The script is often different, but it always ends in the same painful manner when the Suns and Spurs renew acquaintances.
Thursday’s 114-104 demoralizer was just more of the same.
This script read great offensive first half with zero turnovers – that’s right, no turnovers – but no lead either because San Antonio’s offense was just as crisp in a 57-57 first half that ended with a Steve Nash buzzer-beating three.
The second half went as second halves always go between the Suns and Spurs, featuring San Antonio getting a good shot whenever it needed one and Phoenix wilting down the stretch against the Spurs’ suffocating defense.
“Particularly that second half they outplayed us in a lot of categories,” Nash told Suns.com. “They scored at a pretty efficient rate on us and we found shots difficult to come by on both ends of the floor.”
Three sequences stood out to me as to why the Spurs won another game in Phoenix.
First, after leading throughout much of the third quarter, once San Antonio tied the contest at 79, Suns head coach Terry Porter went Gregg Popovich on us.
He executed a Hack-a-Bowen on Suns nemesis Bruce Bowen, a career 57.3 percent foul shooter whose 25 percent foul shooting this season is misleading because he only had eight attempts entering Thursday. Bowen missed his first attempt short, seemingly surprised at the tactical maneuver, and then coolly canned his next five.
The Suns, meanwhile, failed to score on the other end, giving San Antonio a five-point lead it would never relinquish.
I’ve never seen the Suns utilize a Hack-a-Whoever strategy, so although Bowen’s not a great free-throw shooter by any means I wonder if Porter was trying to send some sort of message to Popovich and Bowen. But as always in this rivalry, whatever Phoenix tries on San Antonio never seems to work as well as it does the other way around.
Second, the Suns’ nearly four-minute drought at the start of the fourth quarter cost them the game more than anything.
After Matt Barnes nailed a tough jumper to cut the lead to three with 11:41 left, the Suns didn’t score again until Leandro Barbosa hit a pair of free throws with 7:48 remaining. What’s most disheartening is the Spurs went almost two and a half minutes without a point during that stretch, while the Suns failed to capitalize on the other end.
It was an uphill battle from there.
Third, the Suns pulled off one of those rare momentum-swing plays when Grant Hill swiped the ball from Tony Parker as he was about to go up for a shot, then took it all the way for the hoop and the harm to cut what was a nine-point lead a couple minutes before down to three.
TNT’s Doug Collins made one of those, “Remember this play” comments, only for Manu Ginobili to find Parker wide open for a dagger of a jumper and then Nash to trip over Amare and lose the ball on the ensuing Suns possession to make Hill’s great play remembered only as a tease.
“I think we got outplayed tonight by a team that’s better than us right now and so we have some work to do,” Nash told Suns.com.
Peaks and valleys
- As I expected, Shaq was named to the All-Star team and Nash wasn’t. As I wrote earlier, it will be great to have Shaq a part of the festivities, but you do have to feel bad for a deserving Al Jefferson. Also, it will be weird to have an All-Star Game in Phoenix without Nash.
- The Suns’ stat of the day was zero turnovers in the first half, and their seven second-half turnovers wouldn’t have been an issue except for the fact they came at inopportune times.
- It was a milestone day for the Suns, but only by statistical measures. Shaq passed Hakeem Olajuwon for seventh on the all-time scoring list, and Nash passed Porter for 11th on the all-time assists list before later joking he thought Porter would take him out when he neared the mark.
- But Porter didn’t take Nash out much Thursday night, resting him only for five minutes to begin the second half on a 43-minute night. Needless to say, Porter wanted to win this game.
- Nash certainly didn’t disappoint with 16 points and 18 assists, two more than San Antonio as a team. He’s averaging an NBA-best 12.1 assists per game this month, with at least 18 assists in three of his past seven and at least 13 in five of seven. Too bad he didn’t put up those numbers all season or the Suns might have three All-Stars.
- Hill bounced back from a “tired” end of the road trip in which he combined for 10 points in 44 minutes over the final two games with one of his best games of the season (20 points, 10 boards). I was a bit worried about something being wrong with him after those last two games, but following two days of rest this contest showed it was nothing more than a little fatigue.
- Amare was a force offensively with 28 points, but just as impressively he pulled down 10 boards for his first set of consecutive double-digit rebound games since, you guessed it, Dec. 20 against Denver and the Spurs’ last visit on Christmas.
- Where have you gone Jason Richardson? J-Rich took just six shots, scoring seven points, and is becoming less a part of the offense by the day.
- Barnes showed signs of breaking out of his slump with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting and 3-for-4 threes, but it can’t be considered a good outing when the Suns were minus 17 in his 19 minutes.
- The Spurs bottled up LB once again (seven points), and the Suns lost another game in which Barbosa wasn’t a factor.