If you’re looking for an explanation why the Phoenix Suns won’t make the playoffs this season, pop in the tape of tonight’s matchup with the Kings — or their last three games against Sacramento for that matter.
Once again the Suns collapsed down the stretch — crippled by turnovers, poor defense and lack of a go-to scorer — as they lost hold of an 11-point, second-half lead to become the only team to lose to the lowly Kings three times this season, falling 116-113 in Sacramento.
Meet the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns.
The Kings have now outscored the Suns by a total of 32 points in the fourth quarters of their last three meetings, making them 10.6 points better than Phoenix in the most important quarter of the game.
But it’s not just the Kings that give the Suns trouble in crunch time.
Blowing leads, looking lost offensively and struggling to come up with big stops late in games has become the mantra of this year’s Suns team, and it’s no wonder Phoenix is 36-37 and all-but eliminated from the playoff race.
Because of these glaring deficiencies, the Suns are under .500 for the first time since Feb. 7, have lost four of their last five, eight of their last 11 and plan on watching the playoffs from home. Phoenix is now 10-13 in games decided by five points or less, and all 13 of those losses can be attributed to the Suns’ lack of ability to close out games.
As was the case in their previous two games against Sacramento, the Suns were in the driver’s seat for the majority of the contest and rattled off a 9-0 run midway through the third quarter to take a 78-67 lead with 7:22 remaining in the period. The Kings fought back, but the Suns kept their distance and led 91-84 when Steve Nash headed to the bench with 1:06 left in the third.
Phoenix seemed to be rolling, scoring at will in transition (33 fast-break points on the night) as Jared Dudley (17 points, five rebounds, five steals) and Marcin Gortat (17 points, 11 rebounds) thrived in their new starting roles.
The bench even built the lead to 98-88 with 10:12 left in the game and the Suns were on pace to finally get the better of the Kings and end their two-game slide.
But like most losses similar to this, Aaron Brooks (1-for-6, four turnovers) and company couldn’t keep their foot on the gas as the Kings cut the Suns lead to 102-100 just over two minutes later.
Phoenix had only committed six turnovers through the first three quarters, while allowing only six fast-break points. But the Suns committed four turnovers in the first 4:04 of the fourth quarter and the Kings converted on run-out dunk after run-out dunk, ultimately finishing the game with 19 fast-break points.
Soon after Nash came back the Kings took a 106-104 lead that lasted only a minute as Dudley tied things up with 5:07 left. But from that point on the offense stalled, as the Suns went 2-for-10 from the field and scored only seven points in the final five minutes of play.
Despite the late-game struggles the Suns still led 110-109 with just under a minute to go when Marcus Thornton (24 points and 11 rebounds) drilled a triple and the Kings didn’t look back as four more free throws put the game on ice and capped off their dominance of the Suns.
Yet another one that got away for Phoenix against a team it should have beaten. Tis the story of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns. They shot 7-for-21 in the fourth quarter, allowed the Kings to shoot 11-for-18 in the fourth (hitting nine of their first 10), were outrebounded 50-39 and couldn’t muster up enough points or defensive stops to take the first step in an improbable playoff run.
They played well enough for 40 minutes to win the game. They shot 50 percent from the field and turned the ball over only 10 times, but it’s those final eight to 10 minutes that’s killed this team all season long.
The Suns have always been a team, because of their reliance on shooting and the pace they play at, that lets teams back into ball games. But it’s never come back to haunt them as badly as it has this year.
Not only do teams creep into the game with ease, the Suns’ offense looks absolutely lost with nowhere to go as the game comes to a close. Nash (13 points, 14 assists) no longer has the offensive firepower to put the team on it’s back, and you can only run so many sets for Channing Frye (21 points, nine rebounds).
It’s only fitting that this is how Phoenix’s season will end, with questions from the preseason still left unanswered. Who will take over late in games? How will the Suns get stops late in games? Will they be OK without a legitimate interior scoring presence?
None of these questions ever received a positive answer, and thus, the Suns sit 4 1/2 games behind eighth place Memphis with only 11 games to play.