Game Notes: Pistons at Suns
The Suns’ New Year Resolution: more defense; more games against the Pistons
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
New Year’s resolutions are easiest when you get a rolling start, like passing on the eggnog at Christmas before a January 1st diet or taking a long stroll on New Year’s Eve to get in the right mindset for that 1/1 morning jog.
The Phoenix Suns rolled through the Detroit Pistons 92-75 to close out 2010 practicing their new defensive mantra against a team well-suited to be defended. With points and assists leader Rodney Stuckey’s absence due to the flu, the Pistons went ten deep into their bench but couldn’t find a scoring answer, shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and even a measly 8-18 from the free-throw line. Now that’s defensive intimidation.
The Suns, fishing for a new formula for success, shuffled Mickael Pietrus to the starting lineup and slid Channing Frye back into the second unit where he resided for much of last season. Suns coach Alvin Gentry may not have a copy of Lao Tzu’s writings on his bookshelf, but he must have been in touch with his Taoist self with these words in mind: “To be great is to go on; To go is to be far; To be far is to return.”
Gentry did his best to return to his second unit that was so successful last season, combining last season’s group (Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, and Goran Dragic) with approximations of Lou Amundson (the more-talented Marcin Gortat) and Grant Hill (the less Hill-ish Vince Carter).
Was Gentry inspired by the past? “That’s a little bit of it,” he acknowledged after the game. “We’ve just got to get to the point where we feel comfortable with what we’re doing with the second unit.”
“Channing is my savior,” Dragic grinned after the game. “Every time we play together, I play good. I’ve got the feeling we know each other from a long long way back. I know what he’s going to know and he knows what I’m going to do. We just connect.”
Second Unit 2.0 contributed equally (if not moreso) to the 50-32 halftime lead, especially through Dudley’s 19 overall points on 10 shots and Carter’s 19 points on 17 shots. Their success helped Steve Nash essentially take the night off with 19 minutes punctuated by five turnovers.
Neither team distinguished themselves otherwise on this getaway night with 31 combined turnovers and no one approaching 50 percent shooting from the field. Even the Suns only mustered 12-18 from the charity stripe.
The Suns’ defense bent to end the third, allowing the Pistons within 10. However, a 15-2 Suns run to start the fourth with Second Unit 2.0 in the game ended all discussion of a Pistons comeback to end the year.
Stellar defense didn’t really explain the evening, either; the Pistons failed to pressure the now-skittish Dragic consistently, allowing him to dribble through the lane at will. The Suns, while holding the Pistons to a season-low defensive effort of 75 points, still allowed the vast majority of makes on the baseline.
The Suns did simplify their pick-and-roll defense, which cut down on hesitations and confusion on the defensive end. However, with Stuckey out and Tracy McGrady long since ceasing to be Tracy McGrady, there were few available to challenge even the defense instituted during a three-hour practice requested by Gortat and others.
“I gotta tell you,” Gortat extorted after the game, “such a young team with only three actual veterans… in 24, 48 hours, we became one of the top five defenses in the league — obviously, just for one game — it’s impressive. Now we just have to stay on it.”
The McGrady Showcase Tour, extended another night due to Stuckey’s illness, led to a meager 7/4/2 slash line with five turnovers in 35 minutes as Dudley and others disrupted the putative point guard full court most of the night.
With nothing else to play for and little else to trade, the Pistons continue their west coast travels in Utah Monday night. The Suns visit Sacramento Sunday to test their New Year’s resolutions on the road, where the distractions always make it difficult to avoid cheating on your goals.
– Gani Lawal received his first two NBA minutes at the end of the game, calling it afterward “a great New Year’s present” but one he obviously felt he’d earned through hard work and patience. We suggested he frame the final box score; he said he’d consider it.
- Not earning NBA minutes in a blowout: Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress. The press also heard Gentry mention for the umpteenth time before the game that he will not run an 11-man bench. In case Suns president Lon Babby’s novelty 2011 glasses were also plugging his ears. Ahem.
- Pistons second-year coach John Kuester came out for his pregame presser in a hoodie and none of the assembled ink-stained wretches saw him sneak into place. On the other hand, Grant Hill, old friends with Kuester from Orlando, spotted him instantly and greeted him warmly. Kuester knows whom to impress.
- Hill took a full-speed charge from the 240 lb. DaJuan Summers with four minutes left in a 21-point game. (You know, when Childress or Warrick could have been out there.) Clearly, age does not have to bring wisdom. Asked after the game about the play, Hill mumbled something about how he plays and setting an example before eventually admitting an additional motivator: Gortat has laid down a wager to the whole team that he will take more charges than anyone else. With that impact, Hill took a 3-2 lead from the arbitrary starting point set by Gortat.
- Saw Bill Cartwright in the film room as always. Interesting how FOMJ (Friend of Michael Jordan) Patrick Ewing issues a non-denial denial for Paul Silas’ post yet Cartwright keeps on truckin’ quietly.
- In the first half, Marcin Gortat was fouled reaching for a rebound. Gortat, a 67 percent FT shooter, somehow manages to avoid the line and Dragic takes his place on the line. Monty McCutchen, a referee that simply cannot be fooled, almost lets Dragic take the first shot and then blows the whistle mid-shot to correct the error by letting Jared Dudley take the foul shots instead. Mind you, this is the same Marcin Gortat that McCutchen chatted up at midcourt with an end-of-year amiability that implied he might recognize him when the game started. Perhaps he borrowed Babby’s novelty glasses?
- Mysterious smoke and a fireworks-like smell permeated the Suns’ locker room postgame. And on a no-burn day in Arizona! For shame.