The same ugly nightmare keeps repeating itself game after game, yet the Suns have yet to find a way to wake up.
Four games on this road trip against four good teams.
Four games on this road trip in which the Suns had their chances late.
Four games on this road trip in which the Suns could not find a way to squeak out a victory.
Four games is thus what the Suns now trail Dallas by for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Phoenix’s 103-98 defeat to the Spurs Sunday afternoon contained elements of the past three heartbreaking losses on this trip, all of them contests the Suns coulda, woulda, shoulda won.
There was a six-minute drought like the Orlando loss, a dynamic star guard tearing them apart like the Miami game and a furious comeback that falls just short like the Houston contest.
“It was kind of the same script as the last few games,” Grant Hill told Suns.com. “We played well…we were in the game…fighting to stay in the game. We just didn’t do enough to get over the hump.”
In each and every game of this road trip the Suns have gone through porous stretches on either offense, defense or both that rob any chance they have of a momentous victory.
Case in point on Sunday, from the 5:18 to mark of the second quarter until a minute into the second half, Phoenix did not score a single point.
Not a layup, not a three, not even a single free throw.
The Spurs, meanwhile, added 13 points of their own to take a sizable advantage in a game that was tied at the start of that horrendous stretch.
To put that into context, the Suns averaged about 14 points per game during every other six-minute stretch in this one, and they averaged 17.5 points per six-minute stretch during their 140-point games at the beginning of the Gentry Era.
Such a drought turned a victory into defeat Tuesday night in Orlando, but like the Suns did on Friday in Houston, they scratched and clawed their way all the way back after trailing the majority of the game to take a short-lived lead, 82-81 with under eight minutes left on a rare Hill long ball.
At this point, I’m thinking season-changing victory. Everything is more important in this building because of what the Spurs have done to the Suns the last few years, and it can’t be quantified how huge a comeback from double digits would have been.
Then the Suns’ offense disappeared again, going 4:08 without a single point, missing four field goals, two free throws and turning the ball over three times during a stretch in which San Antonio put up 11 unanswered to essentially end the game.
“It basically came down to a stretch in the fourth quarter where we let them get a little separation,” head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com.
The fact that the Suns furiously fought back with an immediate 7-0 run and then cut the lead to three on three consecutive possessions is a tribute to their never-say-die attitude, but the reason they never got it below three is – just like in Miami and Houston before – they never could come up with that one crucial stop when they needed it most.
Mike D’Antoni used to basically say, “Yeah, we give up a lot of points, but we get the stops when we need to.”
This Suns team gives up a lot of points but struggles most when it absolutely needs that one stop.
After a quiet first half of eight points, Tony Parker was unstoppable in the second half, finishing the contest with 30 points and nine assists.
The Spurs continually exploited the Suns’ weak pick-and-roll defense, and when Parker got in the lane he either had an easy look for himself or one for his teammates. Add in a jumper he was hitting consistently, and he really was the difference.
For some reason that escapes me, Tim Duncan exited the game three minutes into the fourth quarter and continued to sit until just a couple minutes remained in the contest. That left Parker to do much of the heavy lifting, and he was up to the task.
Duncan’s absence even led the Suns to pull Shaq at one point late, going with an all smalls lineup that featured Matt Barnes at center.
Phoenix did many things well in this one, not least of which was committing just eight turnovers. Also, six Suns reached double figures, led by Nash’s 23 and 11.
In the end, though, it was the same old story, and it’s getting harder by the day to believe that the Suns will be a playoff team.
If the glass is half full you can say that the Suns took four consecutive playoff teams to the limit on the road, and they imposed their style for long stretches of each contest.
If the glass is half empty, then you focus on the fact that Phoenix cannot come up with stops when it needs to or do the little things to win in tough environments, and how could the team not fall into at least one victory on this trip?
“It’s kind of been this way the whole trip where we play well but we have nothing to show for it, because we’re not into moral victories,” Gentry said. “We play well, then we have a stretch where things don’t quite go our way, and it’s hard for us to recover from that.”
Earlier in the week Gentry talked about how the Suns were about four stops a game away from being a really good team.
They were probably about four stops in each of the four games of this road trip away from four wins.
Yes, disaster certainly came in fours on this fourgettable foray.
With Jeff Van Gundy part of the broadcast crew, I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say about Shaq’s recent comments in which he skewered Van Gundy’s brother Stan and even took a shot at the ABC announcer himself.
Van Gundy said on the broadcast, “My brother’s coaching doesn’t need defending and certainly O’Neal’s play doesn’t need defending. Coaching the superstar in decline never and rarely ends well between the star player in decline and the team.”
Van Gundy went on to defend his brother’s comments as being “tongue in cheek,” before adding, “If I was a boxing official I would have told Shaq to keep them up a little more. At the end of the day it’s just a lot of talk about nothing.” …
After an even first quarter, Gentry started the second quarter with a lineup of Goran Dragic, LB, Jared Dudley, Stromile Swift and Shaq, before subbing Lou Amundson for Shaq a minute in to give Phoenix an all-bench crew.
After a Shaq bucket 40 seconds into the quarter, the Suns went scoreless for three minutes and the Spurs built a six-point lead.
To start the fourth quarter, Gentry played Lou, Dudley and LB with a pair of starters, and in three minutes the lineup made up four points to tie the game. …
The Suns’ three longest scoreless droughts on Sunday totaled 13 minutes and 37 seconds, making it fairly impressive that they scored 98 points in the other 34:23. That would make for about 33 points in the three other “quarters” besides the zero spot. …
Barnes played 34 minutes of the loss yet still managed to put up a plus 20, making him the only regular with a positive plus-minus rating. …
The final score of these teams’ first meeting was also 103-98, but the Suns took that one, their only victory of the season against the Spurs.