The Suns’ season has been virtually (if not yet mathematically) finished since at least last Friday’s home loss to the Hornets. But despite the losing of four straight and the fact that the team’s playoff chances have all but officially disappeared, Phoenix had largely battled in each game until the final buzzer was sounded.
That all changed Wednesday night, however, as the Suns faced a 20-point deficit late in the fourth quarter before eventually falling by a final of 116-98 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The fight in Phoenix was palpable for most of the team’s games this season, but things unraveled substantially for the Suns in this one.
Forget the fact that the team went out in a blaze of technical fouls and late-game ejections; whether the referees contributed to that or not, it at least shows that the team still cares about fighting for its reaming games, however few there may be. But the strategy to intentionally foul the Thunder’s worst free-throw shooter, when trailing by 15 points with under five minutes remaining? Well, that just seemed pathetic.
That’s exactly what the Suns decided to do, however, with 4:55 left in the game and the Thunder leading 97-82. Jared Dudley reluctantly wrapped up Kendrick Perkins far, far away from the ball to commit an intentional foul, and send Perkins — a career 59.9 percent foul shooter, and just a 36.8 percent shooter with the Thunder — to the line.
It was embarrassing to watch the Suns resort to these tactics, especially with the odds being stacked so highly against them making a comeback, even if Perkins missed plenty of free throws. Jared Dudley, who was the first of three players to wrap up Perkins away from the ball per his coach’s orders, wasn’t exactly excited by the strategy, but seemed willing to try it because nothing else was working.
“I just do what the coaches say,” Dudley said. “Obviously that’s something that he wanted to do (or) to try and at that time, what do you want to try? We tried zone, we tried man. I think frustration might have set in a little bit. (Perkins) made a couple and I think the game was probably over by then, so you just try to do something new and just see. Typically, I don’t think players like to do it, but hey — if it works sometimes, then you try it.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks was fine with the strategy, but near the end of his comments made it clear that it wasn’t his preferred way of doing business.
“I’m comfortable with any of our guys shooting free throws,” Brooks said. “We work on it every day. Guys have a lot of confidence, and I have confidence in them. It’s good for us, we’re going to step up and make those shots. They’re free, and it puts a lot of pressure on them because now they have to score.
“You can’t give up free shots; a foul is not a good defense in my book. But that’s not my decision to make, and I like the fact that Perk went up there and knocked them in.”
Perkins hit five of his six free throw attempts when the Suns went to this strategy, and told Pro Basketball Talk afterward that if he were in the Suns’ situation, he probably would have done the same thing.
“(Shoot), I would too if I was them,” Perkins said. “Yeah, the way I’ve been struggling from the line, it’s the best chance for them to get back in the game. But I’ve got to take it upon myself, step up and hit the free throws, and just go from there. I probably would have done the same thing.”