Bill Simmons wrote a late running diary of the Cavaliers’ comeback from 19 down to beat the Clippers on Tuesday night, with the constant theme being how everybody in Staples Center felt like such a comeback was inevitable.
The Suns aren’t the Clippers and their lead was just four entering the fourth quarter, but I still knew that somehow, someway they’d find a way to blow it down the stretch just like they have in their past five winnable games against good teams.
“Well here we are again,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “I really don’t have any answers, I think we try hard and play hard, but we just can’t seem to close out games.”
Yep, the Suns’ eventual 119-111 loss to the Eastern-leading Cavs was no surprise. The only surprise came in the form of the key play that led to the loss.
Phoenix had cut the lead to two after an 8-0 Cleveland run to start the half and seemed poised to tie it after rebounding a LeBron James three-point miss and getting the ball out to a streaking Jason Richardson ahead of the pack.
With seemingly no defenders in sight, J-Rich went up for a 360 dunk to tie the game and energize the crowd …… only for James to come out of nowhere to swat it away.
The crowd booed J-Rich, Sasha Pavlovic came down and drained a triple and then Mo Williams added a technical free throw for good measure assessed to an arguing Richardson, who correctly complained that James hacked the hell out of his wrist on the “block.” The Suns never fought back to even tie it up.
As Simmons would write, ladies and gentleman, your 2008-09 Phoenix Suns.
“Against a quality team like that with 51 wins you can not afford to do and make mistakes like that,” Gentry said.
First on Richardson’s decision, I can understand his thinking on trying to go for the touchdown play to ignite the crowd, but it’s inexcusable to suffer such a game-changing play by trying to be a hot dog. Anybody who watches SportsCenter has seen James come out of nowhere to make a block in transition time and time again, so you can’t take that risk against any team in such a situation and certainly not James’ Cavs.
Second of all, it was a foul, and that wasn’t really close either. James got a big piece of Richardson’s wrist, and he should have been going to the line for two.
But that’s such a quick play it’s hard for the officials to call it, and this wouldn’t be the first time that a superstar of James’ ilk got the benefit of the doubt.
Then J-Rich compounded the error by not getting back on defense too quickly before adding the T, resulting in a six-point swing.
J-Rich’s take on the play: “Clearly a foul. I don’t care how you look at it – clearly a foul – and that’s bad. A guy is going up like that, especially to do something to get the fans going, and to get fouled and get hammered like that and with no call at all – that’s terrible.
“I didn’t know anybody was coming – if you know someone is coming like that, you’re not going to pull something off like that. It was just a bad call. I don’t care how you look at it, it was just a bad call.”
It’s a shame that the Suns only mustered 18 points in the fourth after going for 93 through three because by and large Phoenix played pretty well against the NBA’s top defense.
The Suns scorched the rims for 54.8 percent shooting against a Cleveland team that yields a league-best 42.9 percent shooting, and their six regulars all scored at least 12 points.
The rooks even got into the action for once, something that we may see exceedingly more as the Suns continue to fade from contention, with both Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic scoring six points in the first half.
You could also tell that the Suns still cared, at least as much as they have the past week, so the letdown effect from Tuesday’s loss never occurred.
In the end though Phoenix played that same ugly game of catch up that they’ve been forced to play the last five games, and once again that miracle finish failed to materialize.
They have now wrapped up their defining seven-game gauntlet, and survey says the Suns aren’t a contender for a playoff spot anymore.
All they needed to do was tread water, win maybe three of the seven, and they’d at least have a realistic shot.
Instead they fell flat on their face, and it’s hard to imagine this team making up six games in the standings with 17 to play.
This stretch started out with such an encouraging win against the Lakers without Steve Nash that optimism reigned in the Valley, but it was swept away with heartbreaking defeat after heartbreaking defeat in games the Suns just could never get over the hump in.
When asked to asses his team’s problems, Nash told Suns.com, “We don’t have a power forward. We’re small and a lot of things. There have been a lot of changes this year, we haven’t really gotten any momentum, we lost Amare – so we’re small and we’ve played some good teams recently and we just haven’t been able to get the wins. We are small, but we have to find a way to keep fighting, stay positive and win some games.”
Yes we get it, the Suns are small, and this group just isn’t able to overcome that, not that they were exactly world beaters in the first place with the starting power forward for the West All-Stars.
So now as the schedule turns to the Oklahoma Cities and Golden States of the world, it looks like the Suns will be playing for the same thing those teams are.
And how strange does that feel in the middle of March?
Tags: Jason Richardson