Just like Indiana, a three-shot foul was the turning point.
Suns 117, Raptors 113

Pinch-hitting for Dinosty so bear with me.

Rule of thumb is that you can’t get into an offensive pissing contest with the Suns. They might have unofficially changed their style of play under Porter but their core personnel are still of the run ‘n gun nature as testified by their 25 fast-break points. The short-handed (and that’s a good thing) Raptors hung tight in this all-offense affair for all four quarters and even had a chance to win it but for Parker coming up short on a straight-away three-pointer. They could’ve earned themselves another chance at the offensive end but the heartless bitch that is the pick ‘n roll defense reared its ugly head as Nash lured Bosh into a mismatch and drove by him to seal the game. In a season that’s been marred with more disappointments than season 6 of the Sopranos, this was one of those games you actually take something away from. Especially given the looming changes.

Jermaine O’Neal didn’t play because apparently the Raptors don’t want him playing in back-to-back games (he’s pulling a T-mac now?) and they figured we need him more tonight against Zaza Pachulia than we did against Shaq (makes a lot of sense). I’ve been the lone O’Neal supporter on this site and I can no longer defend him for not being on the bench and for letting his team down by sitting out big games. Check AltRaps’ take in the Roll Call for more on that. Apparently Pat Riley’s waiting to see O’Neal run up and down the court just once without grimacing before pulling the trigger on a Marion/Banks swap (neither played last night) so it’s natural that Colangelo declined to comment on just why JO wasn’t even on the bench. Jason Kapono had trouble stomaching his own ineptitude after the Indiana game and called in sick.

I’m not terribly motivated to analyze this game in much detail because with us sitting 10 games under .500 and in a big time rut, the results of these games is starting to matter less and less. I’m more interested in seeing how Colangelo can reshape this roster so it could be setup to achieve something meaningful in the near future and perhaps as early as next year. We’re only 3.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot but there are five teams in between. We’re the third worst team in the East and Indiana – which has played the toughest schedule in the league – is tied with us in terms of games behind. There’s no doubt that there is still time to turn this season around but based on what we’ve seen in 42 games you would have to be either hopelessly optimistic or a fool not to see that this roster can achieve little more than what it already has. Even if you add Marion to the team and he plays out of his mind, he’ll still be on rent and is far from a real solution at the SF. But hey, stranger things have happened and maybe we can somehow magically turn this ship around this season. Let me not depress you any further and talk about the game.

Jay Triano made a good move of starting Anthony Parker at the point. If there’s one matchup in the NBA where Parker won’t get torn apart by a starting PG it was last night, Nash isn’t the quickest of cats and Parker’s size advantage was utilized to some effectiveness as he poured in 26 on 10-17. Nash still ended up with a season-high 18 dimes but that wasn’t because he was crossing Parker over and dishing it of for threes, most of them came off of pick ‘n rolls which we defend worse than any other team. More on that later. Will and Roko usually would’ve been very concerned about their minutes given how Parker’s been playing the point over the last two games, but seeing how he’s about as likely to get traded as O’Neal they can rest easy. Joey Graham got the call at SF and started the game with a passion usually reserved for the Upper Brass. Try 9 first quarter points against Grant Hill who had obviously never even heard of Joey let alone read the scouting report. To save Hill from the wrath of Joey, Terry Porter went small by taking out Amundson and bringing in Matt Barnes. Do you believe that? A coach countering Joey freakin’ Graham…respect.

We jumped off to a quick 23-12 lead but after the Barnes/Amundson substitution they went on a 14-4 run and the lead had vanished. Barnes was causing us real issues, his movement without the ball as the pick ‘n roll was being run gave Nash another option to pass to even when he left his feet to do so. Unlike Moon, Barnes’ first instinct is to drive the ball and see how the defense reacts, this contrast was illustrated by an early Moon transition opportunity where he blew the layup as he avoided contact. Barnes instead drew three fouls in the first quarter alone. He’s good enough to finish in traffic or make an outlet pass against a disoriented defense and his talents showed early on. The Raptors were getting the shots they wanted as Parker was forcing the issue against Nash and Bosh was choosing his spots against Stoudamire. Keep in mind that there was no defense being played and both teams were shooting upwards of 60% for most of the first half.

If the first belonged to Graham, the second belonged to Barbosa who showed just why he’s a fantasy for so many Raptor fans. His outside shot combined with his incredible quickness off the bounce makes him a weapon of choice for which the Raptors had no answer for. Shaq was out of the game after picking up two fouls early in the first quarter so Bargnani never got a chance to test his sagging defense. In the second quarter when the two finally had a chance to go at it, it was Shaq who was the aggressor as he posted up Bargnani and got scores out of the possessions. Bargnani was 3-9 by halftime and looked overmatched against Shaq and it was affecting his offense. We gave up 71 points in the half and were down only 8, hardly an insurmountable lead against a team that doesn’t play defense. The question was whether we could sustain this pace and surprisingly enough, we did. Nash had 11 assists in the half and they were literally all coming off of high screen actions. Check out his overall assist distribution and see if you spot anything worthy of analysis:

  • Stoudamire: 9
  • Shaq, Amundson, Barbosa: 1 each
  • Richardson, Barnes, Hill: 2 each

Half his assists were to Stoudamire on PnRs. Indiana had made us look bad but Phoenix was making us look even worse, it’s somewhat to be expected. Nash and Stoudamire have perfected that play and the only duo that’s done it any better in recent memory is Stockton and Malone. Yeah, they’re that good at it. The PINP numbers were 56-38, the R in the PnR was the main reason for that and Shaq’s 16 added to the misery. When Phoenix acquired Shaq they envisioned these kinds of games, it hasn’t happened nearly enough for them this year but the Raptors’ soft defense could set any offense right. The other cause for concern was that Phoenix was getting on the break too easily, the Raptors were jogging back up the floor and Barbosa, Barnes and Richardson were taking full advantage of quick Nash outlets to get easy scores. The priority at halftime was not to get blown out which meant either tightening the defense or keeping up the scoring, we did the latter.

The third was Bargnani’s best quarter, he hit three mid-range jumpers, drew a foul on Shaq and ended up with 8 points. Those 8 were countered by Stoudamire’s 8 who continued to evade Bosh in transition and in the half-court set. The Suns’ athleticism and agility on the break was making the Raptors defense look lazy, which it was not, they were just outmatched. The Raptors cut the lead to 5 on back-to-back Bargnani scores but Nash stopped the bleeding with a driving layup and Barbosa drew a foul on an aggressive Ukic for two FTs which pushed the lead back up to 8 going into the fourth quarter. Even at this point things didn’t seem hopeless, all we needed Phoenix to do was go through a stretch where they miss a few shots and we’d be right back in it.

And Phoenix did just that, they started the fourth quarter making only 2 of their first 10 shots and just like that the Raptors had tied it at 102. A Moon uh-oh three, couple Bosh scores and some hard cuts by Joey Graham led to an open jumper and a dunk for him and the momentum had shifted. Phoenix called timeout and went to Shaq for two down low against Bargnani. Then, just like Bosh’s three-shot foul on Dunleavy had proved to be costly, Roko Ukic was faked into fouling Nash behind the arc. Nash (95% shooter) drained all three. Ukic then missed a contested layup and followed it up by checking Nash too tightly who drew another foul making it a 7-0 run since Joey Graham’s heroics had tied it. Ukic (game worst -12) was pulled for Moon which shifted Parker back to PG with 5:35 left, still plenty of time.

Parker, Moon and Bosh went on an 11-5 run as Parker hit two huge jumpers on Nash and then drove the ball off a screen and applied a high window-finish to make it a one point game. Phoenix committed four turnovers in this stretch that definitely helped matters, and when Barnes turned it over with 57 seconds left with the Raptors down one, our offensive option was obvious. However, Parker ended up taking a 26-footer which hit front-rim, not a good shot, especially considering how he had scored on his previous possession – by driving against a Phoenix defense that was only too concerned with helping Nash. On his previous score he had chosen to drive and finish but he had sucked in enough Phoenix defenders to kick it out to a number of shooters. I thought he bailed Phoenix out by taking the shot they wanted him to take.

No shock that on the next play Phoenix ran a pick ‘n roll which ended up having Bosh check Nash on the perimeter. ‘Nuf said. Nash was probably also fouled by Joey Graham on the layup but the refs didn’t call it. With the good guys down three with 12 seconds left we went for the quick two and Parker’s layup rimmed out. Bosh missed an easy tip-in but it wouldn’t have mattered, the play had taken way too long to develop and in hindsight, it was probably a better idea going for the three. Chalk up another loss. 10 games under .500.

We shot 54%, played even on the boards, got more second chance points but still lost. Why? Short answer is that Phoenix made clutch plays down the stretch when they were up against the wall after our run to tie it up. They had 25 fast-break points and 56 PINP, hard to overcome that but we almost did. Check out the box score and you’ll see that we played about as good an offensive game as we can play and if there was even an ounce of defensive resolve in our wings, things could’ve been different. Phoenix lost to Minnesota on Friday night because Minny were able to control them on the break as Phoenix was -4 in a department they always dominate. Today they were +14, in a four point game this can make all the difference. I think Parker’s little quote sums it up:

We played better but it’s just so disappointing, time and time again, to come up short at the end.

Best Lineup: Graham, Parker, Bargnani, Moon Bosh. Worst Lineup: Graham, Ukic, Parker, Bargnai, Voskuhl. Both during the second quarter.

As always, it’s a great idea to get a perspective from the other side of things and see how the Phoenix fans saw it.

The marathon continues with Atlanta tonight. To be honest, I’m looking forward to whatever move Colangelo is going to make more than the rest of the season. If you’re looking for something to listen to, check out the podcast from Saturday, it’s funny.

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