PHOENIX — With 3:49 remaining in the third quarter, Vince Carter drained his fifth three-pointer of the game to give him 30 points as he appeared to be on his way to his signature game in a Phoenix uniform.
But Carter scored just three more points in the fourth quarter on 1-for-7 shooting as the Suns went to him time and time again for buckets he failed to deliver on in their 111-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
It’s fair to say the Suns would not have kept up with the Thunder’s pace through three quarters of shootout basketball without Carter going off for his 30 on 10-for-14 shooting as he channeled Vinsanity and made even the biggest Vince haters appreciate his shooting touch in his first 30-point game in almost a year.
But as the Suns kept going to him, his NBA Jam-style hot streak wore off. With 2:07 left he missed a runner in the lane with the Suns up one. Then with 1:18 remaining down two he missed a pretty open three, with 55.9 left down two he could not knock down a designed wide-open look off a Grant Hill screen and then with 34.9 seconds left he missed another wide-open attempt down four after his man fell down.
“It was wide open,” Carter said. “Wide open. Maybe they should have guarded me, I would have made them. That’s all I’ve got for you.”
Added Alvin Gentry about the team’s late-game execution: “I like the shots that we got, we got good shots. We got Vince three wide-open looks that we liked, and we just couldn’t get them in. I thought it was pretty good at the end of the game, we just didn’t make the shots. For us we’ve just got to jump up and make the shots.”
Vince’s 1-for-7 effort highlighted another porous fourth quarter for Phoenix in which the team shot 30 percent as a team (6-for-20), yielded 50 percent shooting from OKC and got outrebounded 17-8.
The turning point to Nash and Hill came with the Suns up two with 4:14 left when Hill was called for a foul on a Durant jumper and then both the aforementioned veterans received strange technicals.
Upon further review, the call in question did appear to be a tough foul on Hill as he failed to keep his arms completely vertical while defending the NBA’s scoring leader.
But Nash got a technical for merely putting his hand on his head in disbelief, without saying a word. Hill then remarked to the refs that Nash didn’t say anything, and for some reason he got T’ed up as well.
For a team to get two technicals in a two-point game with four minutes to go you would think they would have to go all Rasheed Wallace on the refs, but for two guys like Nash and Hill to get rung up without saying anything is really flabbergasting. I would be shocked if the league did not rescind these technicals, but that won’t alter their effect on this basketball game.
“Four free throws at that point of the game for what could have been a good defensive stop and a fast break was tough to overcome,” Nash said.
Added Hill, “I thought the momentum changed on those techs.”
The Suns also could not contain Serge Ibaka down the stretch, as the big man cleaned the glass with two tip-ins and hit a go-ahead turnaround shot to give Oklahoma City the lead for good with 1:52 left after the Suns took a seven-point advantage into the deciding quarter.
But the fourth quarter fun wasn’t over even when the Thunder took a four-point lead with 32.6 left, as Nash and Hill trapped Durant in the corner and forced him into a backcourt violation, a turnover the Suns cashed in with a Nash layup to make this a two-point game with 16.4 left.
One final controversy ensued as Nash and Hill trapped Durant once again. This time Durant chose to dribble out of it and jumped into the air and returned back to the ground with possessions of the ball, which would have been a traveling violation if not for a foul called on Nash by the referee on the opposite side of the court when another ref was standing right in front of the play.
Nash did not make foul-worthy contact with Durant, as this appeared to be the kind of call in which the ref assumes the foul.
“There was minimal contact and he left his feet 40 feet from the basket, and the ref on the other side of the court called a foul,” Nash said. “I don’t know.”
Gentry came away from this one proud of his team’s effort but it certainly stings to see such a winnable game against a very good team go in the loss column when the Suns were so close to reaching the illustrious .500 mark.
This was one of those 50-50 games that just came down to execution on a few possessions down the stretch and the Thunder did a much better job in that regard in what was a tight game throughout.
After getting the benefit of the doubt Sunday when Hill should have been called for a game-tying goal tending violation, the Suns’ luck with the officiating evened out in this one with the bizarre technicals and travel no-call.
It would have been nice for the Suns to tie the Blazers and Grizzlies in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot and reach .500 finally in one fell swoop, but even with this loss Phoenix is playing much better basketball after winning three of the final four on this homestand.
“We still have a chance,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of basketball left and I feel like we let this one slip for a lot of reasons, but we’re a very confident bunch. I’m happy to see the frustration here; that means these guys care, we want to win.
“We’re better than we are, that our record shows and we feel like we get a couple of games under our belt, get back into the playoff race and get into the playoffs, anything can happen.”