deng can score inside, outside, rebound, pass, and he is stellar defensively.

    And that’s exactly what we need, again I love tucker! But he should be coming off the bench playing 25 minutes defending the guards, last night he could not stop Josh Smith.

  • 10 Animan // Jan 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more Al

  • 11 Rengaw // Jan 12, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I believe in the San Antonio Spurs recipe for success , namely a strong defense .

    l. You need a big who guards the rim and rebounds …….. Plumlee .

    2. You need a player who can really guard the other team’s high scorers at shooting guard and small forward ‘ .,.., Tucker .

    3. You need a point guard who can really pressure the other teams point guard and fight through screens . …… Bledsoe and Ish Smith . Notice how Detroit ran their offense with ease when Dragic was defending and how the Suns got back in the game when Ish was pressuring the Pistons point .

  • 12 Voqar // Jan 12, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Painful game to watch, mostly because I think the team could do better.

    I’m sure the 4 games in 5 nights didn’t help – the hustle wasn’t always there, Detroit out ran them repeatedly for easy hoops.

    Smith did hit a few really tough/lucky/never to be repeated shots down the stretch which didn’t help.

  • 13 EBJM // Jan 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

    The Suns success thus far had many over-looking an under-achieving Piston’s team that is built to stop Phoenix, on the boards with the league’s biggest front-court. Piston’s embarrassed Phoenix 59-45 with Frye grabbing a meager three and Markieff only one.

    On the bright side is Alex Len who grabbed four in seven minutes but had five fouls. He has shown a nose for the ball.

    There shouldn’t be an adjustment period for Barbosa, Suns play basic ball, That is one of the reasons they brought Barbosa back, he is used to playing Suns ball.

    You could point to Will Bynum’s 16 points and Jennings 18 dimes as the reason the Suns lost in addition to getting killed on the boards. Ish Smith led the team with +12 which is surprising since he shot 1-7.

    As far as someone pointed out Plumlee should stop using his preferred shot, the hook and change to a face-up shot, Well Miles simply doesn’t have any shot period. I’d rather he keep working on the hook and see him develop it into a jump-hook ala Kevin Willis and he would be unstoppable with his hops.

    Drummond caused Plumlee problems, so this is a match-up a mature and developed Alex Len would of had better results.

    Without Bledsoe Suns are a fairly average team. Too bad their early season success might cost them a lottery pick. Wolves are picking at #13, Wizards at #17, Suns #22. All Suns picks.

    NBAdraftnet and myNBAdraft doesn’t have Phoenix selecting any PFs with those picks. Draftexpress has them taking Montrezl Harrell an undersized PF/C with the Wizards pick. Almost all mock drafts have the Suns going after Glenn Robinson III.

  • 14 Foreveris2long // Jan 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    EBJM, Way to bring the insight with the coffee. I agree Plumlee should perfect his hook as opposed to aborting it. While I agree there are slim pickings IMO at power forward for the upcoming draft, I am not surprised many have the Suns selecting a wing man like G. Robinson, whose selection I would applaud. Hoopshype this morning was giving a little love to power forward, Aaron Gordon at U of A. Both Hawki and I agree he needs a lot of work offensively but the pickings are so slim at the 4 this summer I am hoping we can somehow move up to find a four who can at least defend and rebound. Sounds as though Gordon could be a top ten pick if he enters the draft. So far it seems like a bad draft for power forwards.

  • 15 EBJM // Jan 13, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    A Detroit trade before the draft just might benefit both teams. The Suns acquire Monroe and the Pistons take a couple of picks and bolster their back-court & take a SF and move Josh Smith over to the “4″.

    Expect some irony tonight against the Knicks. Remember how we all groaned as opposing PFs would have career nights against Amare? Well Amare has been playing great lately and watch him have a big game against Frye or Markieff. Amare has been playing a lot of center, so I don’t know who might end up guarding him.

  • 16 BCrayZ // Jan 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Give the Suns some credit.

    They almost won, were it not for those last 2 lucky shots by Josh, their 5th consecutive bounce back game, after a loss & did so coming back from being way down..

    Frye, again our high scorer, went strong to the hoop. Even though Miles could not get it done, Chinga (Frye) was not intimidated by their size. Both he & Barbosa finished the game in the plus (+/-.) Need to give him more inside help by bringing Louis back. Make it so Ryan.

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

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