Sunk by the Suns

Pistons give up too many 2nd-chance points, lose at Phoenix

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Rodney Stuckey continued the roll he’s been on since the All-Star break, scoring 23, and he got plenty of help from Brandon Knight, but the Pistons faltered in the closing minutes in a 109-101 loss at red-hot Phoenix. It was tied at 95 with a little more than four minutes left, but the Suns outscored the Pistons 14-6 down the stretch. The Pistons have had chances to win all three of their games so far on a five-game Western Conference road swing, but they’re 1-2 after tough losses at Utah and Phoenix.

Knight, who finished with 17, was hot early, scoring 10 first-quarter points and doing most of his damage from the perimeter, including hitting both of his 3-pointers. Stuckey picked up the baton in the second quarter, when he scored 10 and punished Suns backup point guard Sebastian Telfair. Stuckey scored eight points in a 10-0 Pistons run that brought them from five points back to the lead.

BLUE COLLAR – If Steve Nash played the Pistons four times a year instead of twice, he might have broken John Stockton’s career assists record already. Nash again reminded the Pistons how much of a master of the pick and roll he really is, racking up 17 assists in 34 minutes. The Suns operated at starkly different levels of offensive efficiency when Nash was on the floor as opposed to on the bench. All 17 of Nash’s assists came in the first three quarters. Nash has eight career 20-assist games – one against the Pistons.

RED FLAG – Phoenix remains one of the NBA’s most efficient offensive teams, no surprise as long as Steve Nash has his hands at the controls. One area where the Suns are subpar offensively is rebounding their own misses, ranking 22nd. But the Pistons handed them too many second chances, especially in the early going. The Suns, who average just 10 offensive rebounds a game, matched that by halftime. The Pistons carried a five-point lead into the break; more diligent defensive rebounding might have allowed them to have a much more comfortable cushion. Phoenix outscored the Pistons 22-12 in second-chance points. A big put-back by Jared Dudley with just over four minutes left gave Phoenix the lead for good.

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.”