The Phoenix Suns opened their 2011-12 NBA season at home Monday night against the revamped New Orleans Hornets playing their first game without Chris Paul. The Suns were shaky offensively but played hard on defense and battled on the boards for most of the night. The game came down to the wire with the Suns falling just short in their season opener as Eric Gordon hit a clutch shot while the Suns couldn't connect on their late opportunity.
"We're a work in progress," Coach Alvin Gentry said. "I was happy -- they shot 44 percent and scored 85 points. Those are the games that I think we have to win."
Of course, the Suns defense was helped by playing a New Orleans Hornets team without it's starting point guard (Jarrett Jack, suspension) and lacking many options outside Eric Gordon. While the Suns defense did look good, they are going to have to perform against better teams to earn respect.
The first half was of the game was a grind with neither team finding a rhythm. The Hornets led 47-41 with Phoenix shooting just 33 percent from the field.
Sensing the moment, Steve Nash started the second half looking for his shot and with nine points and four assists gave the Suns a lead that the bench was able to hold heading into the fourth quarter. Nash finished with 14 points and 12 assists.
The final quarter was a tight affair with the Suns holding a slim three-point lead heading into the final minutes. Gentry rode the hot hands and played Robin Lopez and rookie Markieff Morris in place of starters, Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye.
Trevor Ariza missed two free throws to take the lead for the Hornets with 35 seconds remaining in the game. The Suns Jared Dudley secured the rebound and called time out with the score 84-83, Phoenix. Jared Dudley missed a 10 footer in the lane and the Hornets rebounded the ball and called time out with 15 seconds on the clock.
The Hornets isolated Eric Gordon on Jared Dudley who dribbled, dribbled, dribbled and pulled up and hit the shot with Dudley's hand in his face. The Suns had four seconds on the clock but couldn't get a potential game-winning shot off.
"It was a shot that we needed. Battling with the Suns, back and forth, back and forth all game and all the stuff we've been through with a lot of changes through during this offseason, I just wanted this game really bad," Gordon said.
Lopez played extremely well for the Suns off the bench. He led the Suns with 21 points (8-12) and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. Rookie forward Markieff Morris recovered from a nervous start to give a solid 25 minutes with seven points and team-high nine rebounds. The Hornets got 20 points from Eric Gordon and had six players in double digits.
For more on this game, visit Bright Side of the Sun.