For much of Saturday night’s matchup with the Detroit Pistons, the Suns looked like a team that had flown in late the night before to play the second game of a back-to-back.
That was because they had, but the Pistons had also done the same and looked it.
It wasn’t a pretty game by any means, but Detroit ultimately used a 22-4 fourth-quarter run to beat the Suns in dramatic fashion, 75-74.
In a loss that snapped their five-game winning streak, the Suns led by as many as 15 points. But when crunch time rolled around, the Suns couldn’t muster the offense to keep the Pistons at bay.
The loss moved the Suns to 0-4 on the second night of back-to-backs on the road and kept them from reaching .500 for the first time since Dec. 19.
After locking down on defense for the entire fourth quarter, the Pistons took the lead on an 18-foot jumper from Austin Daye with under a minute to play.
The Suns fouled and Detroit’s Will Bynum missed his second free throw, giving the Suns a chance to rebound and tie the game, but the ball found the hands of Tayshaun Prince instead.
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry’s hurling of his clipboard to the floor pretty much summed up the team’s frustration with a quarter in which it scored just 13 points. That total would have been even uglier if not for Channing Frye’s last-second, meaningless three-pointer.
Oddly, the Suns’ fourth quarter wasn’t the lowest total in the game. The Pistons were outscored 23-11 in the third quarter after keeping the game close through one half.
The game matched up two of the league’s worst defensive teams, which would seem to give the Suns an advantage. Detroit was able to stifle the Suns’ (usually) high-powered offense, particularly by limiting Steve Nash.
Nash tallied just one assist in the first half, but came alive in the third quarter, which allowed the Suns to get some separation. Nash’s six assists in the quarter facilitated the Suns’ surge that looked like it would give the starters a little fourth-quarter rest.
The Pistons again neutralized Nash in the fourth quarter, however, as he was only able to notch one assist. Nash did lead all Suns with 14 points, but the loss only further reinforces the notion that the Suns generally go as Nash goes.
Frye wasn’t able to stay hot after a huge night against the Wizards on Friday, as he shot just 3-of-14, including 2-of-12 from three-point range. Center Marcin Gortat, however, continued his consistently strong play, contributing 11 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.
Gortat’s jumper was working from mid-range and his post presence will only further fuel advocates of moving him into the starting role. It appears that for now, however, Gentry is happier with Gortat coming off the bench with a boost of energy.
Gortat’s presence wasn’t enough in the fourth quarter, as the Pistons outrebounded the Suns 17-7. The Pistons’ tight defense forced the Suns to a paltry 26.3 percent shooting in the game’s final 12 minutes.
Prince led the Pistons and all scorers with 17 points and a season-high 13 rebounds, but it was reserve point guard Bynum that fueled Detroit’s late-game surge, scoring all 12 of his points in the final quarter.
Losing to the Pistons, who played without starting power forward Charlie Villanueva, certainly does nothing to keep the Suns’ momentum alive. After a day off, the Suns will finish their road swing in Philadelphia before returning to Phoenix. If the 76ers take any cues from the Pistons’ strategy against the Suns, they may just make it two straight wins against the purple and orange.
Pistons guard Richard Hamilton sat on the bench for the seventh straight game, prompting fans in the Palace of Auburn Hills to chant “We want Rip!” Hamilton has been benched since Jan. 12 amid trade talks that would have landed him in New Jersey.