Steve Nash took 22 field goal attempts in the Phoenix Suns 112-110 loss to the the San Antonio Spurs last night. Only three times all last season did he take that many and only one time did he have a lower field goal percentage. Last night, Nash went 8-for-22 (.364) which compares to a late January loss against Charlotte -- a game that turned out to be the turning point of the Suns season -- when Nash went 7-for-22 (.318).
"I was shooting the ball plenty in the first half, but I just couldn't get them to go. My legs were a little tired tonight." Nash said about his 2-for-10 shooting in the first half.
Tired legs four games into the season coming off four days rest? That's troublesome. Perhaps Nash needs to dial it back in practice, which is a catch-22 since Gentry is pushing the team hard so they instill a culture of constant effort and grit that this team needs to win. On top of that, it's obvious, and been said repeatedly, that the guys need more time on the floor learning how to play together.
"That's the game. Some nights you don't shoot it well, but I'd back myself most nights. But it looks like not tonight, so I take responsibility for not making my shots tonight, but I'll gladly step up and take those next game and bet on myself," Nash said.
Nash insisted, and re-watching the game confirmed, that the Spurs played him to take those shots. In the past, San Antonio was forced to guard Nash with a bigger player like Bruce Bowen since Tony Parker has never been able to contain Steve. In this game, Parker was repeatedly on Nash in single coverage and again wasn't able to deny Steve from taking open shots. They just missed.
So, the issue isn't shot selection. The issue is not having tired legs going into a game after four days of rest. But if you rest Nash in those practices, he misses those opportunities to build the court chemistry. But it would appear that if he works hard on the team's off days, he's at the point in his career where it will carry over to games. The obvious answer, as my colleague Justin Burning pointed out, is to consider playing Goran Dragic more and Steve less, which is near to blasphemy in the Phoenix Suns world.
Dragic has been fantastic this season and taken a huge step forward on his pick and roll game. Even the Suns team is surprised by how much of a leap he made over the summer with his decision-making and passing in traffic -- especially considering his Slovenian team didn't run much pick and roll and Goran often was playing off the ball.
Goran is enough of a proven scoring threat that the Spurs were forced to bring the big man over to cut off the driving lane, which opened the bounce pass to Hakim Warrick. When they brought a third defender, Dragic made Nash-like passes to an open three-point shooter that moved into space behind him.
Defensively, the Suns did a lot of things well. Early in the game, the half court defense absolutely stifled the Spurs to the point that they were only able to score in transition for most of the first quarter. In the fourth, the Suns held Tim Duncan scoreless and forced him into six turnovers by bringing help at different times and from different directions. The Spurs ended up shooting the ball well for the game in part due to Tony Parker's and Manu Ginobili's innate abilities to make tough shots and, of course, Tim Duncan, when he's hitting his mid-range shots, can still be as unstoppable as any big man in the game.
The critical mistake the Suns made in this game -- and it's one that is very correctable -- was miscommunication on the defensive end, which resulted in Richard Jefferson getting two wide open three-point looks in the fourth quarter.
"He (Gentry) called zone out and a couple of people knew, a couple of people didn't and then Jefferson hit us once and if you don't know, by the second time you should know and then he hits you with another one. But by the third time, that's when timeout came," Jared Dudley explained about the Suns critical fourth quarter mistakes that led to nine quick Spurs points.
On film (DVR, actually), it's clear on the first two that Hakim Warrick wasn't aware of the zone defensive call and followed his man across the lane, which left Richard Jefferson wide open in the corner. The third shot came in transition and was less of a defensive lapse and more of heat-check by a guy who had just nailed the same shot twice.
Jared Dudley, always good to talk to about the mindset of this Suns team, talked about how much more defensive improvement is left to be done. His comments give a good insight into how the Suns are thinking and where they are trying to get to.
"When people play the Phoenix Suns -- I remember when I was in Charlotte -- you know that it's going to be a high-scoring game and you know that you're going to get good looks. We have to change that philosophy. We're trying to have a culture of being a better defensive team, but being a good defensive team, you have to be rugged. You have to give fouls sometimes just to give fouls and send a message. You look at all the good defensive teams, they're like that. Especially if you're not long or athletic or big, which we're not. You got to be scrappy, you got to do the little stuff -- the tug of the jersey -- and hopefully we can try and do that more often and kind of switch the culture of the Suns."
In the past, if the Spurs had good offensive games from their big three (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker), the Suns didn't have a chance. Mix in a poor shooting night from Nash and very little offensive production from starters Robin Lopez and Hedo Turkoglu and this game would have been a blow out just two years ago.
Last night, it took a fourth Spur to step up and hit big shots for them to get a two-point win over Phoenix. I'll take that as very positive sign for the Suns moving forward. The 1-3 record is a disappointing start to the season, but there are so many ways for this team to improve and despite that, they've played well and been competitive. I remain optimistic.