Suns find offense, get much-needed victory
PHOENIX — Alvin Gentry assumed the
responsibility of carrying 1-year-old Matteo into the Phoenix Suns’ locker room
on Monday afternoon.
The Suns’ head coach seemed happy to do it. Well, he sort of owed the kid’s dad
Matteo’s old man is Steve Nash, and the veteran point guard did Gentry a solid
by carrying his team down the home stretch of a 102-91 victory over the Golden
State Warriors. This well-timed triumph prevented the Suns from sliding even
closer to scary territory. Now 2-3 after eight days of the post-lockout
campaign, the Suns could have steamed into a 1-4 beginning and threatened the
season-opening 1-5 calamity recorded by the franchise’s 2006-07 edition.
That squad, it should be noted, rallied to finish 61-21 and win the Pacific
Division, something any heroic uprising from Nash — who scored nine of his
game-high 21 points during the last 2:25 — will have a really tricky time
So rather than seizing yet another marketing-department battle cry of
“This Is Our House” as an opportunity to transform US Airways Center
into a cozy bed and breakfast for NBA teams, the Suns managed to collect their
first home win of the season.
“I thought we did a great job of grinding it out,” Gentry said.
“At this stage, we’ll take a win any way we can get it.”
Getting it this time required Nash (9-of-13 shooting, nine assists) to battle through
painful ribs. The Suns also needed a 16-point, nine-rebound performance from
promising rookie forward Markieff Morris, an overall rebounding margin of 13,
and a second-half eruption of accurate 3-point shooting.
“We jumped up and we made some shots,” Gentry said of a Suns team
that had a field-goal conversion rate of 41 percent overall and 26 percent from
3-point range before Monday’s victory. “We may not be 50 percent this
year, but we’re not 44, either.”
In reaching triple digits for the first time this season, the historically
fast-paced Suns began the day ranked 23rd in fast-break points. They didn’t do
much better in this category (10) against Golden State (2-3), but finally were
rewarded for staying true to another function of their offense.
Right, the almighty 3-pointer.
“We’ve missed so many shots that we normally make,” Nash said after
he and his teammates clanked 11 of their first 12 3s, but rallied to bag 7 of
their last 11. “Just shots that we’re accustomed to making and that our
offense is predicated on.
“When we’re not making shots like that, it puts a lot of pressure on
With limited options for dribble penetration or post-up domination, isolation
strategies don’t define this interpretation of the Phoenix offense. Gentry does
seek to exploit some mismatch opportunities (such as those created by a
Warriors team that features 6-foot-3 dynamo Monta Ellis at shooting guard), but
despite those maneuvers, the Suns aren’t exactly a one-on-one powerhouse.
And even though they no longer are blessed with the foot speed and transition
advantages supplied by the likes of Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa and Amar’e
Stoudemire, quick advancement of the ball often creates cleaner looks from the
arc than Phoenix can generate in half-court sets.
Although tempo-related statistics often are at the mercy of other variables,
the Suns’ pedestrian rank in pace (21st going into Monday) may help explain why
they also were 21st in offensive efficiency.
Gentry, who doesn’t think Monday’s shots were any easier than those his team
missed over the first four games, said the cold shooting is a league-wide,
“It’s just the way the NBA is gonna be for about 20 games,” he said.
Nash, who admitted to still being rusty through seven games of a normal
preseason (this year, the Suns have had two practices games and five real
showdowns), thinks more time is required before we witness a more crisp brand
of basketball. Especially from an almost 38-year-old point guard with sore
“I’m just trying to hang in there for the guys,” he said. “I
gotta make plays for this team. I just wanted to hang in there and get a little
That does double (or triple) for the tricky shot-making part. It’s impossible
to challenge any notion that hot shooting also lends itself to contagion.
“Once you see the ball go in,” said Jared Dudley, who made 2 of 5
from 3 and finished with 15 points, “at least for individual purposes, you
start to get a little more confidence.”
It’s also refreshing to notice the Suns grousing a bit about their defense when
the opposition is held below 100 points.
OK, so the Warriors made half of their field-goal attempts and managed to shake
free their eager snipers, who made seven of 17 from 3-point range. Gentry
pointed out that matchup issues created by the small-ball Warriors (who were
playing without power forward David Lee) often provoked different
Phoenix rotations, leaving certain players out of defensive position. Hakim
Warrick, for example, played several minutes at small forward, and was caught
crowding the lane from the weak side a couple of times.
But to the good, the Suns forced 17 turnovers, didn’t foul themselves into
rotation oblivion and (as listed above) owned the glass.
“The effort’s good, the communication is good,” Dudley said,
“although we’ve got to communicate a little bit better.”
If anything, the Suns’ commitment to providing help-side defense early and
often was exploiting by skip passes to open shooters.
“Definitely,” Dudley said when asked if the Suns can be a little more
gung-ho than necessary on helping in the lane. “We need to do a better job
of identifying shooters and knowing who we can help off of and who we
All of this becomes a lot easier when the rest of us are able to (once again)
identify a few of the Suns as shooters . . . and makers.