After three quarters at the Rose Garden in Portland tonight, a Suns win was almost a guarantee. Coming into tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers the Suns were 11-0 when Steve Nash handed out 11 or more helpers — he had 11 at the end of three. The Suns were 11-0 when leading after three quarters — they led by nine after 36 minutes.
But despite Phoenix’s prospects after three quarters of play, the TNT Curse went into effect and former Arizona Wildcat and St. Mary’s High School standout Jerryd Bayless went to work, propelling the Trail Blazers past the Suns, 105-102.
“We can’t play good for 36 minutes,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “We have to play well for 48 minutes. That’s the only way you win on the road.”
The Suns dropped their 17th straight game on TNT — a stretch that dates back to March 13, 2008. But while they seemingly can’t win a game on TNT to save their lives, far more that contributed to this loss than just a curse.
The Suns were in control for the majority of the game, but a career-high 29 points off the bench from Bayless and a 35-point fourth quarter for Portland allowed an injury-riddled Trail Blazers team to steal a win from Nash and the Suns.
Amare Stoudemire was dominant with 27 points and 11 rebounds, Nash distributed like the NBA’s leading dime-dropper dishing out 13 assists, Grant Hill was very active posting 20 points and three steals and Channing Frye showed Nate McMillan and the Blazers’ front office that he can play a little bit — 17 points on 5-of-8 from three-point range.
But the Suns couldn’t stop anyone in the fourth quarter and relied too heavily on jump shots to build any momentum. Phoenix allowed Bayless and Brandon Roy to combine for 29 of the Blazers’ 35 fourth-quarter points, further proving the Suns’ lack of perimeter defense, particularly with Hill and Jared Dudley in foul trouble.
After an uphill battle for the better part of three quarters, the Blazers took the lead with 3:49 left in the fourth, their first lead since they led 33-32 in the second quarter.
Phoenix was still in it down the stretch until a missed Goran Dragic layup, a HIll tip in on the wrong basket and a huge offensive rebound by Martell Webster with 10 seconds left earned the Suns their sixth consecutive road loss, dropping their road record to 8-9.
The Webster rebound was huge. If the Suns could have corralled the board they would have had the ball at halfcourt, down two, with 10 seconds to play. Instead they were ultimately left with an off-balance Steve Nash heave as the buzzer sounded that had no chance from the second it left his hands.
The domination of Bayless and Roy down the stretch, another blown double-digit second-half lead (15 points in the third quarter) and too many jumpers and not enough stops combined to create the recipe for this come-from-ahead defeat.
It has been interesting to watch how differently this Suns team plays down the stretch on the road as opposed to at home. When they are in the comfort of US Airways Center, the Suns seem to come up with those big defensive rebounds and tend to slow down the Bayless’ and Roy’s when it matters. But this team has yet to prove that it can win a big game on the road, a trait that does not bode well for a team that most likely won’t have home-court advantage in April.
All of the major stats were fairly even. The Suns shot better from the field and the charity stripe, while knocking down the same amount of three balls as the Blazers (10). But the difference in the game was clearly the production from the Blazers’ bench. Even without Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden, Portland’s bench accounted for 41 points, all coming from Bayless and Steve Blake.
Without Leandro Barbosa and Jason Richardson, who missed the game with a sprained wrist, the Suns’ bench looked sorry. The second unit didn’t score a bucket until Jared Dudley knocked down a three with 3:49 left in the third quarter. Dudley ended up with 10 points, but the three combined points from the likes of Lou Amundson, Earl Clark and Alando Tucker simply wasn’t enough.
The Suns have proven to be painfully inconsistent through 28 games. Not that a trip to the Rose Garden against a Western Conference foe is an easy feat, but after handling the Spurs a 116-104 defeat on Tuesday, a loss like this against a depleted Trail Blazers team simply shouldn’t happen, especially after building yet another sizable second-half lead.
The Blazers defense locked down in the fourth quarter and slowed down the tempo against the Suns, who have struggled as of late in a half-court setting. This slower pace forced the Suns into jump shot after jump shot and Amare Stoudemire was given little room to work — four fourth-quarter points.
Luckily for them, the Suns will play 10 of their next 12 at US Airways Center, but they need to prove they can win some tough road games and put teams away early if they hope to make any noise in the playoffs.
The TNT Curse in the Dime
ValleyoftheSuns’ Michael Schwartz takes an extended look at the Suns’ TNT Curse in Thursday’s Daily Dime.
- After scoring a career-high 18 points against the Spurs two nights ago, Goran Dragic only managed nine points in his first start of the season. He got off to a strong start in the first half with seven points but was nowhere to be found in the second half.
- I expected the Suns to use Robin Lopez more than usual in this game, but instead they chose not to play him while Amare logged 45 minutes. Although Lopez has contributed more in the personal foul department than anything else as of late, I would have liked to see him in this matchup.