Jazz 116, Suns 108 -- Fourth quarter collapse

PHOENIX — When the Suns blew a lead to the Jazz in late January, I counted the points as the advantage expanded, waiting to see how high the lead would get before the Suns would inevitably blow it.

But that was then when the Suns had coughed up 11 double-digit leads and dropped six such games in a month and a half, not now when the Suns had won 12 straight games in which they took a double-digit advantage since the first Utah game.

After maintaining a lead of 10-plus points for most of the first three quarters after a hot start, the Suns of December and January reared their ugly heads again Thursday night with Phoenix being outscored 41-22 in the decisive fourth quarter and falling, 116-108, to the Jazz on TNT.

“We played great for three quarters,” said Suns forward Amare Stoudemire. “We played great defensively up until that point in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t play great defense down the stretch. It’s unacceptable.”

Through three quarters, the Phoenix Suns played one of their better games of the year.

They outshot the Jazz 64.2 percent to 39.1 percent, which was discouraging only because that mammoth disparity only amounted to an 11-point lead. You knew both teams would regress to the mean a bit at some point, and that’s when Utah’s 19 offensive rebounds and Phoenix’s 18 turnovers made such a difference.

When the Suns went cold in the fourth and the Jazz started hitting treys from all angles, Phoenix suffered one of its biggest fourth-quarter collapses of the season, with Utah taking its first lead since 2-0 with about three minutes remaining and pulling away from there. The Suns had led by double figures with seven minutes remaining in the game.

In that decisive fourth the Jazz shot 68.4 percent to the Suns’ 40.0 percent, while Utah seemed to get to every loose ball during its 28-10 spurt over the final seven minutes.

“They did a great job of executing down the stretch, and we struggled a little bit of getting the ball in the basket and making plays,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “You have to give them all the credit, it’s not so much what we didn’t do, it’s more what they did do. They made the necessary shots and they came up with good defensive plays, and I really thought we kind of ran out of gas there at the end.”

The Suns, who beat the Clippers last night in Los Angeles, were playing their fourth game in five days, with Steve Nash’s back and abdomen ailing and his backups Goran Dragic (sprained ankle) and of course Leandro Barbosa (wrist surgery) out with injuries.

Grant Hill played a yeoman’s game with 17 points and seven boards with some backup point guard duty to boot in 38 minutes, and Amare Stoudemire went for 30 points for the second straight night and seventh time in 16 games, but it wasn’t enough to propel the Suns to fourth in the West when Utah went hot in the fourth.

Although they didn’t have the kind of “push,” as Gentry said, that they normally would with Goran playing backup point guard, the Suns’ coach was overall pleased with how the Suns played without a point guard when Nash rested. Hill did a more than capable job, posting up smaller guards and even going back to the 1995 Fila-wearing version of himself with a ferocious dunk in traffic.

The biggest concern coming out of this one is the health of Nash. Athletes are a proud bunch, usually choosing not to talk about pain until they can’t play anymore. Without trying to make excuses, Nash stood at his locker and explained how much he’s hurting right now.

“I just can’t do the things I want to do,” Nash said. “It’s painful out there, but I’ve got to find a way to suck it up right now, especially with Goran out. It’s not a lot of fun to play like this, but I’ve got to find a way to try to fight through it.”

“Hopefully it will get better. I’m sure four in five nights didn’t help. I just can’t do what I want to do out there. I’ve just got to do what I can to help the team. Hopefully I’m not hurting the team.”

Nash is battling both an injured back and an abdominal strain, with every movement causing his back to tighten.

“It’s just such a pileup of games and things going on, and cumulatively it’s been a stretch where it’s tough, and now I’m paying for it,” Nash said.

The good news about Nash’s issues is that after Saturday’s game the Suns do not play again until Friday night. That’s five full days off to rest his ailing back and abdomen, a de facto All-Star break for a guy whose All-Star weekend was anything but a break.

Upon first glance of the box score you wouldn’t think Nash was hurting, as he went for 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting and 15 assists, but his seven ugly turnovers — a few of which were uncharacteristic — really hurt the Suns.

With a 37-year-old Grant Hill essentially their only other option at the point for Saturday, this week off couldn’t come soon enough for Phoenix.

The porous ending should not completely cancel out how well the Suns played before the final seven minutes. Especially in the first quarter, the Suns were a bundle of energy playing a fourth game in five nights, and it just goes to show you that when the Suns play with that kind of fire they’re as good as anybody.

But when they’re turning the ball over and getting killed on the offensive glass, they’re pretty mediocre, as we originally learned in December and January.

The Suns lost a chance to move into fourth in the West and they started this seven-game homestand on a sour note, but nobody is getting too down with Phoenix still having won 13 of 17.

“It’s a little bump in the road, disappointing, but we have another game around the corner,” Hill said. “As great as we felt yesterday, we feel bad now, and we have a chance to feel great hopefully on Saturday, so we’ve got to bounce back, learn from this and most importantly get a win.”

And 1

Is the Curse of TNT back? The Suns won 13 of 16 including the curse breaker Jan. 28 against Dallas after dropping 18 straight games on the network. Tonight’s loss was Phoenix’s first appearance on TNT since. Will it reverse the team’s hot play of late? … The Suns are 30-3 when leading after three against every NBA team not based in Utah and 0-2 in such situations against the Jazz. … The Suns won 18 of the first 20 games in which J-Rich went for 20, but they have now lost two of their past three such games after Richardson went for 22 tonight. The shooting guard has reached that mark in six of eight games overall. …  Amare recorded consecutive 30-point games for the first time since March 29-31, 2008. … The Suns lost their first home game since the All-Star break. … This contest marked the Suns’ final 8:30 p.m. Phoenix time tip of the season.

  • Brent

    This is TOTALLY ON GENTRY! And if he is going to coach big games like he just did (giving him a little break b/c Dragic didn’t play) the Suns will bow out in the 1st round.

    When you are playing your 4th in 5 days and your main man & point guard is hurting – you DON”T PLAY HIM THE WHOLE 4th QUARTER AGAINST A PHYSICALLY SUPERIOR DERON WILLIAMS, who ate Nash alive in the 4th.

    As soon as Nash started the 4th, I knew it was over. With a double-digit lead going into the 4th quarter at HOME, Nash should not be there (and I don’t care if he only played 6 minutes in the 3rd because of fouls). He just can’t hold up physically right now.

    4th Quarter should have gone like this (a la Phil Jackson – who knows a thing or two):

    To start – Play your defense/energy 2nd unit without Nash and Stoudemire (who also played the whole 4th quarter and lacked any energy late) and play through Hill and then Richardson in the post. That buys you 3-4 minutes where the lead probably stays in the 8-12 pt range as buckets are traded and YOU ACTUALLY GET SOME STOPS!

    Then bring in Stoudemire at the 8 or 9 minute mark and then Nash at around the 7 minute mark – just like he normally does.

    YOU HAVE TO KNOW UTAH IS GOING TO MAKE A RUN – what you have to be able to do is have the energy to push back if they heavily cut into or take away your lead. And last night, with the way he used his rotation – there wasn’t going to be any pushing back because of the aforementioned 4/5 days and Nash’s health. JUST PLAIN STUPID!

    You know exactly what he thought – keep Nash and STAT on the floor and keep the lead and Utah will cave in midway through the 4th – EXCEPT JERRY SLOAN’s teams NEVER do that – they play balls out until the end!

    So SUNS fans out there, be ready for an early exit if our coach is going to insist on being stubborn! Frustrating!

  • Ace Phoenix

    The reality is we can blame this on Gentry or simply on the lack of bench punch last night. Frye never stretched the floor like Oker did for Utah. Dudley, didn’t have his shot and his D was sporadic. I thought the few minutes that Clark got were productive and HE should have been starting the 4th quarter. The other question is do we really only have 3 real guards on the team. Nash, Dragic, and Barbosa? We should have been signing someone on and off to a 10-day contract the last month plus when Barbosa was out and then last night wouldn’t have been a problem. The Jazz are good and very much like us, we need to finish third or sixth or something, just not playing the Jazz early.
    Bottom line, you have to continue to play the bench, even when they are not bringing it. If the starters lose the lead and the bench sucks, well now what? We lost like last night.
    The bench sucks and loses the lead, the starters can come back and win it.
    I’m not going to over-react from 1 lose or the first blown double-digit lead in a month. 4th in 5 nights against a fresh Utah team, who we have played 3 more games than. This 5 days off couldn’t come at a better time. Let’s hope Goran’s injury is not serious, we are a different team with and without a back-up PG.
    That is no shot at GHill, who I have loved since the 90s in Durham…

  • Jake

    The absence of Goran was huge because they already lost Leandro Barbosa.

    But the Suns could have had more than 10 points lead in the third quarter. Just like the Clippers game, they made some stops and Amare was dominant in the third quarter. Utah was not very hot but the Suns committed too many turnovers. That paid in the fourth quarter.

    And PLEASE don’t put Frye in the close game, especially in the fourth quarter. Offensively, Frye can make a shot only when up by more than 10 points. It was like one or two possesion game and why did the suns put Frye, who only knows how to foul, and make him shoot 3 pointer?

    I really didn’t like when Frye back in after Lopez did a flagrant foul. Of course, Lopez didn’t have to do it but he did a good job on guarding Boozer in first three quarters. On the other hand, Frye looked like he didn’t know how to defense in the game at all.

    If your center shoots the three and misses, who is gonna rebound the ball? This has always been a problem of the Suns. When Frye is on the court, the Suns should have two guys who can fight for the offensive board on the court, just like Amundson and Dudley did.

    Hopefully, Goran comes back and the Suns don’t lose against lowly Pacers on Saturday.

  • Mel

    Of all the fourth-quarter flops I’ve seen the Suns pull this season, this one may have been the worst. The comparison between the aggressive, man-to-man D that the Jazz started pouring on with about six minutes left on the clock made the Suns look like the Washington Generals every time they’d trot back down the court to set; players running into each other, no completion on switches, awkward spacing.

    Everything from Fropez’s completely unnecessary flagrant foul (Channeling the ’92 Knicks?) was downhill, and completely unsalvageable. For a team with so many remarkably talented players, these guys really do fold fast when there’s ANY weakness in court leadership.

  • Roadster sl

    The coaching was very weak, the game strategy was wrong. Poor excuses for lossing the game….the Suns should have pushed the lead up to 20 points halfway the 3rd Q, but sloppy shooting and lack of concentration already kicked in. This was THE GAME to win, not because of passing the Jazz for 4th spot but because this was the only chance of catching either the Mavs or the Nuggets. That becomes very unlikely now, so PHX should be looking down rather than up…you don't want to be the 4th or 5th seed and run into LA in the 2nd round. I would focus on getting 7th spot hopefully against Denver whom we have beaten twice already.

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