Blindly choose what the Phoenix Suns didn’t do right in a 108-95 road loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night, and there’s a good chance it’d be spot on.
The Suns’ defense was flat-out bad — with all the holes, call it Net-like if you’d like — giving up 58.6 percent shooting to a Brooklyn team led by a small-ball starting lineup. Nets point guard Deron Williams scored 28 points by hitting 11-of-13 shots, both at the rim and on the perimeter, and all five starters found ease in hitting double figures without playing more than Williams’ 33 minutes.
The Suns stars didn’t give them much of a chance. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe racked up fouls and combined for just 23 points and seven assists. And they got little support from their fellow starters.
Phoenix hit 6-of-22 (27 percent) from three-point range and went 15-of-28 from the foul stripe.
Markieff Morris and Gerald Green scored 18 and 17, respectively, off the bench, and that gave the Suns a chance to turn a double-digit lead into a game, but Jeff Hornacek’s team could never get over the top.
Once again, the energy was missing from a once scrappy Suns squad.
As has been the case, Phoenix got down early, showing sluggish offense and much, much worse defense. It allowed the Nets to shoot 70 percent in the first quarter to take a 10-point lead after 12 minutes. More painfully, Brooklyn scored 52 points in the paint for the game, not an eyebrow raising number until it’s understood the Nets came in as the second-worst NBA team at 37 paint points per game.
Considering Brooklyn went with guard-heavy lineups, it came down to slow — or lazy — lateral defense and then little help once Williams and fellow guard Shaun Livingston attacked off the dribble.
The Suns put in a run to get it within single digits in the second quarter, but the Nets quickly answered to go ahead 62-49 at halftime. With less than four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Suns again chipped away to get within nine points, but Brooklyn once again squashed any momentum with a 14-0 run to put the foot to the throat of Hornacek’s fragile crew.
To the pregame preview questions from Ryan Weisert.
Can Phoenix win the battle of the boards?
The Suns won the rebounding battled 40-36 overall, but it meant little in the end. Phoenix was actually the bigger of the two teams as Brooklyn rolled out a starting lineup of rookie center Mason Plumlee planked by swingmen Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. The Suns did fine holding the Nets to single opportunities, and on their own end, they did a decent job in grabbing 12 offensive boards.
But Phoenix couldn’t do much with the extra possessions, shooting 3-for-11 on second opportunities.
Whose pace will win out?
This wasn’t the slow-footed Nets team Phoenix faced at home way back when. Jason Kidd’s team went small and played fast behind an attacking Deron Williams, who went 11-for-13 from the floor and scored an easy 28 points. Brooklyn finished with 20 fastbreak points to Phoenix’s 11, using the Suns’ own medicine to burn them.
Phoenix shot 46 percent itself, not bad considering all things, but what made it strong throughout the more successful portions of the season — running it down opponents’ throats — didn’t happen.
It’s hard to get into an rhythm when the opponent is making everything, after all.
Who wins the brotherly battle?
Mason Plumlee got the best of his older brother, aside from the jump ball. Miles’ little brother finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Miles scored just three points and grabbed six rebounds — though Mason played 27 minutes to Miles’ 18.
Gerald Green got the Green light to start the second half in place of the Suns’ Plumlee as Phoenix attempted to match the small ball crew of Brooklyn, but it didn’t pay enough dividends for the Suns to have a serious chance at making it a game.