Sunk by the Suns
Pistons give up too many 2nd-chance points, lose at Phoenix
PHOENIX – The Pistons took a 3-15 road record with them when they began a five-game trip west earlier this week. It’s a mark of how much they’ve grown under Lawrence Frank that that there was muttering in their locker room after Friday’s 109-101 loss to Phoenix that they should have matched those three road wins in the past five days.
Just like their loss at Utah four days ago, it came down to the final minutes with the game hanging in the balance. Just like that game, the Pistons simply couldn’t get enough defensive stops or execute with the necessary precision offensively.
And, critically, they had difficulty keeping the Suns – a weak rebounding team – off of the offensive glass all night. It was a Jared Dudley put-back with a little more than four minutes left, fittingly enough, that gave Phoenix the lead for good.
“A team that’s as offensively talented as this group, putting up the numbers they have been, post-All-Star break” – the Suns are now 8-2 since then – “and it’s the second shots,” Lawrence Frank said after the 109-101 loss. “We shoot over 50 (percent) from two and from three, you think we’re going to win the game. But 22 points off of second shots.”
With Steve Nash orchestrating the Phoenix offense, their first shots are usually good enough to beat you. Nash was in uber-playmaker mode, scoring only five points and taking just two shots – but amassing 17 assists, and all of them in the first three quarters.
Nash contributed zero to Phoenix’s total of 14 offensive rebounds, officially. But the way Phoenix spreads the floor and the way Nash probes openings forces defenses to stretch beyond normal bounds, creating opportunities for offensive rebounders.
“Any time you’ve got a guy like Nash on the floor who can break down on defense, you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to him,” Ben Wallace said. “A lot of times, we were mismatched on the offensive boards, had somebody small trying to box out some of their bigs and the ball bounced their way tonight.”
“It seemed like they got every second-chance rebound and loose ball and they made us pay for it,” Ben Gordon said. “That was something that definitely hurt us. If we could have limited that, the game might have been a little bit different.”
It wasn’t just the rebounding breakdowns that hurt the Pistons. Their offense, as it did late at Utah, didn’t execute as well in crunch time as it had to that point. After Wallace scored in the paint to tie the game at 95, the Pistons scored on just two of their next seven possessions – another Wallace basket and two Rodney Stuckey free throws – and by the time Wallace scored a layup with 14 seconds left the Pistons were down by eight points.
“The good thing is we’re in ’em now,” Frank said. “It’s the maturity of getting stops .. and to make sure we get quality possessions, whether in transition or a half-court set or out of a timeout. That will determine, at the end of the day, who wins and loses.”
The Pistons got another big scoring night out of their backcourt of Stuckey and Brandon Knight, who combined for 40 points and 14 assists, though they did the bulk of their damage in the first half when Stuckey scored 17 and Knight 14. The offense didn’t function as well as it might have down the stretch, but the Pistons left Phoenix knowing the game was really lost over 48 minutes at the other end. They also left understanding how close they are to turning some of these agonizing losses into wins.
“We had a chance to win the game,” Wallace said. “They made plays. We had some opportunities, but the ball didn’t bounce our way. Right now, we’re a lot better than what we were a month or so ago. We’ve just got to keep building.”