Suns Close the Book on 2011-12 Season
Posted: April 25, 2012
The final chapter of what was the 2011-12 Suns season closed Wednesday in a home loss to the best team in the Western Conference.
When historians look back at this season, they’ll see that the Suns just missed making the playoffs and finished the season exactly at .500. What they won’t see in the record books is what fans who followed this team closely saw.
“This is the most fun that I’ve ever had in coaching,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said.
They saw a team head into the All-Star break six games below .500 and just narrowly miss the playoffs in the second-to-last game of the season. In fact, the Suns were previously seven games under .500 this season, which marks the largest comeback to .500 of any NBA team this season.
“There were a lot of people that thought at 12-19 that the season was over,” Gentry said.
With only one All-Star on the team in Steve Nash, the team used an infusion of defense into an already efficient offense to make a second-half charge. Phoenix was 18-1 this season when holding the opposition to 90 points or less and allowed just 45.4 percent shooting this season, the 10th-lowest in franchise history.
Under the tutelage of new defensive assistant coach Elston Turner and assistant coach Dan Majerle, the Suns allowed 7.5 fewer points this season than in 2010-11. Overall, the Suns just gave up 98.4 points a game this season, the eighth-fewest in franchise history.
In fact, the last time the Suns held opponents under 100 points a game for an entire season was the 2003-04 season. And after the All-Star break, the team’s offense began to catch up with its defense.
It was almost as if it was a tale of two teams.
The first 31 games, the Suns went 12-19, scored over 100 points only six times, averaged 93.8 points a night and only beat five teams with records over .500. In the last 34 games, the Suns scored over 100 points 18 times, averaged 102.3 points and captured 12 wins against teams with records .500 or above.
The turnaround was accomplished both by seamless chemistry and by pinning down a firm rotation.
“I think we have really good guys on this team I think that they genuinely like each other and we’ve had guys step up in all situations,” the Suns head coach said. “Michael Redd has had his moments, Sebastian (Telfair) has had his moments, Shannon Brown has had his moments and then all of the starters have played well together.”
For the first time since the preseason, the Suns had the ability to practice three consecutive days after the All-Star break. With that opportunity, Phoenix was able to get some continuity on offense and solidify its substitution patterns.
The result was a 9-2 record after the All-Star break.
“We had a situation where we had three really good practices and as a coaching staff we made some decisions as far as rotations and what we were going to stick with and live with when it came to those guys in the rotation,” Gentry said. “We let them know that they would be the ones playing and I think it started to click for us.”
Since Suns point guard Steve Nash returned to Phoenix in 2004, the Suns have been one of the best teams in the league in field goal percentage.
After starting the break being in the bottom half of the NBA in that category, the Suns returned to form, finishing sixth in the league in field goal percentage.
At one point in the season, they recovered from double-digit deficits in five-straight home games during the beginning of March. The Suns became the first NBA team since 1998 to win five-straight home game where they trailed by 10 or more points.
Lastly, this season belonged to Nash, who was the recipient of "We want Steve" chants at the arena Tuesday, as well as a couple of curtain calls. The two-time MVP finished the year second in the league in assists, earned his eighth career All-Star appearance (a franchise-record tying sixth as a Sun), set the franchise record for assists and passed Oscar Robertson for fifth on the NBA’s all-time assist list.
Not bad for anyone, let alone a 38-year-old point guard. But that kind of production has just become a given with Nash.
"This was a rewarding year," Nash said following the Suns-Spurs game Tuesday. "We weren't going to have a good start.
"We needed time. We struggled, but most importantly, the coaches stuck with us, never let us give up and found the pieces to work so that the sum would be greater than the parts."
So as the sun sets on the 2011-12 season, true fans will remember a season where Nash shined bright and a team that could’ve went the other way, didn’t. Although the Suns may have fell a tad short of their postseason goal, they have laid the foundation for a brighter future.
“In the second half of the season we definitely picked things up as far as showing better chemistry,” Suns swingman Jared Dudley said. “Hopefully we could build off this going into next season.”
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