When the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs renew acquaintances, we have come to expect the unexpected.
In the playoffs there was the franchise-altering forearm shiver and the Duncan banked three, and then last year there was the Roger Mason game-winning buzzer beater in the corner.
But those endings almost look commonplace compared to what happened leading up to the Spurs’ 113-110 win Sunday afternoon over the Phoenix Suns.
Jason Richardson, a two-time NBA slam dunk champion and one of the best dunkers in our league as Hubie Brown would say, inexplicably missed a breakaway dunk attempt that would have tied the game with 41 seconds left after Jared Dudley stole a George Hill pass and threw it downcourt to a streaking Richardson.
J-Rich might go an entire season without missing such a wide-open dunk, the kind of easy play that it would be embarrassing for a high school player to blow.
“It happens,” Richardson told Suns.com. “I went up and just missed the dunk. I don’t like to miss dunks, especially during crunch time, but sometimes it just happens. You can’t dwell on things like that. We battled back and as a team we did our best. We just came up a little short.”
Added Amare Stoudemire, “Every time we’ve played the Spurs it’s been close games, so sometimes small mistakes catch you in the end.”
In hindsight, J-Rich should have gone with a two-handed slam, a more sure play than the one-handed dunk he attempted, but you really can’t blame him for that. He was in rhythm for the one-handed slam with nobody to beat and you could argue it was the more natural play to make in that situation.
This wasn’t like the 360-degree dunk that J-Rich attempted to a tie a game against Cleveland last year only to be blocked by LeBron coming out of nowhere. Richardson was being fancy for no reason against the Cavs last year and paid the price; he just got darn unlucky in this situation when the ball bounced out and like that shockingly the game was all but over.
J-Rich is no secret to miscues against the Spurs, as he was also the defender who left Mason when he stole Christmas with a winning shot in Phoenix last season.
It’s just the kind of thing that always seems to happen when the Suns play the Spurs, and it always goes against the team wearing orange.
“It happens,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “The thing that I say to all of the guys is, ‘That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s not the play that determines the game.’ There were other plays that we should have made. It’s a glaring play because of when it happened, but you have to look at the entire body of work. For the most part I thought we worked hard. We just didn’t get over the hump.”
No question that play gets exaggerated, especially in the preceding paragraphs of this recap. You can blame the loss on missed free throws or really any one other shot in a game this close. The Suns did not lose this game because of J-Rich’s miscue, but at the same time they could have won if he had completed the dunk, and with it being such an easy play it’s going to be over-scrutinized.
The Suns still had a shot after Steve Nash hit a long three with four seconds left, as they trailed by just three with the ball in the final seconds. Nash looked to be about to attempt a game-tying triple when he inexplicably passed to Frye inside the arc as time expired.
It was shocking to see Nash make the wrong read in crunch time because it’s such a seldom occurrence, and you know MVSteve must have seen Frye open around the three-point line and his unselfish instincts took over without taking into consideration the fact that he didn’t have time for that pass and the fact Frye was moving toward the basket.
It would have been a leaning attempt under pressure from well beyond the three-point line — not exactly an uncontested breakaway dunk — but we’ve seen Nash hit so many ridiculous shots over the years it’s an attempt Suns fans would have liked to have seen him take.
Besides that, the Suns played a pretty solid basketball game in a contest that was tight throughout.
Amare Stoudemire scored a season-high 41 points and went for 12 boards in the loss, shooting 15-for-28 and grabbing six of his boards on the offensive glass. After some shooting struggles at the start of the game he was a beast, and all I could think was how much a performance like this on national TV was driving up his price this summer.
Aside from the missed dunk, Richardson was solid once again with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting, as the Suns dropped to a still-stellar 18-3 when he hits the 20-point mark. As ugly as the missed dunk was, people should not be hating on J-Rich after this game. Sure, he’s still not worth his salary, but he continued his strong play of late in this one besides that one particular play.
Also, Nash was Nash with an 18-11-5 line, and Robin Lopez grabbed eight boards and blocked five shots. He provided a definitive defensive presence inside for the Suns and played Tim Duncan pretty well, in the first half at least.
“We did everything that we needed to do,” Gentry said. “It was that fourth quarter when they went 11 for 16 that broke our backs. We were always playing catch up and we didn’t come up with stops. … We were so close to coming up with plays, and we didn’t quite get them.”
The Suns, who had won 11 of 13, should still certainly feel pretty good about themselves as they enter a month of March that features eight of their next nine at home. The loss ends Phoenix’s second five-game winning streak since Jan. 28 and caps a 9-3 February. This was a tough game against a tough team, and what always seems to happen when the Suns and Spurs meet up went down.
This game should be forgotten by the time the team touches down at Sky Harbor Airport. It was a close game that could have gone either way that favored the Spurs only when the unthinkable happened and Jason Richardson missed a breakaway dunk.
You’ve just got to wonder what the Suns ever did to the basketball gods when it comes to their rivalry with the Spurs.
Ever the jokester, Nash at halftime after the Suns recorded an uncharacteristically high amount of blocks and steals in the first half: “Obviously that’s huge, but that’s what you get when you play the Suns, a lot of defense.”