Suns 105, Bucks 101 -- Feels like a loss

PHOENIX — The Milwaukee Bucks touched down in Phoenix in the wee hours Monday morning after being thrashed by the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

They proceeded to find out that stud guard Michael Redd would be out for the year after tearing his ACL and MCL for the second year in a row, and then head coach Scott Skiles was rushed to the hospital just before game time for precautionary reasons due to an irregular heartbeat.

The Bucks took the court and things only got worse, as the Suns quickly jumped out to a 36-15 first-quarter advantage and even led 41-17 a couple minutes into the second.

Entering the contest it was my thought that the Suns needed to take a big lead and win going away after blowing leads of 20, 16 and 13 earlier in the week.

After the first quarter I tweeted this: “Suns lead 36-15 after Q1. Not even they can blow this kind of a lead, right???”

I should have known, ONLY the Suns would blow a 24-point lead to a mediocre Bucks squad running on fumes, trailing 86-85 at one point before ultimately prevailing, 105-101.

That’s why when head coach Alvin Gentry took the press conference podium after a shorter-than-usual cooling off period he looked as if he had just pulled an all-nighter his eyes were so red; he then delivered an impassioned speech befitting a coach who just lost a game.

“I’m disappointed in the pattern that we’ve established for ourselves, and we have to find some way to work our way out of it,” Gentry said. “If we’re going to be a good team we’re going to have to do much better than that, that’s the bottom line. We get a win out of it, but we have issues that we have to resolve if we’re going to be a good team.

“Every night we can’t come out and play like we’re world champs for 12 minutes or 16 minutes and then within a five-minute period give it all back. It’s disappointing, so we’ve got to find a way to do a better job with that.”

This situation reminds me of the only road trip I took when I covered the 2008 Dodgers for MLB.com. They lost their first eight games of a 10-game trip and every game looked like the next, with the offense choking with men in scoring position time and time again, blowing more or less solid pitching performances.

We had no idea what to ask of the players and coaches by the end of the run because all the questions had been asked. Everybody was sick of talking about it, not least of all the media. There was nothing left to be said, it was just time for the players to deliver.

The Suns have reached that point when it comes to talking about blown leads, but after letting a 24-point lead turn into a deficit that was the only thing anybody was talking about after this one.

“I’m disappointed that we had this team and then kind of gave them some life out there and had to kind of gut it out,” said Grant Hill. “We’ve got to get a handle on blowing these leads and understanding teams make runs, but it’s not because they’re hitting tough shots or making great plays. We’re making foolish plays, a lot of mental mistakes, not really sticking to the game plan. All those things add up.”

Added Amare Stoudemire: “We’ve got to figure out why we’re giving up these leads. We start out hot and then we go through a cold spell. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

And Steve Nash: “Often when we build ourselves a lead we take our foot off the gas. That’s human nature, but you have to be professional and not allow that to affect your performance. We have to do a much better job of having a killer instinct and trying to take opportunities when we have them and knock teams out.”

And finally Jason Richardson: “We need to figure it out. We’ve got a lot of basketball left. We need to pick this up because we need to start building if we want to be a good team in the playoffs. We need to become that team and learn how to just continue to bury them and not let them back in the game.”

To boil it down (and this could go for any game this week), the Suns just lost their concentration in the second quarter. They made careless turnover after careless turnover (17 in all) and let the Bucks pound them on the boards, helping them cut the 24-point lead in half at the half.

The worse stretch came when Channing Frye threw a careless pass to Nash that Brandon Jennings stole, and then with Milwaukee pressing on the next play threw a pass to Hill that Luke Ridnour stole to highlight a 12-0 run near the end of the half.

“What happens to us is we just lose our focus, it snowballs into energy, we compound it and then obviously when they get their confidence up it compounds it even more,” Nash said. “I think it’s just that we don’t really grab the game by the neck again.”

Nash reiterated his stance that the Suns are not more talented than other teams; they need to play together to win.

When they play together I start thinking about a No. 2 or 3 seed. When they get sloppy and complacent I look at quality teams like Utah, New Orleans and Memphis on the outside looking in at the playoff race and wonder if the Suns are better than any of them.

From Dec. 11 to Jan. 11, the Suns played 16 games. They yielded double-digit leads in half of them, including two streaks of giving up such leads four games in a row. That’s the only consistency they’ve shown over that stretch as they have neither won nor lost more than two in a row since winning four in a row three times in November.

What’s really something is that the Suns have managed to win five of the eight games they blew big leads in by coming up clutch late, which could be why they seem to think they can just flip a switch and all of a sudden become that team from the first quarter again.

It’s amazing to me that this could happen so often considering the emphasis you know the Suns’ coaches have been putting on stepping on the opposition’s throat. Maybe it’s mental, and while Nash did not agree with that assessment on his end, he did admit that he could feel control of the game slipping away at times.

Hill brought up the point that the Suns played with a killer’s mentality in November, when they grinded some games out and won a few blowouts before December’s turn for the worse.

“It’s just something we know we have to work on, we know it’s one of our weaknesses. It’s not anything about X’s and O’s or strategy. It’s pretty much just right here,” Hill said, pointing to his chest.

“It’s heart.”

And 1

  • By scoring six points, Hill reached the 15,000-point plateau for his career. “Well, considering I had 10,000 after six years and it took me 10 years to get another 5,000, so I figure if I play 20 years I’ll get another 1,000,” Hill said. “No, I think it’s cool. It just means I’ve been around a long time.” Amazingly, Grant is right. He reached the 10,000 mark during the 1999-2000 season, a year in which he averaged a career-best 25.8 points per game. He never averaged 20 again while suffering through his litany of injuries in Orlando. How long ago would he have reached this mark if not for the injuries?
  • The Suns won their 22nd straight game against the Bucks in Phoenix, with that last loss coming on Feb. 21, 1987. I was preparing to turn 1, what were you doing then?
  • I run down the Suns’ issues with holding leads in Monday’s Daily Dime.
  • Cheeseheads must not be too fond of the state of Arizona right about now. First the Cardinals play a dominant first half only to nearly choke it away in the second half before prevailing in overtime. The Suns nearly followed the same script, running out to a huge early lead, only to almost choke it away late. Wouldn’t it have been something if Nash or Frye had Neil Rackers-ed a late free throw and then the Suns’ defense won the game for them in overtime?
  • Speaking of Nash, “Two Time” was fantastic once again, going for 30 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. This was his first career 30-7-11 in regulation and his second 30-10 game of this season. No wonder the Suns led 36-15 after one because Nash put up an 11-5-5 line in the quarter. However, he did turn it over seven times and thus MVSteve has now turned it over at least six times in every game in 2010. I still think most fans would take that when complemented by a 24.2-12.0 line.
  • The Suns held the Bucks to 38.6 percent shooting, the fourth time they have held the opposition under 40 percent after doing it twice against Washington and once against Toronto earlier in the season. … Phoenix scored 36 points in the first quarter and then could only muster half that output in the second … The Suns are now a season-high-tying 11 games over .500. … J-Rich has scored at least 20 points in three of four. Both Richardson and Amare went for 23, but no other Sun scored more than six besides Nash. That trio combined for rougly 72 percent of Phoenix’s scoring. … The Bucks’ 15-point first quarter was an opponent season low for Phoenix in that particular quarter.

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