Tied at 58 apiece with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, the injury-depleted Suns were hanging tough with a Bobcat team that swept them last season.
From that point, however, it was all Charlotte as the home team went on a 25-8 run to blow out the Suns, 123-105, scoring on its next 11 possessions.
The backbreaking sequence was almost solely accomplished in the paint with easy dunks and transition layups.
“We didn’t guard anyone. We let a team that’s averaging 93 (points) put up 123, and they were nice about it,” coach Alvin Gentry told The Associated Press. “They should have gotten 140.”
The Phoenix defense looked more like a swinging gate than anything else. Tyrus Thomas and Stephen Jackson went a combined 10-for-10 from inside the paint.
The Suns (6-7) got off to a fast start in the first quarter, pulling out to a 18-10 lead. The run was fueled by early foul trouble from Gerald Wallace that had him on the bench for a large portion of the opening frame.
By the time the quarter ended however, Charlotte had regained the lead, 30-25.
Phoenix never got back ahead the rest of the game, missing its first eight three-point attempts of the night and finishing 5-of-21 from behind the arc.
With a four-point advantage at halftime, the Bobcats (5-8) came out and scored 68 points in the second half. The Suns could not keep up despite playing relatively well on offense, especially without Steve Nash.
Phoenix pulled within eight midway through the fourth quarter, but fell apart down the stretch. A 9-0 run by the Bobcats sealed the Suns’ fate.
Playing their sixth game in nine days, the Suns didn’t seem interested in playing defense at all. It looked like the team was participating in the Wrigleyville Classic football game (only playing on one end of the court).
“It’s been unacceptable the way we’ve been playing the last couple games,” Hakim Warrick told The Arizona Republic. “Just too many easy buckets. It’s just not competing. We’ve got to play harder than that. You can’t coach effort. We haven’t put forth the effort it takes to win in this league.”
Blame it on tired legs or injuries, the Suns played uninspired basketball Saturday and consequently dropped below .500 on the season.
“This isn’t about Steve,” Gentry said. “We had 12 guys out there and didn’t play with any kind of effort.”
A clear bright spot for Phoenix was the play of Goran Dragic. The backup point guard had 17 points and 10 assists in 38 minutes of play.
When Nash does come back from his injury, Dragic might get a little more playing time. Partly because of his performance lately and part to keep Nash fresh and healthy.
Grant Hill led the team with 23 points and all five starters scored in double figures, but again, it wasn’t the offense that let the Suns down.
Charlotte outscored Phoenix 64-42 in points in the paint.
“We’ve really taken a huge step back these last three games defensively,” Hill said. “We’ve got away from our principles and more importantly our effort. That’s a little disheartening.”
The Suns also allowed Stephen Jackson to put together Charlotte’s first triple-double in franchise history.
The guard had a brilliant night, scoring 24 points with 10 rebounds and assists apiece.
Jackson clearly wanted the accomplishment as he and his teammates pretty much played solely for his 10th assist in the waning minutes of the game.
Going forward the Suns will need to shoot the lights out from the field if they continue playing their same ole style of defense.
The margin of error for this team just went from small to minuscule.