Thoughts on Marcin Gortawesome, Zabian Dowdell’s rematch with Chris Paul, and Channing Frye learning from Kevin Garnett.
Marcin the Barbarian was kept on the bench for the first 7 minutes of the Suns’ victory over the Hornets on Sunday night by a solid start from the Brother Fropez – Robin Lopez had 6 points, 5 rebounds, and only 1 turnover as the Suns opened the game on a 13-4 run. When Gortat checked in, he quickly picked up 2 fouls, forcing him back to the bench and Gentry to go with a smaller lineup with Frye at the pivot. Gortat closed out the first half for the Suns, but he didn’t see prolonged action in the game until about halfway through the third quarter.
From that point on, Gortat decided to take vengeance for the atrocities committed upon his people in World War II – and his target was a New Orleans Hornets squad that saw Emeka Okafor leave the game with a hip injury. Gortat was perfect from the field and the line in five and a half minutes of third quarter action, scoring 11 points and securing 2 rebounds. Gortat’s play helped ignite a 12-4 run by the Suns to end the 3rd. Gortat played all but the final 29 seconds of the fourth quarter, scoring another 10 points (he was a perfect 7 for 7 from the free throw line on the night).
Not everything was rosy in the Gortat garden, however. In the fourth quarter, with Gortat seeming to tire due to an extended run on the floor without rest, the Hornets clamped down on defense and began switching most Nash/Gortat screens. This often left Gortat will a smaller defender, but Nash was unable – or, more likely given Gortat’s shortcomings in his post-up game, unwilling – to get the ball to Marcin in the post. If Gortat continues his stretch of getting close to starter’s minutes (when he’s not taking himself out of the game due to foul trouble), teams may use this strategy more often, especially as the game draws to a close. Don’t be surprised to see the Suns, if confronted with these defensive switches, have Gortat slip the screen and dive to the basket to draw fouls and get easy looks at the rim.
Speaking of the fourth quarter, Zabian Dowdell and the rest of the Suns’ bench did everything you could ask at the beginning of the final frame. The Suns lead 88-80 after three quarters and looked to get Steve Nash and Grant Hill a breather while simultaneously injecting Vince Carter with various zombie antidotes the training staff developed over the weekend.
Dowdell, Jared Dudley, Gortat, Channing Frye, and Mickael Pietrus played a Hornets squad led by Chris Paul and David West to a 6-all standstill to start the quarter before going on an 8-2 tear to open up a 14-point lead for the Suns. Dowdell played almost 7 minutes in the frame, and while he missed his only shot and the offense looked out of sync on several possessions, he and the rest of the Suns’ second squad gave the Suns enough security to swiftly squander much of the lead at the end of the game and still escape with a win. Also of note – the Suns missed all eight of their 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter and still escaped with the win.
After the game, Dowdell said that he felt right at home on the court and noted that he played Chris Paul in college, hinting that he wasn’t intimidated by the best point guard in the league.
As hard as I was on Kevin Garnett for his cheap shot on Channing Frye in Friday’s Suns/Celtics game, many people were just as critical of Garnett stepping underneath Frye and giving the man no place to land after his jumpshot. In fact, on the ESPN broadcast, this is Mark Jackson’s first and loudest complaint with Garnett (although at first blush, Jackson claims it isn’t a foul). Chris Mannix of SI stated that, in his opinion, the feet-under-Frye maneuver was even worse than Garnett’s “love tap”. Many players, Mannix claimed, try to tap shooters in the stomach to throw off their follow through.
While I disagree with Mannix’s assessment of the two actions, I agree that placing one’s feet under a shooter isn’t exactly a clean play. I’d be remiss, then, given my criticism of Garnett, not to point out that Frye did the same thing on Sunday night. With the Hornets down 5 after a Suns’ turnover, Chris Paul attempted a 3-pointer and was fouled by Frye on the play. Paul made all three free throws to give the Suns a scare at the end of the game. If you get a chance to see a replay of that series of events, look at Frye – it seems that he purposely places his feet under Chris Paul on the shot. Given what Frye went through on Friday night, you think he’d be against that type of play.