The Charlotte Hornets played some of their worst defense of the season in last night's loss to the Phoenix Suns. Steve Clifford ranted about their effort post game, and we can see how frustrated he was with his choice in minutes distribution. Players that don't usually receive many minutes were playing while usual rotation guys sat on the bench. Yet, in the end, it was the starters that had the biggest mistake of the night.
Late in the fourth quarter the Hornets were trying to make a run to get back in the game. The offense wasn't humming, but it was effective enough to where a few stops would have given them a chance to win late. However, their defense let them down once again in an awful miscommunication that led to a wide open 3-pointer for P.J. Tucker from the corner.
The Suns begin the play by draining off as much of the shot clock as possible while getting in position for the play. Charlotte's only down four here so a stop would be huge. Notice the spacing. Everybody on Phoenix is able to knock down a 3-pointer, which results in the paint being wide open, as all of their shooters hang out on the perimeter with Devin Booker and Tucker in opposite corners.
Phoenix runs a double screen which pulls P.J. Hairston and Marvin Williams over towards Kemba Walker. Now, despite Walker being a pretty smart defender, a player of his size is going to struggle getting through this if they set the screen well. Which is exactly what happens. Walker gets caught on Mirza Teletovic's screen, and T.J. Warren slows him down enough to where Walker can't recover in time to get back in front of Brandon Knight. Hairston, who is covering Warren, has to rotate on to Knight.
Hairston makes the correct decision here to switch onto Knight. Where things go wrong however is that Hairston doesn't stick with Knight. He expects Marvin Williams to come down and help, but Williams has stepped up and sticks with Teletovic. Meanwhile, Walker is in no man's land where he could switch back on to Warren or try to chase Knight. Walker chooses to follow Knight which would have been the correct decision had Williams provided help.
Instead, Hairston slips by Knight to stay on Warren, and leaves Knight a wide open lane to the rim. Walker continues to chase, but he's not going to recover in time which leads to Cody Zeller and Troy Daniels closing off the lane giving Knight a choice of two corners. He picks Tucker who makes the 3-pointer that ices the game in the Suns favor.
Notice that Hairston has his hands in the air as the ball is flying towards Tucker. He's clearly frustrated that someone didn't help Walker in the paint. Whether that means Williams was supposed to provide help and failed to do so or not is unclear. Perhaps everybody else ran the play properly and Hairston was supposed to stay with Knight. Either way it's obvious that miscommunication destroyed the defense on this play.
That was one play, but the entire night was a story like this. The Suns made 19 3-pointers, and shot over 55 percent from deep. Some of that was just hot shooting, but a lot of it had to do with moments like this where the defense's inability to get on the same page led to breakdowns. This one just happened to put the game out of reach.