PHOENIX — Only the Phoenix Suns could have another blown fourth quarter overshadowed by an altercation between the officials and their two backup point guards in the final minute of a blowout.
After the Suns once again played a solid first three quarters and then a horrendous fourth quarter to turn a close game into a 116-98 Thunder rout, Zabian Dowdell and Aaron Brooks got ejected by Ken Mauer with 1:05 to go in a game long decided.
The ejections seriously baffled the Suns’ locker room.
Dowdell said the ref “just disrespected me” and that he thinks “something like that was uncalled for,” before adding that he’s never been treated like that by an official at any level. He declined to get into specifics because the team told him not to speak about the incident.
Marcin Gortat was also subjected to a gag order on the incident, but he did say, “Four years in my career, I’ve never seen something like that. You’ll see tomorrow.”
According to KTAR’s John Gambadoro, Mauer told Dowdell to “stop being a little b—-.”
Whatever Mauer said upset Aaron Brooks as well, as Brooks grabbed his crotch right next to Mauer after the Dowdell ejection to earn his own minute early trip to the showers. AB then arrogantly waved goodbye to Mauer as he joined Dowdell on the way to the locker room.
From what Gortat was saying, it seems like the Suns will ask the league to review the incident involving Mauer, and if he did treat Dowdell as inappropriately as he said the league must take action against him. If a player was that disrespectful to a ref, wouldn’t there be something done about it?
Brooks may have been right to be frustrated, especially after another fourth quarter collapse, but I don’t love the attitude he showed to earn his ejection.
We’re talking about a guy who could be this franchise’s point guard of the future, the leader of the team. I don’t want such a player to exude immaturity while trying to show up an official no matter how wrong whatever Mauer did may have been.
From a basketball perspective, the story of this game involved the Suns getting destroyed early in the fourth quarter once again. After a Vince Carter basket cut the lead to four, the Thunder reeled off a devastating 18-5 run to turn a close game into a 17-point blowout.
As has often been the case in fourth quarters of late, the Suns could not find offense from any direction as the Thunder’s defense stiffened, and Phoenix allowed 61.9 percent shooting on the other end.
“We’re still just kind of faced with the same situation where we just can’t seem to put any offense together to start the fourth quarter, and that’s where most of the teams seem to be getting separation from us,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We have to do a better job of guarding and then we have to find a way to generate some offense.”
The Suns have been outscored 127-83 during the fourth quarters of their last four losses, an overage of 31.8-20.8. Oklahoma City has taken down the Suns 91-63 in the last three fourth quarters between the squads, continuing this season-long issue.
Just as Goran Dragic struggled to do so often he’s now in Houston, Brooks has failed to lead the Suns to any sustained offense during the early parts of the quarter and Steve Nash has not been able to right the ship when he returns.
“We kind of lost our concentration in the fourth quarter in games,” Gortat said. “We keep running the same thing. We don’t have anything new that’s going to surprise them. We’re trying to force a lot of places in the fourth quarter, and sometimes we’re just putting ourselves in a real bad situation. We’ve just got to make a play, drive, find the open man, make an open jump shot.”
Added Nash, “That’s kind of been our problem this season, our Achilles’ heel. The other team’s close, typically the end of the third, start of the fourth we have a letdown.”
The Suns somehow only got two players in double digits, as Vince Carter carried the load once again against Oklahoma City and Jared Dudley was the other with 16.
Carter smoked the Thunder for 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting. He drove to the hole for dunks, drilled fadeaways, knocked down threes and did everything else that Vince Carter used to do 10 years ago.
Carter swore it was a coincidence, but he has torched the Thunder this season while looking very much his age against the rest of the league. Carter averaged 30.0 points per game on 53.2 percent shooting in three games against Oklahoma City, which is a stark contrast to the 12.7 points he averages on 40.8 percent shooting when the Suns don’t play the Thunder.
“Just playing, playing through it, just trying to relieve those guys,” Carter said of his performance. “They played a tough one last night, and that’s what we pride ourselves on, everybody contributing so I was being aggressive and hit a few shots in the post and just stuck with it.”
Even with Carter’s stellar effort, the Suns just didn’t have enough firepower down the stretch as Gortat played a subpar game that upset him (shooting 4-for-13), Nash continued to play hurt (eight points, nine assists), Grant Hill scored just three points on 1-for-7 shooting and Channing Frye scored six early points but finished with eight.
Perhaps the fourth-quarter struggles are becoming a mental burden as well as a physical burden for a Suns team that now knows with certainty that its season will end in two weeks.
“As a team bad night, no energy, terrible defense, no toughness, no physicality,” said the always brutally honest Gortat. “We just have to get better.
“We kind of lost all our energy when we started losing those last games. We don’t have any chance to make playoffs we kind of lost our energy, so we’ve just got to play through it and we’ve still got to compete. We’ve got to play better.”