PHOENIX — In search of methods to prevent the opposition from unleashing frequent scoring outbursts, the Suns on Friday finally discovered a temporary remedy.
Let’s refer to it as Hack-A-Piston.
This unwittingly deployed tactic worked wonders as the Suns performed some prolific free-throw defense in a 98-92 victory over the Detroit Pistons at US Airways Center.
"It seemed like miss after miss," said Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, who shot 88 percent from the line during his NBA career. "To me, it’s just go up there and shoot with confidence."
The latter portion of Hornacek’s reaction was aimed at his team, which bricked 11 of its 35 free-throw attempts (68.5 percent) and still managed to shoot a whisker under 30 percent higher than the Pistons.
Harking back to the 1985-86 campaign, this 38.5 percent arctic blast from Detroit (10 of 26) was the league’s second-lowest percentage for a team taking at least 26 freebies. It included an 0-for-8 effort from human train wreck Josh Smith. Smith, who missed all three attempts after he was fouled by Goran Dragic behind the arc, also clanged 10 of 16 shots from the field.
When asked if he could fathom registering a 0-for-8 performance, Hornacek was pretty definitive.
Thanks to their skill at defending the line, the Suns now have held opponents to less than 100 points in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 6.
Friday also happened to be "Star Wars Night" and the Suns were rewarded by a Jedi-caliber closing run from point guard Eric Bledsoe.
Hitting the Pistons with his most efficient and productive outing since returning from knee surgery, Bledsoe scored 15 of his team-high 23 points in another decisive fourth quarter.
"I think I had a better feel today instead of just coming out and forcing stuff," said Bledsoe, who made half of his 16 field-goal attempts while collecting five rebounds, five assists and five turnovers. "I played with a little more rhythm today."
Sidekick Dragic, who also shot 50 percent from the field, finished with 20 points, five assists and no turnovers.
"I think we played well for some of the time," Dragic said, "but we still had a lot of problems, especially getting big guys out of the paint and getting rebounds."
Thanks to their small guys, the Suns — who flirted with disaster against the dismal Orlando Magic two nights earlier — put away the Pistons on a night when the Memphis Grizzlies were defeated by the Miami Heat.
Behind these guards and the Pistons’ inability to make an uncontested 15-footer, the Suns ended the night a half-game behind Memphis, which was kicked down to eighth seed in the Western Conference when we factor in Friday’s triumph by the Dallas Mavericks.
Although winning without style points doesn’t matter as much when any victory keeps the Suns in the playoff chase, there were more untimely interludes of shaky basketball. In the third quarter, for example, the force was with Phoenix during a second half that offered poor shot selection leading to complete surrender of a 10-point lead.
The fourth quarter opened with Gerald Green missing shots from galaxies far, far away.
"The game was a slow-down game," Hornacek said. "I don’t think it ever really got into the up-tempo that we want. We did a nice job at the end of really scrapping, making tough shots and we got the boards at the key times."
Much of this scrapping was presented by Markieff Morris, who gave the Suns 16 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. He offered what little resistance the Suns could muster in the lane.
Even though the Pistons are the league’s worst three-throw-shooting outfit, lead culprit Andre Drummond and his cronies do have certain talents that require attention.
"As coaches, we try to emphasize killer instinct," Hornacek said. "But this is the NBA. Even bad teams have some capabilities. They’re still a talented team."
Right, the Pistons (25-43), did receive 16 rebounds and 13 points from Drummond to go with 23 points from reserve guard Rodney Stuckey. Power forward Greg Monroe scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and was on fire (4 of 7) at the line.
But after allowing them to hang around, the Suns (40-29) finished their fourth win in five games before embarking on a three-game roadie.
"Every win is not going to be pretty," Bledsoe said. "I keep saying that we just need to tighten up everything. I think we’re going to be fine moving forward."