This is a classic game where you can watch the game and look at the box score and find things to either be positive or depressed about in the same 106-99 Phoenix Suns road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Suns struggled as they have done for years against teams with long, mobile front line players who rotate well and can handle switching on to Steve Nash which eliminates the pick and roll threat.
That's the reason why the Trail Blazers are a bad match-up for the Suns and proved it again tonight. Add to that poor bench play by the Suns and aggressive pressure from the Blazer's back court and Nash was worn down by the time the game was in balance late.
The Suns did a much better job in the rebounding department than the last time they were in Portland this season where they lost the battle on the glass by 18. Tonight, both teams finished with 32 boards and the Blazers only had seven second chance points off 5 offensive rebounds.
Of course, the Suns only had two offensive rebounds themselves but for the Suns that's progress indeed and continues the trend that started with the insertion of Earl Barron into the starting line up.
Defensively, the Suns starters for the most part were solid. They've been employing a strong-side zone defense in the past few games that overloads the ball side of the floor with an extra defender and prevents a lot of dribble penetration.
Channing Frye and Barron on the floor together are the kind of active, mobile big men that make that defense work since they can move from side to side quickly and also protect the baseline and rebound.
When those two were on the floor together, they were effective at trapping the ball out of LaMarcus Aldridge's hands and kept Brandon Roy and Wesley Matthews out of the paint. This defense worked especially well when the Blazers played without a true point guard.
Where the Suns got into trouble was with their bench, which was at one time the team's best defensive unit but is now horrible in their rotations and look lost defensively.
Goran Dragic had very bad game himself (9 min, 0 points) but defensively that entire bench group has a lot of work to do.
Part of that is the rotations that Gentry is playing now with both Barron and Frye starting and only leaving the offensively-oriented Hakim Warrick and Hedo Turkoglu to play with the reserves. As Gentry has said, figuring out the right combinations of players is very much a work in progress and it showed tonight against a good team.
Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress both were not effective in this game which left Jared Dudley to provide the only real spark off the pine and that's not enough for the Suns. Both times Nash rested the Blazers were able to make a strong push. The Suns can get away with that against bad teams, but to beat a good team on the road the bench has to at least play the opposition to a draw in their minutes.
The good news is, despite the foul troubles and the horrible scoring games by Richardson, Dragic, Warrick and Childress (13 points combined) the Suns were very much in this game. The Suns managed to shoot 50.7 percent and held the Blazers to 44.6 percent from the field.
Steve Nash and Grant Hill lead the way for the Suns. Nash had 24 points and 15 assists (8 in the 3rd quarter) and Hill finished with 23 points (11-18) and eight rebounds. Unfortunately, the Suns only got a combined 26 points from their next two leading scorers, Frye and Dudley, which wasn't enough.
The Suns will fly back to Phoenix tonight for a game tomorrow against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. The Trail Blazers then will come to town on Friday for a rematch on the Suns court.
For more post game discussion, visit Bright Side of the Sun.
Rough night for the zebras
We normally don't like to get into officiating as it rarely impacts the game and it wasn't the cause of the Suns loss here either. But the way the game was called certainly didn't help the Suns. Tonight's officiating crew lead by Bennie Adams, was determined to call a lot of touch fouls on the perimeter and had some questionable calls going both ways. While the calls were generally bad for both teams, the impact hurt the Suns more as Jason Richardson was limited to only 24 minutes and as a result was never able to get into a rhythm. He finished with just six points.
A crucial play in the game came at the 3:25 mark of the fourth quarter. The Blazers had switched a guard onto Channing Frye and a big onto Nash. Frye sealed the smaller player and caught the entry pass with an open line to the hoop. Nic Batum rotated over to contest and contact was made but the call went against Frye for pushing off with his left hand. It was an iffy call that came at a crucial time in the game and was Frye's sixth. The Suns were down four at the time and could have cut the lead to one and kept Frye on the floor if the call had gone the other way.
That call wasn't the reason the Suns had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter as Nash was forced to try and create all the offense himself. And there aren't many teams that can win games when giving up 37 points in the fourth quarter like the Suns did tonight.