PHOENIX — Back in November, the Suns beat the Raptors in Phoenix when Channing Frye got just far enough up in the face of Hedo Turkoglu to force a miss on a potential game-winning shot.
It was symbolic of that month as a whole: even when the Raptors got the matchup they wanted in the clutch, the Suns still found a way to win in the end.
The Suns’ 114-109 overtime loss to the Bobcats tonight, on the other hand, was symbolic of everything that’s gone wrong in the past two months.
This was the type of game they aren’t supposed to lose. I mean, they had NEVER lost to Charlotte in five previous games in Phoenix, and the Suns had been 13-0 in home games they led after three even while blowing game after game after game otherwise.
When the Suns led by three with 25 seconds left, they were essentially one stop away from a hard-fought win, but that stop never came.
“We gave them an opportunity, and they took advantage of it,” Frye said. “They stole this one here tonight.”
Gentry wanted his team to play tight to force a drive and then not leave any shooter, but Lou Amundson gave stone cold Stephen Jackson just enough space to launch a game-tying triple.
The Suns still had one last chance to win with 20 seconds left, but Nash dribbled around for a while before finding Jared Dudley for an off-balanced shot with a hand in his face that he missed to send the game into overtime.
The play was supposed to be a Nash-Amare pick-and-roll — from which Nash could either go to Amare, find Frye if there was help or take it himself — but the spacing got muddled up and the refs did not notice Charlotte was trying to take its foul to give. That left Dudley throwing up a prayer that was never answered.
The Suns, who scored just 15 points on 28.6 percent shooting in the fourth, promptly turned it over on three of their first four overtime possessions to allow the Bobcats to build up a lead they would never relinquish.
“We didn’t execute the way we were supposed to,” said Gentry, whose team yielded 20 offensive boards. “We have to be able to execute, we have to be able to get the ball in the basket, we have to be able to rebound the basketball. We did not do those things tonight. … Once again we’re sitting here with our heads down. It cost us another game.”
Gentry placed blame on the entire team, from the coaches to the players, for another disheartening loss, the Suns’ seventh in nine games.
Phoenix did not run up a huge lead in this one, but it did lead by nine and held an advantage for the majority of the game while Charlotte slowly chipped away.
In Frye’s view, the Suns are playing really well for 36-40 minutes per game, but it’s those other eight minutes that cost them.
That certainly was the case in Utah on Monday night when the Jazz stormed back from a 17-point lead in five minutes, and again the Suns looked stagnant down the stretch in this one, waiting for Nash to bail them out.
He almost did on this night, scoring 17 points in the second half, including a three that put Phoenix up three with 2:16 left and a sweet lefty hook over Boris Diaw to put his team up three again with a minute left.
But since the offense bogged down when Nash wasn’t putting on his Superman cape, it wasn’t enough against a Charlotte defense that stiffened in the fourth.
This was a battle of the league’s best offense against one of its top defenses, as well as one of the worst defenses against one of the worst offenses. When it counted down the stretch, the Bobcats’ defense shut down the Suns’ offense, and that was really the difference.
“What we have to do is we have to dig ourselves out of this,” Gentry said. “We got to learn how to continue to play hard, we’ve got to learn to complete plays, we’ve got to learn to finish games. That’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t matter what the mental state is of anyone. That’s what we’ve got to do. We have a lot of games left. If we want to be a playoff team, we’ve got to get it corrected.”
Gentry went on to say that the Suns’ goal at the start of the season was just to make the playoffs, which they would be doing (barely) if the season were to end today. Sure, the Suns have more losses than 10 teams in the West, but Nash and Gentry both emphasized that the Suns are still in the hunt, even if they’ve gone from the top of the picture to the bottom of it.
Although I truly believe Charlotte is a good team, the Bobcats earned their first West road victory of the season and improved to just 4-17 (.190) overall away from North Carolina.
What’s most frustrating is the fact that if the Suns had won just half of the dozen games they have blown over the past two months, they would be 32-15 and fighting with Dallas and Denver for the No. 2 seed instead of Memphis, Houston, New Orleans and Oklahoma City for Nos. 7-8.
In November, the Suns win this game; in January, the Suns lose that aforementioned Toronto game.
Basketball is a game of execution, and what they did to perfection in November has turned into sloppiness in January.
“We’ve got to keep gut-checking every day right now because we can’t fold up the tents, we’ve got to be strong mentally and stick together and build each other up every day because it can be a slippery slope,” Nash said. “Having said that, as poorly as the last two months have gone for us we are not by any means out of it, our season washed away, so we’ve got to stay strong to see if we can go on a run and get right back in the thick of things.”
- Frye, who has scored 20 points in consecutive games while hitting 15-of-30 from distance since being relegated to the bench six games ago, will have his number retired at Phoenix St. Mary’s High School on Wednesday afternoon. He is the first Knight to have such an honor bestowed upon him, but don’t be surprised if Jerryd Bayless’ high school No. 32 joins Channing’s No. 44 jersey one day in St. Mary’s lore. Along with Frye, his college coach Lute Olson and high school coach David Lopez are expected to speak, as well as Suns GM Steve Kerr. “Man, it’s crazy,” Frye said. “I love that school. That’s where I kind of became me, that’s where I got the confidence to think, ‘Hey, I could do this.’ … I’m honored to get my jersey retired.”
- The two members of the Suns-Bobcats trade had very different games in this one. Jared Dudley, starting for the injured Grant Hill, earned his first start since Dec. 8, 2008, with the Bobcats. He tallied 18 points and a season-high 10 boards, including a big three in overtime, in over 48 minutes of action. J-Rich, meanwhile, could only muster six points on 2-for-12 shooting in 45 minutes of time. Boris Diaw, meanwhile, put up a very Boris Diaw-like 24-11-5 line.
- Leandro Barbosa’s surgery to remove a ganglion cyst in his right wrist was successful on Tuesday. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Meanwhile, Hill is day to day with a bruised heel that caused him to miss Tuesday’s game. He had played in 128 straight games, the second-longest streak of his career.
- The Suns recorded a season high by hitting 32 three-pointers in consecutive games. … Goran Dragic has tied a career high by scoring in double figures in three straight. … Charlotte swept its first-ever season series from Phoenix. … The Suns are now 3-8 on the second game of back-to-backs, losing their first such game at home after a pair of wins.