PHOENIX — As far as Suns-Spurs games through time go, Wednesday’s was a classic.
Play was as physical as ever, the fans were as mad as ever and the finish was as thrilling as any. It was the ending, however, that fell flat as the Suns crumbled late and the San Antonio Spurs squeaked out a late win, 112-110.
It was an evening of missed opportunities, as the Suns (1-3) bricked countless easy buckets from within five feet and finished 41-of-92 to shoot 44.6 percent.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after the game. “But I thought we did a good job defensively for the most part.”
They did fare pretty well on defense, as the Spurs turned the ball over 23 times for 23 points, but the operative word here is “for the most part.”
With 7:14 to play the Suns took a 95-94 lead, despite having been down as much as 11 in a game that saw 23 lead changes. The following minute appeared to put the game away for the Spurs, as forward Richard Jefferson, who led all players with 28 points, sank three three-pointers to give San Antonio a 103-97 lead.
“We had some miscommunications on the Richard Jefferson threes,” Gentry said. “We can’t be in a situation where we’ve got three guys in one defense and two guys in another.”
But this was Suns-Spurs. That’s not how games are supposed to end. The Suns went on a 9-0 run, highlighted by a Steve Nash to Jason Richardson alley-oop dunk, in under three minutes to retake the lead, 106-103, before eight straight misses allowed the Spurs to stay in it.
It was a late Grant Hill foul on Jefferson — one of 32 called on the Suns — that sealed to give the Spurs a 110-106 lead.
A late Nash layup made it 112-110, but there wasn’t even enough time left to foul and the Spurs snapped a five-game losing streak against the Suns that included last season’s second-round playoff sweep.
The Suns had their chances to pick up their first home win of the season, but the team’s inability to close cost them what would have been a key win in a tough opening stretch. Especially when Tim Duncan scores 25 points and grabs 17 rebounds.
“We fought for it, didn’t have a great game, but I feel really good about our team,” Nash said. “We’re playing hard, we’ve been in every game and we just aren’t quite clicking yet.”
The strange thing? It looked like they were clicking. But the missing piece was the ability to finish plays, finish defensive matchups and finish the game.
“We just have to find a way to finish the game,” Gentry said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they came up with some big plays.”
If the Spurs are getting credit for big plays, so are the Suns — just not the good kind of credit. The Suns ultimately doomed themselves with the late cold shooting streak.
Letting a team that was in the playoffs last year (one of four that the Suns opened the season against) come into your house and walk away with a win after committing 23 turnovers is simply bewildering, but serves as a sign that this team is still a work in progress.
“It’s still early in the season and guys have to get used to playing with each other,” Richardson said. “We have to communicate a little bit more on the court.”
Richardson finished leading the team with 21 points, including 3-of-7 on three-pointers. Hakim Warrick came off the bench to make a big contribution, adding 19 points, five rebounds and an intangible energy that helped the Suns’ reserves outscore the Spurs’ bench 45-26.
“I thought the second unit was starting to play much better,” Gentry said.
The Suns may have proven their depth, but they’ve yet to prove (granted, through just four games) they can firmly grasp a win when it’s in their hands.
“There are a lot of plays in a basketball game that contribute to a win or a loss,” said Nash, who finished shooting 8-of-22 for 19 points. “I obviously missed a lot of shots tonight. I’ve got to take a lot of the responsibility tonight.”
Suns rookie big man Garret Siler made his NBA debut Wednesday after Robin Lopez had accumulated three fouls and Channing Frye two. He played seven minutes, finishing with one point (on a free throw), one rebound (on offense) and two blocks. Couldn’t ask for a better first career block as Siler knocked down a shot by Duncan.