The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Suns Blow Out the Thunder and Get Dominated by the Celtics Over the Weekend
The bad were the Oklahoma City Thunder, who got dominated by the Suns here Friday night, 140-118, in Phoenix's third win in a row scoring 140 points or more.
The ugly was Phoenix's defense in both games. When you give up at least 118 points on your home court, you're not playing enough D.
Boston has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 45-12 while Oklahoma City has the second worst in the Western Conference at 13-43. And the difference between the two games exposed why the Suns may not make the playoffs, and if they do, why they won't go far.
Unless your offense is clicking perfectly, you're not going to beat an elite team with the Mike D'Antoni-style run-and-gun system -- which emphasizes outscoring opponents, not holding them down.
It didn't help Sunday that the Suns were without Amar'e Stoudemire, who may be out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for a severely detached retina. The team at first said he would be out probably eight weeks, the rest of the regular season. But GM Steve Kerr has since expressed doubt that Stoudemire will be healthy enough to suit up for the playoffs.
If the Suns make the playoffs; at 31-24 and ninth in the West, they're currently on the outside looking in.
The old Suns system, which is now the new system, worked Friday night because the Thunder played even worse defense than the Suns. But against a good defensive team like the Celtics, the Suns were overpowered in the second half Sunday.
It started out well enough. The Suns ran up an early lead, only to see Boston come roaring back and go up 18-17 mid-way in the first quarter. By half-time, the Suns were down 68-54. The Celtics led by 21 points a couple of times in the final half, and though the Suns had a couple of spurts, they never got closer than 9 points.
Steve Nash has never played much defense, and now he's older and slower. The Celtics' counterpart at point guard, Rondo, had his way with Nash, scoring a career high 32 points, dishing out 10 assists, and grabbing 6 rebounds. Most of his points were in the paint as he blasted past Nash and other Suns defenders all game.
We kept screaming, can't somebody hard-foul this guy so he's forced to get his points on jump shots!
Rondo's spectacular play on both ends of the court was the difference, but the Celtics -- playing without star forward Kevin Garnett (out with a knee injury) -- also got stellar performances out of the Big Two, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Allen had 31 points, including four three-pointers, and Pierce had 26.
Nash had a good game on the offensive end with 19 points and 11 assists. Jason Richardson had 21 points, Leandro Barbosa had 18, and Shaquille O'Neal had 16 and 6 rebounds.
The good thing about the game was that the Suns played with energy and passion under interim head coach Alvin Gentry in this second and final regular-season game against the Celtics. In other words, though Boston beat them soundly Sunday, the Suns didn't just lie down like they did when the teams met in Boston last month.
That game was the worst the Suns had ever looked -- they waved the white flag from almost the opening tipoff -- and it was the beginning of the end for now-fired head coach Terry Porter. It was clear that veterans like Nash and Stoudemire weren't buying into Porter's plan.
At the end of the third quarter Sunday, Gentry said in a courtside interview that he was heartened by the Suns closing the gap to 13, but that his team wouldn't have a chance of beating a "great team" like the Celtics if they didn't get stops on defense.
That seldom happened. Part of the problem was that the Suns were employing D'Antoni's heralded seven-second offense and the team wasn't hitting enough. Part of it was that the Celtics simply outclassed Phoenix.
In Friday night's game against the Thunder, Barbosa was brilliant in the open court. He had a career-high 41 points, including five three-pointers, but he didn't stop there. Living up to his "Brazilian Blur" nickname, he had 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and an amazing 6 steals.
The hustle plays Barbosa made during his 41 minutes contributed heavily to the 37 fast-break points the Suns racked up.
In their quest to make the playoffs, the Suns won't be helped by their schedule over the next couple of weeks.
They play Kobe Bryant and the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers twice this week. They also play Charlotte and Toronto, but it's Orlando (third in the East), Miami (fifth), Houston (fifth in the West), and San Antonio (second) on the road, after the final regular-season game with the Lakers here next Sunday.
Let's hope the Suns can get some of those stops Gentry was talking about against elite teams like the Lakers, Spurs, and Magic. Because if he can't get his guys to incorporate a modicum of D into the speed game, his honeymoon will be over and his team won't be playing past April 15.