Phoenix Suns Breakdown: No Defensive Heat
43 points given up in the fourth quarter of a 117-109 home loss to the New Jersey Nets? Amare Stoudemire disqualifying himself with two technical fouls? Shaquille O’Neal almost complete uninvolved in the offense? Nash, Stoudemire, and Shaq providing no defensive resistance?
Sorry, but the Suns don’t have the defense to win, and unlike in years past, they don’t have the offense to make up for it.
For the most part, Phoenix’ offense is dangerous and effective, but it isn’t as prolific as the run (and gun) you out of the building offense Mike D’Antoni employed in his tenure as head coach.
As always, it starts with Steve Nash. For someone who has the ball as much as Nash has, it’s remarkable that he only forced a pair of shots and a couple of passes when he penetrated to deep and couldn’t find a passing angle to a cutting big.
With New Jersey focused on making Nash a scorer in the halfcourt, they went under the majority of screens where Nash’s mid- and long-range shooting picked them apart. Even when Devin Harris went under the screen, Nash was still quick enough to get into the lane and either finish, dish, or snake along the baseline before kicking out to the corner for an open three.
Credit Nash with 26 points and nine dimes on 11-20 shooting.
Amare Stoudemire—8-14 FG, 9-12 FT, 12 REB, 25 PTS—has become flat-out unguardable. While he hit a handful of midrange jumpers, he was lethal when catching the ball in either midpost and using a powerful first step to either get to the basket, or draw a foul on the way.
He also showed strong hands to fight a number of Nets players in picking up a pair loose balls around his feet that were quickly turned into dunks.
Amare cut well without the ball, ran the court hard, made a couple of snappy reversal passes, and assaulted the offensive glass.
In fact, the only person who can effectively stop Stoudemire is Stoudemire himself. On two dunk attempts, he brought the ball way back behind his head allowing Brook Lopez, and later Yi, to block the shot. Midway through the fourth, Stoudemire missed two wide open tip-dunks in succession, and twice, Stoudemire showed lazy footwork by traveling when starting an offensive maneuver. After the second travel he acted demonstratively to the referee and earned a second technical and an ejection with under four minutes to play.
And with Nash’s favorite screener watching the rest of the game from the locker room, Nash had trouble finding openings because the Nets defense didn’t have to overreact to pick up Amare rolling to the basket.
Aside from a handful of early post ups that resulted in Nets fouls, and a nice seal and dunk late in the fourth, Shaq was completely uninvolved in the offense. The Nets fronted Shaq and overloaded help behind him, preferring to live with skip passes leading to open threes. While the Suns made their long-range shots, Shaq had almost no impact on the outcome of the game.
As for the supporting cast, Matt Barnes and Raja Bell plugged their three-balls (7-10 combined), mostly on the weak side of screen/roll action. While Barnes’ three-point proliferation has been surprising, his inability to make even the simplest of passes on the move resulted in four turnovers, many in transition.
Boris Diaw made a handful of awful decisions in the fourth quarter trying to force passes to well-defended teammates. Diaw is too unselfish for his own good.
Grant Hill—1-3 FG, 2 AST, 3 TO, 2 PTS—hit a midrange jumper, moved the ball, and missed his only three of the game. With an offense so dedicated to spacing, it might be best if the Suns sent Hill elsewhere.
Leandro Barbosa—3-6 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0 AST, 1 TO, 8 PTS—was his customary out-of-control self.
Sean Singletary couldn’t hit a jumper for the life of him.
Robin Lopez had a dunk, and was too hasty as the roll man in screen/rolls to set effective screens.
While the Suns can still put up points, their obligation to feed Shaq in the post slows down their pace, and since Shaq can’t play along the perimeter, their spacing too. If Shaq was as agile as he was in his halcyon days, he’d trump fronting defenses by getting position before the play, moving from block to block, or simply going up to catch lobs and while punishing the backside rotator.
Now mortal, Shaq is helpless to overcome active and well-coordinated defenses that look to take him out of a game,. There is more pressure on Nash and Stoudemire to provide offense, though the former is frail and needs his minutes to be carefully managed, while the latter doesn’t have the patience to consistently take over when it counts.
What defense? Nash, Barbosa, and Hill were at the mercy of Devin Harris’ quickness all night. Every time the Nets shifted their big men from one side of the court to the other to keep the Suns’ big men occupied, and let Harris isolate at the top of the key, something good happened for New Jersey.
If the Suns are going to play a poor individual defensive point guard like Nash, and can’t coordinate their help defense to handle simple isolations by Harris, how are they going to stop Tony Parker?
Stoudemire turned his head all game long, allowing Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, and Yi Jianlian to simply scoot backdoor, catch a pass, and finish. Maybe Stoudemire should be more focused on his defense than baselessly complaining about being more involved in Phoenix’ offense.
Raja Bell couldn’t keep Vince Carter from simply sizing him up and shooting over him from the perimeter. When Carter did attack, he usually found an open shot or an open pass.
When the Nets needed a basket late in the game, they attacked Shaq in a screen/roll and Vince Carter ended up hitting a wide open 15 footer.
Phoenix’ perimeter closeouts were tardy and the Nets had wide open threes all game long.
The Nets didn’t run anything overly complicated and the Suns didn’t have the personnel or the awareness to hang. Any talented or complex offense will shred the Suns to pieces as the Nets, the Heat, the Lakers, the Rockets, The Jazz, and the Hornets have all done this season.
So even though the Shaq trade brought the Suns a more traditional halfcourt player, it didn’t provide them with a championship-caliber defensive mindset that they needed more than anything else.
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