"Defense is simple," said Alvin Gentry before the season when talking about the Phoenix Suns philosophy on the defensive end of the floor. He made it sound even simpler when he elaborated saying you get a body on a guy and rebound the ball. It is simple to say that, but the execution is what the team did do on the road against the Toronto Raptors.
This Raptors team is used to grinding out games late and they typically (at least over the past six games) fall apart down the stretch in terms of execution.
After six straight game losing streak where the Raptors found themselves on the losing end of two games by one point and one in double-overtime they found the execution needed to knock off the Suns. It came from the non-typical however in Amir Johnson and Mickael Pietrus.
In two key runs by the Raptors, the Suns had dramatic lapses on the defensive end.
The second quarter started off with Johnson playing the two man game with Jose Calderon setting a high pick and floating to the top of the key for wide open 20+ foot jumper. That is a shot any team will live with the Raptors taking as it keeps the ball out of their top scorers hands, but it burned the Suns in the second quarter and continued throughout the game.
High off ball pick-and-roll, spot up 22 footer for Johnson. Bang.
High pick-and-roll with Calderon, spot up 21 footer for Johnson. Bang.
That high pick-and-roll with Calderon led to easy baskets for Johnson and then flash forward to the fourth quarter where Pietrus set up a tent in the far corner without any defense. He didn't knock down every shot from the corner, but the three he hit put the Raptors up six and was the team's only bucket for the next three minutes of game action.
Again, with Calderon the setting up the offense the Suns defense was baffled play after play, with the same play. That is what was confusing about the play of Johnson and Pietrus -- all of their buckets came off of repeat plays that the Suns just could not adjust to.
At times you have to live and die with certain people taking low percentage shots, but the blue moon rears its head and those shots start falling.
According to 82games.com Johnson this season is a 43.1% shooter from the perimeter, but gets all of his shots of an assist. You have to make him put the ball on the floor because he is capable of hitting that shot. For Pietrus is a 35% shooter from three, but again, a catch-and-shoot player that needs to have his shot created for him.
Execution as a whole was the problem for the team on the road. A late game turnover by Goran Dragic where he threw the ball directly to nobody led to a fast break dunk, again by Johnson, putting an exclamation point on the game.
On the road, especially, you have to execute on both ends of the floor and even more pointedly on the defensive end. The Suns did not do that and now have to try and salvage the road trip at two of the toughest venues against the New York Knicks (Sunday) and the Memphis Grizzlies (Tuesday).
The Suns are now 2-7 on the road giving up 106.3 PPG emphasizing even more the point that the Suns do not execute well away from home.