Pacers 113, Suns 110 – Another buzzer beater

Thank you Leandro Barbosa and the rest of the Suns' help defense. (AP/Matt York)

Thank you Leandro Barbosa and the rest of the Suns' help defense. (AP/Matt York)

The Suns played 11:59.1 seconds of quality defense in the fourth quarter to storm ahead after trailing by as many as 16 points earlier in the half and 11 halfway through the quarter.

But that all went for naught when another defensive breakdown in the final nine tenths of a second gave Danny Granger a clean look at the game-winner in Indiana’s 113-110 victory.

It just felt like the Suns were going to win this one when they kept battling back and battling back to no avail before Leandro Barbosa swished a triple in the corner to finally put the Suns on top.

Then Granger hits a nice jumper in Grant Hill’s face to tie it, one of those shots there’s nothing you can do about except shake the guy’s hand and congratulate him on an eventual 37-point outing.

The Suns followed that up with two of their worst offensive sequences in the past five seasons.

First Nash dribbles 12 seconds off the clock, passes it to J-Rich with 12 left on the shot clock, gets it back with 10 left on the clock, penetrates and kicks it to Amare with four seconds left after a screen show so STAT can take a deep fadeaway jumper over Jeff Foster with four on the shot clock.

That’s the best the Suns could do with a potent lineup of Nash, Amare, J-Rich, Barbosa and Hill? A shot that’s there whenever you want it?

Then J-Rich flies from behind the three-point line to snatch the offensive board with 12 seconds left, dishes it back to Barbosa with nine left and gets it back with about 7.5 seconds left in the game.

Meanwhile, head coach Terry Porter is calling for a timeout but nobody hears him and Nash and Amare are just standing around watching like the rest of us, as if that’s the best way to utilize your All-Stars.

There’s no question the Suns should have called a timeout to reset themselves if they weren’t going to do a quick pick-and-roll with Amare, and that’s confirmed when J-Rich pump fakes Granger to take a tough, off-balanced shot.

Again, with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and a hot Leandro Barbosa on the floor, the best the Suns could do was an off-balanced leaner? Why not try the Nash back screen play that worked against the Magic and Spurs out of a timeout?

At this point I’m thinking overtime, and I’m sure everybody in the building was as well. Except for maybe Granger.

In what is becoming a season-long trend of outstanding final-second execution at US Airways Center, the Pacers bunched up Jarrett Jack (guarded by Nash), Stephen Graham (guarded by Barbosa), Foster (guarded by J-Rich) and Granger (guarded by Hill, who’s standing closest to the basket). Amare is defending the inbounder, Mike Dunleavy.

The first thing that jumps out is the Suns are guarding a center with a shooting guard because they were using a three-guard and one small forward alignment with their only big guarding the ball.

Why keep a guy like Barbosa in the game on defense, when the mismatch will be in the opposition’s favor, when a Lou Amundson would do just fine?

Porter said he told his team to switch all screens, and with just 0.9 left the Suns were clearly fearful of a lob to Graham at the rim. That’s why J-Rich picked him up as he curled toward the hoop and Barbosa stayed on him as well before freezing with a deer in the headlights look when he realized who was left open.

Meanwhile, Hill was stuck behind Foster, and Granger simply popped out to the three-point line where he attempted as open of a shot as you’ll ever see in that situation, contending with just a late-charging Steve Nash, who realized his teammates’ mistake and switched onto him way too late to make a difference.

“Well, we haven’t had much luck with last-second shots, game-winners, walk-off game winners this year,” Porter told Suns.com. “We seem to be kind of snake bitten. … We just didn’t do a good job communicating in that situation. With 0.9 seconds, Granger made a heck of a shot.”

And with that, the Suns lost yet another game they should have won, dropping back to eighth in the West, just percentage points ahead of Utah.

Suns fans can only hope we won’t be looking back on shots like Granger’s and Roger Mason’s on Christmas lamenting why Phoenix is on the outside looking in come playoff time.

This and that

The Suns’ defense did its job in the fourth before the bitter end, holding the Pacers to 13 points before Granger’s two late shots.

That with a fourth-quarter lineup of Nash, Barbosa, Amare and two out of J-Rich, Hill and Matt Barnes. I love to see the Suns go small with three-guard and four-small lineups in a game Shaq missed.

Speaking of Shaq, this game goes to show how much he means to Phoenix, as the Suns were out of sync in the first quarter without him, when the Daddy is usually fed a few times to get the team off to a good start.

The Suns’ subpar start that saw them trail by 15 points 15 minutes in could be attributed to the rustiness involved with four straight days without a game, but playing without Shaq deserves top billing in the Why the Suns Sucked to Start the Game category.

The Suns ran like they do with Shaq, not like they did in the D’Antoni years, so I think we’ve all got to stop wishing the Suns could flip a switch and be the Seven Seconds or Less Suns without Shaq. They aren’t, although they have done a better job of running even with the big man.

It was nice to see Phoenix win the rebounding battle, 50-40, by virtue of 18 offensive boards.

Much of that can be attributed to Sweet Lou Amundson, who put up nine points and a career-high 14 boards, including nine on the offensive glass, in his career-high 25 minutes. The Ponytailed One seems to grab every rebound in his sight, and is exactly what this team needs to complement the big scorers.

If only he could make more than one of his seven free throws he might have a double-double one of these days. His form isn’t terrible, so it seems really like a confidence thing.

In contrast to Amundson, Robin Lopez picked up four fouls, just two points and – again – no rebounds in his five minutes of work. Who was the first-round pick again?

Finally, Steve Nash played 43 minutes and did not sit in the second half. As I’ve said before, the Suns need to keep Nash’s minutes in the 30s as tempting as it may be not to do so in a game like this, and his heavy workload makes this loss that much more unbearable.

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