If we were counting moral victories I guess you'd pretty much have to tally this as one. Taking the Suns into overtime is not that bad. But by now we're all sick of that kind of thing and we're MORE than ready for the time two years from now when we start getting actual victories in more significant numbers.
Suns 109, Blazers 102
--Let's get the bad out of the way first. There was no way you could have concocted a worse way to start the game than the one the Traiblazers chose. Their defense was non-existent in the first quarter and through much of the first half really. It was a shooting drill for the Suns. They got layups and dunks out of their halfcourt sets. You're NEVER supposed to see a layup or dunk in the halfcourt except on the rare alley-oop or backdoor cut. They were just driving it in with impunity. And when they weren't laying it in they were shooting from anywhere they chose with no hands in their faces and often nobody within two feet of them. It would be hard to overstate how poorly the Blazers started this game defensively.
--To make matters worse, we pulled out our always reliable trick of shooting nothing but jumpers for the first 1.5 quarters. The British comedy Black Adder used to make fun of the notorious lack of creativity in the British offensive during the First World War. The show would have one of the officers say, "We've attacked straight on at their trenches 96 times in a row now. Let's do it again. They'll never expect it!" That's what the Blazers offense feels like in the early part of every game. And guess what? When you charge straight at the Phoenix trenches they are more than happy to mow you down with machine guns. We'd miss a long jumper and before you could say, "Bob's your unc..." BAM! Phoenix scores. We were down 34-22 after the first. We outscored them 74-62 the rest of the way through regulation but that didn't matter.
--Adding massive insult to injury, we let Phoenix grab a TON of offensive rebounds. That is like watching the chess club come out and run up the score on the varsity football team. It should never, ever happen. It was the big guys and the guards both. Roy, Zach, Jack, and every center we put out there were brutal through the first half. Ime was the only one who looked like he was even trying. The rest of the guys were literally staring as Phoenix picked up the ball. They are a HORRIBLE offensive rebounding team. The worst in the league. They don't even CARE about that part of their game...that's the part they give up in order to do all that other stuff. They beat us 16-13 in offensive rebounds, 29-27 in defensive rebounds, and 45-40 overall. This isn't the worst loss of the season. It's no shame falling to one of the top three teams in the league, especially if you took them to overtime. But that is absolutely the most shameful single stat line all year. If you can't gear up to do one of the things you do best when one of the highest-profile teams in the league comes to town you really need to check yourself.
--Turnovers were another major problem. The game ended up fairly even in that way, but Phoenix again wasn't on top of their game. They were begging us to take this one and we couldn't because we kept getting in our own way.
--We only had 14 assists, and only 2 of those came from anyone besides a starting guard. We just weren't sharing the ball.
--Somewhere in the middle of the second quarter we finally borrowed a clue and started driving the ball. This enabled our comeback, much of which was achieved from the foul line. We had 30 attempts on the night, 7 more than the Suns got. 28 of those went to Zach, Jarrett, and Brandon. None of them came early when they were putting up the long ball.
--The overtime was a testament to how laughable our defense really is. The Suns ran simple, predictable two man plays with Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa. Amare is a wrecking ball inside, Barbosa is one of the better distance shooters in the league. Our defensive philosophy is also pretty basic...switch on EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, EVERY TIME. Can you see what's coming? Zach started out guarding Amare. A shorter guy was on Barbosa. Whoooooop! Switcharoonie. Now Amare is posting up against Udoka or Roy down deep (he's got 5 inches and 100 pounds on either) while Zach is out guarding Barbosa with the ball near the three point line. Pass #1, Barbosa enters it to Stoudemire. Zach has to come down and help otherwise Amare's going to deep fat fry the small guy guarding him. So Zach comes down. Amare calmly tosses back out to Barbosa. Our little guy is still behind Amare and can't get around. Zach can't move fast enough to get back. Threeeeeeeeeeee-pointer Phoenix! We've come a long way with the rebounding this year but fixing the defense is definitely the next waypoint on our journey to becoming a respectable team.
--Yes, we did some good things as well. We had to in order to put the game that close. We had a lot of energy in the second half. We had some great individual plays. But you know what? It...isn't...enough. If this were a case of us simply getting overpowered by a far superior team I would highlight the positive and go home happy. But that didn't happen until overtime. Up until the final buzzer we had a serious chance to win this game and much like against Chicago, against Denver, against Phoenix at their place, and against some other pretty decent teams this year we just made too many mistakes and came out with too little effort to take a game that was all but given to us. If you look at the title of this post it says, "Game 50 Recap". These guys have played enough games now that they should know better than some of this stuff, especially when we've said it a dozen times over. So yes, I appreciate the effort and the close game, but that's really not good enough anymore. I don't expect a winning record. I don't expect to beat great teams on most nights. But I think it's fair to begin to expect more than a glazed look, feet glued to the floor, and the same horrible start we get game after game after game. If you can win like that, more power to you. But this team can't and this team doesn't. So it's time for that to stop. If you're going to lose, at least lose with 48 minutes of great effort, not 20 minutes of slop and 28 minutes of cardiac arrest. That should be our goal for the last 32 games of the season. In short, I want to say, "Nice comeback! Way to fight out of it!" But I've said that a dozen times over already this season and I just get the feeling it's starting to be less of a compliment to their late play than a condemnation of the early stuff.
--Zach had a phenomenal offensive effort tonight. He scored 33 points on 15 shots! He was 9-9 from the line. He also got 10 boards and had a game-saving steal at the end of regulation when Amare had beat his defender and looked like he had a sure two. Zach's second half was BRILLIANT! But here's the thing...he's grand culprit #1 (or at least #1a) in all that stuff we just talked about. He came out not establishing good position, not rebounding, not defending, and fumbling the ball away like it was greased. He had seven turnovers for the game, many of them unforced. The slow start just KILLED us, and this has been happening every single game. Did the great finish outweigh the slow start? Individually yes. But for the team? Obviously not. We lost. People talk about his lack of defense, the ball movement, and his off-court stuff, but even discounting that THIS is what separates the LeBrons, the Tim Duncans, and the all-stars from Zach. It's that 48 minute, "I'm going to bring it...let's play winning basketball" attitude and effort. The lack there takes away much of the astonishing good that he manages, so he pretty much has to have a spectacular game in order to have net good results.
--As much leeway as the rookies have, it would be wrong not to mention that Brandon's game mirrored Zach's tonight. He had spectacular output from the second quarter on, ending up with 27 points and 14 foul shots. But he needed every bit of that spectacular play to make up for heaving jumpers and not getting rebounds or hustling early. 50 games in you still get some breaks from criticism, but not quite the same breaks. It was a wonderful game, but just short of being a winning game...and that was preventable.
--Jarrett Jack...7 assists, 5 free throws...poor shooting night but made some nice plays. Again though it was later, after we had fallen way behind. He had real problems early getting us into any type of offense, especially after the Suns doubled Zach in the post. Our pet set play was dead in the water from the tip-off and we couldn't compensate soon enough.
--On the good side Ime brought it throughout. He was 4-8 with 10 points and was one of the few players who seemed to bother the Suns a little on defense. Just judging by play and effort he should be captain of this team.
--Jamaal, Lamarcus, and Juan all struggled. The two big guys had some good defensive plays but also blew some. Juan just never got it going and didn't play much. All three were basically non-factors.
--Martell had an off night shooting but he tried to drive a little and at least you noticed him out there. One play is worthy of highlighting. Martell drove past Amare in the fourth quarter and Amare fouled him. He put a little mustard on the foul too, driving Martell's head down with his forearm after the play was over. The ref talked to him about it. One wonders why there was no technical, but oh well. Anyway, Martell didn't stand up or eye-to-eye him, which he probably should have done. However Martell DID come back off the inbounds and hit a three point shot which tied the game. We need to see more of that from the youngster. People are going to beat on him and beat on him until he shows either some backbone or the ability to stick a dagger in their ribs.
--Travis Outlaw came back with a whole lot of energy. He had 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals in 29 minutes. Unfortunately he'll be remembered for the last Blazer play of regulation. The game was tied and the ball came to him with about three seconds left, surprising everyone in the building. He drove past his stunned defender and had a clear lane to the hoop. He jumped, elevated, and soared in unopposed. But instead of dunking it he tried to lay it in...and he simply overlayed it. That probably would have been the ballgame right there...he would have won it for us. It was nowhere near the magnitude or importance, of course, but as they were replaying it you got pretty much the same feeling in your gut as you did with the Uncle Cliffy fumble out of bounds in the '91 Western Conference Finals. The people were out of their seats with their hands raised already and then all of a sudden you see this collective wince and everybody sits down. It was harsh, but it shouldn't obscure the fact that the kid came back in shape and ready to play.
--It was a full-ish house again tonight, but on TV it came across again like a morgue for most of the game. I guess getting down early really submarines any momentum the crowd brings in.