Blowing fourth-quarter leads is undoubtedly a staple of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns, as no team in the NBA falls apart in crunch time more than the Suns.
Phoenix failed to close the door in a loss to the Thunder at home on Friday night, and the Suns have given away a handful of games this season that mirrored the Oklahoma City debacle.
And after leading by 81-58 with 4:41 left in the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors, the Suns quickly set themselves up for another trademark collapse as the Warriors outscored the Suns 30-12 over the course of the next 12 minutes.
The Warriors got within five (93-88) as Phoenix missed 12 of its first 15 shots in the quarter, while giving up a handful of offensive rebounds (14 on the night).
But this time the Suns wouldn’t give in, outscoring Golden State 11-4 over the last 4:41 and showing fight that they’ve often lacked on their way to a 104-92 victory.
After drilling 10 three-pointers through three quarters, Phoenix went ice cold in the fourth, but Channing Frye, who scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards, re-ignited the Suns’ offense as he drilled a triple to push the lead to six and then nailed a 21-footer on the very next possession to give the Suns a 98-88 lead.
Steve Nash, who went for 14 points and 15 assists on his 37th birthday, and Jared Dudley hit back-to-back triples to seal the deal and keep the Suns from once again slipping down the stretch. Aside from the 15-point fourth quarter and 2-for-15 stretch, Phoenix played a great game both offensively and defensively.
Grant Hill, who finished with 18 points, locked down the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer in Monta Ellis (25.3 points per game), forcing him into a barrage of tough shots and a 5-for-17 shooting night.
Ellis did get to the line 13 times and finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but he started the game 2-of-9 and Hill made him work for every point.
“I thought defensively Grant did a great job on Monta,” Suns Coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game. “Seventeen shots, 21 points. He’s just pretty much impossible to keep out of the lane. At some stage, he’s going to shoot a bunch of foul shots because he is always in the attack mode. Overall, we did a good job, though. To hold that team to 92 points is really gratifying to us, because that is one of the best offensive teams in the whole league.”
Not to be outdone, a usually defensive inept Nash did a nice job on Stephen Curry, limiting him to 15 points and five turnovers on 7-for-17 shooting. Phoenix’s interior defenders followed suit and the Suns forced the Warriors into 43.4 percent from the field and 2-for-18 from three-point land.
Phoenix’s ramped up defensive effort shouldn’t be a surprise by now. During their five-game homestand the Suns held opponents to 95 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field.
Their rotations are crisp and the Suns are finally finding some kind of consistency defensively. They forced Golden State onto the perimeter and all but shut down a team that averages 103.2 points per game — eighth best in the NBA — while holding them to 17 points apiece in the first and fourth quarters.
While their defense stepped up, the Suns weren’t too shabby offensively. They had six players in double figures and racked up 48 bench points, 27 of which came in the first half.
Phoenix shot 61 percent through three quarters and finished with 32 assists to only six turnovers. Everything seemed to be falling as the Suns made 10 of 20 threes in the first half and Nash tore apart Golden State’s ho-hum defense.
Nash, Frye and Hill led the way, but Mickael Pietrus (who celebrated a birthday and scored 12 points ), Marcin Gortat (eight points and nine rebounds), Jared Dudley (12 points), Hakim Warrick (six points) and Zabian Dowdell (five assists), all turned in productive games.
Pietrus scored 11 points in just under six minutes and gave the Suns a Leandro Barbosa-like instant lift off the pine. The 29-year-old birthday boy said after the game, “That’s what I do, bring that spark off the bench. That’s Mickael Pietrus.”
Gortat once again looked really good in only 21 minutes and Dudley was his usual self, knocking down a pair of threes while bringing energy and tough defense. Phoenix is now 4-1 in its last five games with a handful of impressive wins.
Although they have lapses at times that are often the difference between a win and a loss, the Suns are finally hitting their stride both offensively and defensively. They’re one more win over the Warriors (who they play on Thursday) away from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 19.
The Suns almost fell apart down the stretch once again, but the positives that shined bright clearly outweighed the 12-minute lapse as the Suns continue to tread water in the Western Conference playoff race.