Dallas Mavericks 112, Phoenix Suns 106 — Still struggling down the stretch

Posted by on February 18th, 12:42 am

The Suns had no answer for Dirk Nowitzki on Thursday night as the Mavericks improved to 2-0 against the Suns this season. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

PHOENIX — The final buzzer of Thursday night’s game marked the beginning of a quick break for the Phoenix Suns as the NBA heads into the All-Star break.

However, it also marked the continuance of the Suns’ struggles in the fourth quarter, a place where they can’t seem to catch a break.

After playing the Mavericks close until the game’s final five minutes, the Suns faltered down the stretch and surrendered their second game of the season to Dallas, 112-106.

“We just weren’t sharp enough,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said after the game. “We didn’t make enough plays at either end. We missed a lot of open shots.”

The Suns were sharp enough to outrebound one of the biggest teams in the Western Conference (43-39), but not sharp enough to do anything about the Mavericks’ MVP candidate.

Forward Dirk Nowitzki lit up the Suns for 35 points on 13-of-18 shooting, making Suns forward Channing Frye look helpless defensively.

“We can’t let Dirk get off to such a hot start, and that’s my fault,” Frye said. “He’s making tough shots, give credit to him. They executed and that’s why they’re a good team.”

Frye did lead the Suns on the other end though with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-5 from behind the three-point line.

The Suns have now been outscored in the fourth quarter of eight of their last 10 games, a stretch in which the team has gone 7-3. Though the Mavericks’ 27-26 fourth-quarter edge was slight Thursday, it didn’t come down to just points.

“At the end of the day, they made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t quite make them,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “We had shots that could have closed the gap and they didn’t quite get in the basket. I thought we played hard and competed, but once again, we have nothing tangible to show for it.”

For their recent efforts, which entering the night were the league’s fourth best since Jan. 12, the Suns enter the All-Star break sitting once again at .500. The loss to Dallas is just the Suns’ second loss in their last eight games against teams above .500.

“I think we’re inconsistent,” Gentry said. “I think that’s the thing that will hurt us most, but I think the effort is there night in and night out.”

Of late, the Suns’ defense has been uncharacteristically consistent, holding the league’s second-best opponent field goal percentage (42.7) over the last 10 games entering the night and limiting their last five opponents to 46 percent shooting.

The Mavericks’ size and depth, though, was able to best the Suns’ defense, as Dallas shot 52.4 percent, the best by a Suns opponent since Jan. 24.

“When our shots weren’t falling, we needed to get some stops on the defensive end,” Suns center Robin Lopez said. “That didn’t happen, so there’s some progress to be made.”

Lopez made progress of his own, continuing his recent aggressive play and notching his first double-double since Oct. 29 and second of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Nash also doubled up with 15 points and 14 assists.

It’s hard to find a complaint in this Suns loss without nitpicking. The Suns, a non-playoff team at the moment, had the Western Conference’s second-best team on the ropes late in the game, which in itself is an encouraging sign.

After taking a lead, the Suns gave up a 9-0 Dallas run as the third quarter ended. They picked up the energy in the fourth, however, cutting the lead to two points with 5:38 to play. That’s when the Mavericks turned it on though, going on a 9-2 run to again pull away.

It would have been easy for the Suns to let the game go from there and chalk it up to playing one of the NBA’s top teams, but they refused to do so, again getting close after a Frye three-pointer made it 109-106.

What more can you ask of a team that outrebounds an opponent with two seven-footers in the starting lineup, shoots 51.2 percent  and stays in the game to the very end?

Well, if anything, better three-point shooting. The Suns were just 5-of-18 for 27.8 percent while the Mavericks were 10-of-27 for 37.0 percent. But again, nitpicking.

With no Suns participating in the All-Star festivities, the whole team gets a break before making a playoff push over the final 28 games.

“I believe in this team,” Gentry said. “We will come back after the All-Star break and we will play good basketball and we will find a way to make a run and get in the playoffs.”

And 1

With the win, the Mavericks are now 9-0 against the Pacific Division, including 4-0 on the road. … Gentry remains one win shy of 100 as the Suns’ head coach, losing on the two-year anniversary of his Suns debut.

Tyler Lockman

Tags: Dallas Mavericks · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jed // Feb 18, 2011 at 2:35 am

    Pretty good game, but disappointing finish, of course.

    Lopez’s play was pretty encouraging. I hope it will give him a bit of confidence moving forward.

    Carter can still play at times, but he is such a bad fit for this team.

    Frye REALLY needs to watch his feet when he shoots. I am so sick of his toes being on the line and only getting two points instead of three as a result. He does it at least 2-3 times PER GAME! That’s a few extra points down the drain.

    Pietrus seems clumsy to me. I don’t know why. It feels like he forces things too much on offense… and he often steps out of bounds.

    Warrick is just pathetic. I don’t know much about what he did before coming to Phoenix, but the only thing he is capable of is flying at the rim. He has NO SHOT WHATSOEVER! It’s ugly.

    Anyway, here’s hoping some rest at the All Star break will help.

    On a side note, I have always been a fan of Dirk (even though I simultaneously hate the guy (due to his skill)). He’s so deadly.

  • 2 Mike // Feb 18, 2011 at 7:52 am

    The Sun’s 2nd unit killed them tonight. Steve Nash’s size kills them on defense. When the opposing team PGs can post you up as a PG, that is a defensive nightmare.

    So VC gets on fire in the 3rd, but only gets 1 called play in the 4th?

    The Suns 2 main offensive plays are:
    1. Nash-Lopez or Nash-Gortat pick’n’roll
    2. Nash drive and kick for jumpshot

    The Suns need to find better plays for a Nash-VC combo that allows VC to finish the play.

    Heck, let VC run the 2nd unit offense like a PG. He is quite capable of doing so.

  • 3 Mike // Feb 18, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Dirk is an all-star during the regular season. But come play-off, he is a stiff.

  • 4 AnacondaHL // Feb 18, 2011 at 8:39 am

    No. Keep Vince out of the 4th. Blown defense, spotty rebounding, no faith in his ability to hit timely late shots. Additionally, not having Gortat out there for Chandler was killer. Gentry messed up this game, and it cost the Suns a win.

    Oh, also insert a comment about how Grant Hill’s inability to make a corner 3 is killing the Suns offense. Free JMZ.

  • 5 Steve // Feb 18, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I’m so sick of people (not pointing at anyone here, mainly talking about radio hosts and callers) saying the Suns played hard, they’re playing better, they’re really showing effort, this is such an improvement, we were right there in this one….

    90% of all NBA games are won/lost in the fourth quarter. There are rarely games where a team is just completely out of the game with no shot of coming back going into the fourth. Even the worst teams in the league can hang with the best of them for three quarters. That’s not unusual. Where the bad teams show themselves is when they can do NOTHING to score at the rim when refs’ whistles go silent and they can do NOTHING on the other end to get stops.

    The Suns didn’t show me last night that they are “close” or “almost there” or “improving.” The Suns showed me they still stink.

    @Jed

    Carter is a hack. Even this “good game” looks like this: 16 pts, 1 rebound, 0 assists

    Ok, so he wasn’t as AWFUL shooting last night as he has been the past few games, but he did nothing for the Suns besides put up a few points and give up a ton of easy baskets on the other end. Btw, his “foul” on Dirk when Dirk had the wide open lane to the hoop in the fourth quarter infuriated me. The foul was so weak, Dirk would have made that nine times out of ten. It was the FOURTH, Vince! If you’re going to foul him, FOUL him. He has to make sure that ball never leaves Nowitzki’s hands to have a shot at the rim. Carter just has nothing. It seems like he doesn’t even want to win. He’s just out there because it’s all he knows.

    Pietrus clumsy? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. Pietrus is a fantastic athlete, a great defender, and a pure shooter. If stepping out of bounds makes you clumsy, count Goran and Grant in that list too. Grant steps out more than any other player I’ve ever seen on the Suns, and Goran had almost an entire leg out of bounds right in front of the ref near the Suns bench last night, but luckily he got away with it.

    @Mike

    VC on fire? He scored 16 overall in the game, took some awful shots down the stretch (off-balance, fading baseline J anyone?), played zero defense, didn’t attack the glass, and got HUMILIATED by Shawn Marion.

    Yeah, he had a great game.

  • 6 Freddy // Feb 18, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Not happy with the Loss. But really see a lot of positive come from this game. They didn’t get blown out of the water which I kinda thought would happen. They showed they can compete with a better team in the league (2nd best record in the west) They were not drilling their 3 pointers they shot 5-19 for the night 26% shooting any other night they would of nailed half of those. I think if the Suns were to meet Dallas in the Playoffs after a few small adjustment see no reason why they cannot beat Dallas.

    Watching Nash getting backed up by their PG once again shows Nash is weak on the defensive end. Nothing we didn’t already know and not much that can be done to improve his defensive presence :(

    Gentry should look at bringing in Lopez and Carter off the bench IMO they would be more effective. It also pisses me off that Carter throws up a lot of ugly shots they usually result in opponent rebounds or tries to go one on one with the defender resulting in a turnover/Missed shot, not taking advantage of the 24 on the clock or missing an open man. I hope someone is mentioning this to him or he sees it in his minutes being cranked down.

    Ex.. Last night he was 6-11 shooting which was a “better” night for him. Even then I saw him make shots I questioned WHY? His previous two games he was 3-9 and 3-10. Is it just me am I anti Carter that I nit pick the guy or are others seeing the same?

    SLowpez and his 2nd Double Double this season. We should put money on who will finish with more Double Doubles(Slowpez) Vs. Dunks (JMZ) I think JMZ will win that one :) I guess he had a good night its a shame he doesn’t do this night in and night out. 10pts-10reb Minimum is what I would like to see from him on a regular (Same for Gortat). Is he having back problems? what is the problem? I would like to see him practice posting up on a guy during shoot around instead of throwing Free throws.. Only if he could finish.

    If we make a trade before the deadline hopefully its for a GOOD PF that would prob put us over the top and may get us deep in the playoffs. The question is who is available? and what would we give up for said player? The Suns Front office is really quiet when making moves..(Orlando came out of nowhere) so don’t be surprised if we add or lose a player before the deadline. If we don’t make any moves I see us being competitive to get the playoff spot. If we make it in depending on what teams we go up against will determine how deep we go.

    I think i typed enough. Go Suns

  • 7 AJ // Feb 18, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I HATED the lineup we had going into the 4th. Carter had started to play well in the 2nd half and he winds up not getting any touches in the 4th, and we had Pietrus on Dirk at times. And why was there no center on the floor for us down the stretch?! They had 2 seven rooters out there and we had Channing. And RoLo had been playing well. We couldn’t even secure rebounds down the stretch. I blame Gentry for this one.

  • 8 Steve // Feb 18, 2011 at 10:23 am

    @Freddy

    Totally agree about Carter, except I don’t even care to bring him in off the bench. I would just leave him there. Pietrus, Dudley, and Childress all have more to offer.

    Forgot to mention this earlier, but Lopez’s 20-footer in the final minute of the 3rd was exactly the reason I can’t stand him. What went through his head to make him think, “Hmm, my range is about 10 feet, we’re getting smoked to close out this quarter, and there are only 25 seconds left in the quarter. I should throw up a 20-footer, double my effective range, even though we still have 12 on the shot clock, and give the Mavs the ball back for the last shot of the quarter with a full 24.”

    What reasonable human being would do what he did? The only explanation is that he just wasn’t thinking. But to me, that isn’t a good excuse. In fact, it’s the worst excuse I could think of. Basketball is a thinking game as much as it is a physical game, and Lopez’s head is nowhere near the game on most nights.

    Even last night, despite the double-double, I counted numerous instances when he was standing at the top of the key/3-pt line when shots were going up, and without crashing, he stood and watched Dallas grab the board or retreated on D despite the fact that his man was under the hoop grabbing the ball.

  • 9 Lloyd // Feb 18, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Gortat played only 16 minutes; yet he put up 9 points and 6 rebounds.

    He needs to be playing at least 35 minutes a game with that kind of production.

  • 10 Freddy // Feb 18, 2011 at 10:47 am

    @ Steve

    If it was up to me Carter would get DNP’s. But that won’t happen I think Dudz (Good Overall Hustle) or Pietrus(Guy plays good D) are better suited for the spot carter takes on the floor.

    I noticed the same about Slowpez .. He does a poor job setting the screen It almost looks like Steve doesn’t want to give him the Rock. I wouldn’t i get nervous when he has the ball.

  • 11 Freddy // Feb 18, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I would also rather see Garrett Siller play over Slowpez if he is going to play weak basketball.

  • 12 Drew // Feb 18, 2011 at 11:13 am

    @ Steve’s interpretation of Lopez’s thought process: Love it. (You inspired my VC monologue, but it isn’t as good.)

    Another play that stuck out to me: Steve launched a full-court pass to VC on a fast break in traffic and got the ball to Hill in the corner for an open 3 which he missed.

    1- Credit to VC for trying the fast break. I usually see him the last person coming up the court, even behind our center. I didn’t notice if he actually sprinted out or just never crossed half court to play defense. Either way, good job.

    2- Again, credit to VC for finding Hill in the corner. Sadly Hill missed the shot. I feel pretty good about Hill taking open 3s from the corners, but last night he wasn’t hitting.

    3- Here’s the thing that got me fired up and rewinding my DVR. When the 3 went up, VC was out of bounds under the basket. I thought he was running to get back onto the court–in the action, but he just kept running (jogging, really) back to the other end while the shot was still in the air! It’s as if he made up in his mind, “Hey, I just pulled out a sweet set up. The crowed ooo’ed and awwww’ed. I’ve done my part. Make it or miss it; that’s your problem, Grant. Rebound? You mean more effort? Nah, I’m good…”

    How do you change that mindset?! I had to explain to my wife why I am so frustrated with VC. It’s not that his play is THAT bad. It’s that he has so much talent and doesn’t care. The effort isn’t there. Pietrus may be Barbosa-esque on offense with his shot selection, but the effort is there! Gortat may have frying pans for hands at times, but the effort is there. VC has all the God-given talent in the world, but is apathetic!! Help!

  • 13 Auggie5000 // Feb 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Gentry not playing Gortat in the 4th is a travesty. Some of his 4th quarter line-ups make no sense whatsoever. I understand he has a “hot-hand” mentality, but some of your players are consistent and deserve consistent minutes. Nash, Hill, Dudley and Gortat fall into this category.

  • 14 Mel. // Feb 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I dunno if I would agree with Gentry about the “consistency” issue; the Suns were plenty tough in this one, but ultimately got outplayed by a team that’s looking to threaten in the Western Conference, especially if the Lakers continue in their punch-drunk state.

    Watching Gortat play Dirk was a definite highlight, and I thought Channing and Warrick actually put in some good minutes. They fronted him, pestered him on the ball and forced some key misses of that ridiculous 18-footer of his, but ultimately… well, as was said above, the guy is an All-Star. His stroke has always been staggering–especially for a guy his size… and in a way, he’s like the Terminator upgrade of the Channing Frye playing style. Play him strong underneath, and he can post. Play off him at the arc, and watch that 3-pointer drop like it’s magnetic.

    Anyway, loss or not, there was a lot to like about this one. Dallas has been swaggering lately, and are making a hell of a run; losing to a team like that (As opposed to the Nets, Kings or Trailblazers) is understandable.

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