Last January the Suns dropped a game in the Pepsi Center when Grant Hill was tripped by Dahntay Jones and bodied by Nene on a last-second foray to the hoop. No whistle blew, and the Suns lost in overtime.
Forgive the Suns if they felt a sense of deja vu in their locker room after this one, as about 11 months later Steve Nash drove on Nene with Phoenix down two in the final seconds and missed a layup with the Brazilian big man’s left arm draped all over him, and once again no whistle sounded.
“He kind of swallowed his whistle,” Hill said a year ago of his drive, and the Suns were thinking that same thing once again tonight, with Nash telling The Arizona Republic, “I went to lay the ball up and couldn’t get off the ground, so I feel a little bit like I was getting ridden with a forearm.”
Suns coach Alvin Gentry subsequently drew a pair of techs and a two-second early shower he was so peeved about the second-half officiating, and the Nuggets pulled away with a 105-99 victory.
Suns fans on Twitter were up in arms in the aftermath of the defeat, and it wasn’t just this final call. The officiating was pretty clearly slanted in Denver’s favor for the majority of the second half.
Just off the top of my head, I remember Amare and Lou BOTH getting mugged without a call on a scoring attempt at the hoop at the end of the third quarter, Dudley being called for a block (for his fifth foul) when Carmelo seemed to charge into him near the end of the third, Amare being called for a pair of questionable charges that looked like flops within a span of a minute that locked him up with five fouls with about seven minutes left and Grant Hill being called for a block on Chauncey Billups way beyond the arc on what was at best a 50-50 call.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, it just seemed like the Suns could not get a call no matter what they did. According to The Republic, Gentry spoke to NBA officiating czar Stu Jackson immediately after the game (he attended the contest), specifically about the Nash call at the end, the Dudley block and the Hill block, but he chose not to give Jackson any cash.
“I didn’t see anything,” Gentry deadpanned to The Associated Press. “They didn’t call a foul, so obviously it wasn’t a foul. I didn’t see anything. I’m not giving them my money. So, no I didn’t see anything. It was a great call. No call, that’s fine.”
What’s interesting about all this officiation hullabaloo is that when the Suns built up their second-quarter lead they seemed to be the beneficiary of some questionable calls in their favor. Billups was called for a weak offensive foul by barely pushing Goran Dragic’s hand away and then picked up a subsequent frustration third foul with five minutes left in the quarter to keep him on the bench for the duration of the half.
There was also a basket Lou Amundson scored that looked an awful lot like basket interference to me, and all in all it was a stunning turnaround to see the zebras go from favoring Phoenix to Denver.
OK, done with the officiating excuses and moving on to everybody’s other favorite excuse: the back-to-back excuse.
First off, the four previous times the Suns played an elite team on the second game of a back-to-back they were blown out. This time they played one of their best second quarters of the year and held a 17-point second-half lead against one of the NBA’s best home teams.
But maybe there’s a reason teams struggle so much when traveling east to play in the Mile High City on a back-to-back. The Suns just didn’t have their legs during a third quarter that saw Denver battle all the way back to even.
Phoenix lacked the pop it had earlier in the game. Would this have happened if the Suns hadn’t played a grueling game against Orlando last night? The world will never know.
This was much more frustrating than their previous blowouts on back-to-backs because the Suns just didn’t have it in any of those four losses. Maybe it was the lack of rest or maybe it was just because they were playing a better team in those defeats, but this time around the Suns did have it and they lost it when their legs went tired and their shots fell short in the third.
Amare Stoudemire and Hill both shot 4-for-10 for the Suns, with the 37-year-old logging a season-high 43 minutes, and J-Rich was just 3-for-8. Nash started off hot early and finished with 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go with seven assists, but Phoenix was at its best with its bench on the floor.
Amare put up a minus 20 (thanks in part to seven turnovers) and Nash a minus 19, whereas Lou Amundson recorded a team-high plus 12 and the entire bench was in the positives in plus-minus.
That’s because Lou and the bench crew of Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic joined Hill and (for most of it) Channing Frye on a 19-2 run covering the first five minutes of the second quarter. Lou in particular was an absolute maniac in his eight-point, nine-rebound quarter, giving the Colorado native’s hometown fans something to cheer about and then some.
He finished the night with his first double-double of the season, going for 12 points, 11 boards, four blocks and two steals while hitting 6-of-7 shots in 25 minutes. Man, could the Suns ever use this kind of production out of Lou on a nightly basis, especially with Robin Lopez becoming a foul a minute man.
With the Suns’ bench having struggled so much offensively without Barbosa, it was nice to see them put that kind of run on a good Denver team.
In the end, the Suns somehow lost despite outshooting the Nuggets 54.5 percent to 41.0 percent (20 turnovers might have something to do with that), and they lost their first game in which they took a double-digit lead after winning their first 11 such games. They also lost for the first time when putting up 60 in a half (their season-low 39-point second half might have something to do with that).
That second-half slump meant the Suns scored right at the 99.8 ppg total they had averaged in their previous five second halves of a back-to-back but shot much better than their 43.5 percent mark in those games.
Blame it on the officiating, the back-to-back or any other excuse you can find, but in the end the Suns just did not make that one play they needed to pull this one out in a game that shouldn’t have been so close to being with. After all, when you’re up by 17 in the second half, the officiating should not be the main topic of conversation in your locker room after the game.
LOU on JMZ
JMZ needs to do a pregame interview with Lou before every game if he’s going to play like this.