Phoenix- It can be easy to forget that the Phoenix Suns (26-19) are the 4th youngest team in the NBA.
After posting 48 wins last season, and playing themselves right into the middle of a playoff push again this season, it isn’t wrong to assume that traits such as maturity and discipline will naturally start to take over a team that wins more than they have lost in the past year and a half.
So far that hasn’t been the case, and Friday night’s 113-111 loss to the Houston Rockets (30-14) was another great example of a young team that isn’t quite ready to handle success.
The Suns were thoroughly dominated for 43 minutes by a Rockets team that lost Dwight Howard early in the first quarter to a right ankle sprain. Even without their All-Star center, the Rockets were able to score points at will in the paint off easy, uncontested layups and dunks.
It took a frantic 23-9 run in the final 5:31 for the Suns to tie the game on a Markieff Morris 3-point play, which only set the tone for another heart-breaking defeat. Former Arizona State standout James Harden hit a step-back 20-footer as the buzzer sounded to hand Phoenix its third loss at the buzzer this season.
“He made a tough shot, (Thomas) came over to contest it and he made a good play,” Tucker said on Harden’s final shot. “That wasn’t what beat us, we gave up so many fastbreak points, layups and dunks throughout the game. We were resilient at the end, but there were so many plays before that.”
Plays that call into question if the Suns are at the point where they can handle winning a few games in a row.
Defensively, there was a breakdown on what seemed to be every 4-5 possessions throughout the night. There was one time where Patrick Beverly was able to shoot two uncontested three-pointers on one possession from the same spot, with his second shot coming a good six seconds after the first. Or the time when Josh Smith, yes that Josh Smith, outran every Sun down the court for a dunk.
Those are just two examples of the many defensive breakdowns throughout the night, which was the ultimate reason for the Suns 7-game home winning streak coming to an end.
“The coaches didn’t feel that we were ready to play tonight,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after the game. “They scored 32 points in the first quarter on us on our home court.
“Just from the start, we weren’t intense. We gave up so many easy things that I would say for the first eight minutes of the game, everything we went over on our scouting report this morning, on the board before the game, the guys did none of it. I don’t know what we were doing in the first eight minutes, but it’s just a sign that you are not ready to play and you are not focused.”
For what it’s worth, the Suns did hold Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer, scoreless in those first eight minutes. Though, he was able to have a game-high 33 points, and dish out 10 assists for his 11th double-double of the season.
Even with Harden’s big night, the Suns should not have been in the hole they were in, needing a near miraculous rally at the end to have a chance. The preparation for a game starts in the morning at shootaround, and even players didn’t feel like the team was mentally focused.
“It starts at shootaround, we have to be more focused and that is the biggest thing,” Isaiah Thomas said. “We can’t just turn it on when the lights go on, we got to prepare ourselves. Coach said he didn’t think we were focused at shootaround and it will help us.”
A harsh, but possibly valuable lesson learned for a team that had won 14 of 18 coming into Friday’s game. One lesson that still isn’t being learned is the technical foul problem.
The Suns went five games without picking up a technical, unfortunately that came to an end with Goran Dragic and Tucker each picking up a “T” in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
Tucker’s technical came for getting into Harden’s face, while Dragic’s was for arguing a call with an official. Hornacek stated that if you get a technical you will be benched, and both players went immediately to the sidelines after the technicals.
After the game, Hornacek explained that Tucker went back into the game only because his technical was not yelling at an official, while Dragic’s was, and he did indeed sit for the remaining 17 minutes from the point of his technical.
It seemed that Tucker’s technical was about setting the tone, as it came just 25 seconds into the half. The Suns gave up 60 first half points, and the Suns forward was seemingly trying to do something about it.
“Being physical,” Tucker stated on his technical. “I take those techs all day, it isn’t talking to refs or something like that.
“We needed to mix it up, gave up so many offensive rebounds and fastbreak points. You need some fire in your belly, if it takes a tech to do that then that’s fine with me, but I’m not going to lay back and let guys run over us.”