Over-aggressive defense bites Suns against Mavericks

Oct 28, 2015, 11:49 PM | Updated: Oct 29, 2015, 9:22 am
Dallas Mavericks' Deron Williams drives past Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris during the first half of...
Dallas Mavericks' Deron Williams drives past Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Overreactions are likely considering how badly the Phoenix Suns played on both ends of their 111-95 loss in the season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks.

It also felt like this wasn’t representative of what could go wrong for Phoenix, if things indeed go wrong on a regular basis.

Early foul trouble interrupted any plans of a formal rotation coming together Wednesday night. It led to the starting lineup playing hero-ball to save the game in the second half while losing an edge on defense.

“That first half, we had a lot of opportunities,” head coach Jeff Hornacek told the media afterward. “Part of our aggressiveness was probably taken by all those fouls in the first quarter. We had one stretch where we had wide open shots and we didn’t make them.

“Our first group’s got to get going,” he added. “It was that way in the preseason and it was that way tonight.”

The starters — Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Tyson Chandler — accounted for 18 the team’s 30 fouls despite only playing 102 of the 240 minutes. The frontcourt all had two each in the first quarter.

By the end of the night, guard Brandon Knight’s plus-minus in his 31 minutes registered at minus-25, while Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler turned in their nights with a minus-23 plus-minus — the point differential while they were on the floor.

Meanwhile, the bench wasn’t terribly bad (Alex Len’s minus-10 plus-minus was the worst of it, while many players had positive differentials). While we won’t call plus-minus gospel, the eye test told the same tale in the season opener.

As bad as it looked, it also came down to Phoenix missing open shots. The Suns hit 29 percent (10-of-36) on uncontested shots to Dallas hitting 20-of-33, or 61 percent.

“We can’t let that dictate how we play defense,” Chandler told media after the game.

While blown defensive coverages were common throughout the beating that at one point reached a 28-point Suns deficit late, a few plays by the Suns’ leaders stand out that showed either uncertainty or a lack of focus.

In the third, Markieff Morris got back-cut on an inbound play by not-so-sneaky 7-footer Zaza Pachulia, but after the big man mishandled the pass, the Suns forward slapped down on Pachulia’s hand to pick up his fifth foul of the game. Morris was pulled to save him if Phoenix could rally, but it never came to be.

Another one: Just when Phoenix cut the Dallas lead to 14 points, Bledsoe was directed by rookie Devin Booker to pick up his man in transition — Booker had switched onto another player — but Bledsoe failed to identity who he’d take.

That led to a breakdown and a layup, and Dallas would string together seven straight points in a hurry to stave off a  Suns rally.

It appeared concerning that Mavs guards Deron Williams and Ray Felton, who led the team with 18 points, sliced up the Suns’ young guards and got to the rim without much deterrence. Hornacek said it was the “story of the game.”

At the end of the night, Hornacek admitted that he’d look at whether the poor defense was a result of Phoenix’s guards playing up on the perimeter too high or too aggressively — that would lead to fouls on them or fouls for the Suns’ big men helping behind them.

“We’ll continue to look at it, maybe we’ll drop ’em back some more,” Hornacek said. “We’ll see.”

Tweaking rather than overreacting after one game is likely. Effort and execution was a big issue, yet the next game, Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers, will surely test Phoenix in regards to theories about the newer schemes.

Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 58 points in a 112-94 wins against the Pelicans, another team expected to be forging a playoff run.

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