Earlier this week on the ValleyoftheSuns podcast, I cited rebounding as the biggest surprise of Phoenix Suns’ early hot streak, and rightfully so. The Suns entered tonight’s contest at New Orleans outrebounding their opponents by two boards per game.
But on a night when the Suns couldn’t seem to come up with any loose balls, the Hornets took advantage and squandered my podcast analysis by murdering the Suns on the glass, 56-38.
That mind-boggling rebounding edge allowed the Hornets to sting the first-place Suns, 110-103, and what’s most mind boggling is the fact that Phoenix outboarded New Orleans 45-29 last week at USAC, a difference of 34 boards between the two games.
This time around a Hornets team without its best player and arguably the NBA’s best point guard, Chris Paul, outhustled Phoenix on the way to its fifth win of the season.
To be completely honest, New Orleans looked bad on offense through the first three quarters. It was clear the Hornets were operating without their engine, as they only shot 40.2 percent from the field for the game. But their 13 three-pointers and 38 second-chance points proved to be the difference in this Western Conference battle.
First-year Hornet Emeka Okafor set the tone early for New Orleans, posting an impressive 11 points and eight boards in the first quarter. The Suns had no answer for the former UConn Husky and 2004 second overall pick, as he picked the Suns bigs apart — mostly Channing Frye.
Okafor’s rebounding was not the Hornets’ only noteworthy performance on the glass. Peja Stojakavic posted his first double-double in over 10 months — 25 points and 13 rebounds — and quite frankly played out of his mind. Peja played like it was 2003, but the Suns made it awfully easy for the Serbian, allowing him to knock down 6-of-10 three-pointers, the majority of which came on wide-open looks.
Stojakovic came into the contest only averaging 10 points per game and put up a goose egg against the Suns in their first meeting of the season, going 0-for-8 from the field. But the Suns simply gave him and his New Orleans Hornets teammates far too many chances to pull out a victory.
New Orleans’ work on the glass was absolutely unheralded, as they corralled a ridiculous 25 offensive rebounds. That hustle and rebounding propelled the formerly 4-8 Hornets to their biggest win of the young NBA season.
The Suns never really seemed tuned in from the get-go. As has been the case most of the season, the Suns dug themselves out of a 13-point first-half deficit but could never take complete control of the game.
By looking at the box score, the Suns’ offense didn’t look all-too bad, as they had seven players in double figures, but it was clear the Suns weren’t exactly lethal from the field. They shot 45.8 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three, both solid numbers but still below their season averages.
But even if the Suns shot 60 percent from the field, it is almost impossible to win games giving up 25 offensive rebounds and 38 second-chance points. Let me repeat that, 38 second-chance points!
Regardless of their lackluster performance on the glass, the Suns still had their chances to win this ballgame. With the game tied and just over two minutes left, Stojakovic came down and knocked a deep three over Nash to put the Hornets up three. After a Richardson air ball, rookie point guard Darren Collison hit a three of his own to virtually ice the game for New Orleans.
The Hornets pulled away late as a result of the aforementioned threes, but as I said before, the story of the game was rebounding. It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the Suns’ rebounding was exposed. The whole gang rebounding strategy simply seemed too good to be true.
The Suns were, however, only five rebounds below their season average of 43.3, but the Hornets’ 56 rebounds — 49 of which came through three quarters — stifled the once red-hot Phoenix Suns.
Frye finished with his second 10-rebound effort of the season, but regardless of his rebounding total, he was dominated early and often by Okafor. Stoudemire was no better on the glass, as he only managed to grab a measly five rebounds. Almost every Sun was around their season averages in points, but they were unable to do what they have done the majority of the season — grind out a victory.
Through three quarters this contest looked very much like previous games in which the Suns erased big deficits to come back and win against Miami, Philadelphia, Toronto and Houston. But that comeback magic just wasn’t there tonight for the Suns, and Alvin Gentry and the boys will have to take a serious look at their effort on the glass after this one, because they were flat-out embarrassed.
While the Suns definitely aren’t expected to win every game, New Orleans sent this team back to the rebounding drawing board, something that probably had to happen eventually. Unlike the first 12 games of the season, the Suns weren’t tough enough tonight and couldn’t find a way to continue that grind-it-out, comeback kid mentality.
- On the bright side, Jared Dudley continued his quest for the NBA’s most improved player award. He connected on his first four shot attempts, all threes, and finished the game 5-of-7 for 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Dudley was one of the few bright spots for this Suns team tonight.
- As Schwartz pointed out in the game thread, the Suns lost their 16th straight game on TNT. Call it a coincidence, but I call it a curse.
- The Suns have topped the 100-point mark in every game this season. The last Suns team to do that through 13 games was the 1988-89 Suns.