PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ defense has been so good of late that only the Miami Heat have allowed a lower shooting percentage over their last 10 games entering Sunday.
So maybe that’s why the Suns felt like they would eventually string together a couple stops in the fourth quarter to finish a comeback that never materialized in their stunning 113-108 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
“The truth of the matter is at the end of the game we couldn’t stop them,” Steve Nash said. “The negative side is we couldn’t get stops at the end of the game. The positive is it felt strange, like why aren’t we stopping these guys because our defense has been so good.”
Added Channing Frye, “When they were making all their shots at the end in the fourth quarter we were very uncomfortable. It wasn’t like, ‘OK, oh well,’ it was like, ‘We’re not used to this, it’s not how we play.’”
The Kings scored 35 points on scorching 63.2 percent shooting in the final period. They ripped off an 11-0 run to take a 10-point lead midway through the quarter, and after a pair of unsuccessful possessions that led to successive three-point trips on the Phoenix end to cut it to four, Sacramento scored on its next seven possessions to keep the Suns at bay despite constant offensive pressure from Phoenix.
During this stretch Beno Udrih hit a back-breaking three with a hand in his face to put a four-point lead to seven with three minutes left and Carl Landry and Donte Greene took turns successfully going at Frye and Jared Dudley, respectively.
The Suns just had no answer as shot after Sacramento shot found the net.
“We didn’t get any stops,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “That’s a tough thing to do — you don’t have any chance of coming back if you’re exchanging baskets. The best you can do is exchange baskets, if they’re scoring every time.”
The Kings shot just 41.3 percent through three quarters, but they were saved by a dominant 42-26 rebounding edge that kept them within three at that point despite missing often after opening up a 17-7 lead that was quickly negated by a 20-2 Phoenix run.
Even with stud rebounder DeMarcus Cousins sitting at home, the Kings got 15 boards from Samuel Dalembert, 10 off the bench from Landry and seven each from Jason Thompson and Omri Casspi.
Marcin Gortat, who grabbed 12 of his own, eight more than any teammate not named Channing Frye (seven), said the Kings often sent three or four guys to the backboards to overwhelm the Suns. That was the story of the Suns’ Jan. 2 loss in Sacramento in which the Kings bullied them to the tune of a 60-32 advantage on the backboards as well.
“They dominated the boards,” Gentry said. “We struggled with them the last time when they dominated the boards. I think you need to give all the credit for them. We’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of the offensive boards and things like that, but they just dominated the boards and I think that was the difference in the game.”
Added Gortat, “They’ve got a lot of strong, athletic guys and they were hitting the glass really hard. We’ve just got to get better at that, be physical and try to go get it.”
The Kings’ prowess on the boards is no surprise as they average the league’s second-most offensive boards (13.2) and second-chance points (15.9) and got 18 offensive boards and 23 second-chance points in this one.
That negated another spectacular game by Nash, who went for 22 and 18 to give him his eighth 20-15 game of the season, compared to four for the rest of the NBA combined. He’s gone for 18.0 and 13.5 in his last four.
But this was a trap game if there ever was one directly in the middle of a home-and-home with the fading Utah Jazz, who appear ripe for the catching.
The Kings lost a late game Saturday night in Sacramento and then told Cousins not to even board the flight after an altercation with Greene.
That’s not to mention Sacramento entered the day with the least amount of victories in the Western Conference and had lost 10 in a row in Phoenix and five in a row overall, the longest active losing streak in the NBA.
In fact the Suns lost to a Pacific Division opponent at home that Kobe Bryant does not play for for the first time since the start of the 2007-08 season after winning their past 22 such games. Phoenix had also won its previous 11 Sunday home games as well, dating back to Feb. 22, 2009.
“Alvin warned us,” Nash said. “They’ve had some chemistry issues this year, they’re going to come out tonight without Cousins and feel like this is a great opportunity. We should have been more prepared just mentally.”
Like many Suns followers, I was already thinking ahead to the Suns’ great opportunity to get four games over .500 by the All-Star break if they can defeat the Jazz and Mavs at home, figuring a victory over the lowly Kings was a foregone conclusion.
The Suns never knocked the Kings out in the third quarter, and then never could make a comeback that seemed inevitable after falling behind by double-digits in the fourth.
Gortat said the Suns had been playing so well lately, winners of 11 of 15, that they were going to slip up eventually. It’s just hard to imagine it would come at home against one of the worst teams in the West.
Nash said there are always five games a season that you look back on as games that should be in the ‘W’ column, but you just hope it’s not 15.
Following in the tradition of games they should have won against the Bulls, Grizzlies, Kings on the road, Pistons and now Kings again, the Suns have more than reached their quota.
“It’s one of those losses that you are going to look back at and it’s going to hurt,” Gentry said.
Vince Carter has not played in the Suns’ last three fourth quarters. He walked out on reporters when asked about this circumstance. … Nash retained the NBA’s all-time leading free throw percentage despite missing a foul shot tonight. … The Suns have won five of six against winning teams but have lost four of seven against losing squads. … Dudley on his second dunk of the season and second in three games: “I’m starting to bang it out, baby, I’m starting to bang it out.”
Tags: Steve Nash