Yesterday was a strange night in many ways. For the second time in a week, someone hit the Midfirst Bank Half-Court shot and won 20,000 dollars. Grant Hill scored 30 Points. And the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to a team that had just traded away two of it's key players.
From afar, this game looked like a blowout waiting to happen. The Suns had traded away their leading scorer in Jason Richardson, and one of their key rotational players in Hedo Turkoglu. Additionally, it was unsure if Steve Nash would play.
But, problem number 1 is the fact that Steve Nash did play, and he played well. Sometimes I think you could go to the local gym, select a team to play around this guy, and have them beat most NBA teams. The guy played a large role in setting up his teammates to score.
The truth is though, he didn't do it alone. Goran Dragic did about all you can ask a point guard to do, distributing it extremely well while Nash was out, and knocking down open jumpers when he needed to. So there was no real lapse for the Suns where they had no point guard.
Below: The New (Old) Grant Hill, Defensive Problems, Offensive Efficiency!
The second problem would have to be Grant Hill. It was the first time he had scored 30 points or more since February 15th, 2005 when he played for the Orlando Magic. In other words, it was his best game in five and a half years. That is not to take away from how he's been playing lately though. He's averaged 14.9 points, which is his best total since 2006-2007, and his field goal percentage is at 53.5 percent, the highest of his career. So while Grant Hill was making a good third wheel next to Nash and Richardson, he proved last night that he could make an excellent leading scorer.
The third problem was Phoenix's role players emerging from the woodwork. Robin Lopez shot a whopping 90 percent, and was always in perfect position for the score. Channing Frye was his usual self, dropping in 12 points, and Josh Childress had a solid game, scoring 10.
Aside from listing scoring lines, it's reasonable to say that the Thunder were caught by surprise when playing in this game. Serge Ibaka in particular had a terrible game, letting players score in the paint left and right, while committing defensive goaltending and a defensive three second violation. He also missed two relatively open jumpers early on, allowing the Suns to amass an early lead and set the tone for the game.
Defensively, our key stoppers were in all of the wrong places. Russell Westbrook can win Point Guard battles with the best of them, but tonight, Steve Nash was the winner. In the end, their stats were similar, but Nash has much better offensive efficiency, scoring on every shot he took. Ibaka was playing at Center, but really did next to nothing to stop the onslaught of Robin Lopez, and Sefolosha spent the whole game guarding Jared Dudley or Goran Dragic, both of whom combined for a measly 13 points.
If you had to narrow down the loss to one reason and one reason only, I'd say that the Suns had better offensive efficiency. All of their role players were allowed to play to their full potential, and the Suns hit 58% of their shots overall as a team, which is really rare for a team to get. If the Thunder are to be successful against these types of teams, they'll have to stop focusing on trap and pressure defense, hoping to get the other team to force turnovers. Instead, they'll have to start focusing on challenging every shot the other team takes. Because if our defensive stoppers are in the wrong position or mismatched, the other team is going to score at far too high of a rate.
Moving forward, if the Suns can continue to get this type of production out of their role players and their new acquisitions, they can be a strong playoff team moving forward. But until we see the new team in action, it's anyone's guess as to what extent they will be successful.
Next Game: At the Bobcats, Tuesday, December 21st, 6 PM Central Standard Time.