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

a favor.

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

duplicating.

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

us.”

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,

conditioning-related epidemic.

“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

ribs.

“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

confidence going.”

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

can’t.”

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.