We’ve known for about a week that the Phoenix Suns would miss the playoffs, but perhaps it’s fitting that they were officially eliminated from playoff contention at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs Sunday afternoon.
This Spurs franchise represented the biggest roadblock to the great Nash teams of the Seven Seconds or Less era, and now they landed the final blow on what could be Nash’s final Suns team if he is moved in the offseason.
But Nash wasn’t even there to feel the pain of this loss still in Phoenix suffering from flu-like symptoms, and without him they didn’t have a chance in this 114-97 Spurs romp.
Aaron Brooks and Zabian Dowdell held down the fort against the Clippers, but the Suns were overmatched from the opening tip against a Spurs squad that had lost six in a row and desperately needed a victory with the Lakers creeping up on them in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.
“I think we just got outhustled, outplayed, they were clicking on all cylinders offensively,” Aaron Brooks told reporters. “They played a great game. They went on a run and we couldn’t get back.”
The Suns actually led 14-13 midway through the first quarter, and then the bottom fell out as the Spurs promptly outscored Phoenix 44-14 over the course of the next 12 minutes of game action.
By the time the first half ended San Antonio led 70-46, had hit 9-of-13 threes and outrebounded Phoenix 25-16. George Hill poured in 24 points himself on 8-of-9 shooting and 4-of-5 three-point marksmanship, as the Spurs bench scored one less point at the half than the Suns as a team.
Head coach Alvin Gentry warned his team that the Spurs would play with this kind of emotion badly needing a victory after losing six straight, and the Suns just came out flat without Nash.
I wrote in Friday’s recap:
In the Suns’ previous four games without Two Time, all losses, they mustered offensive efficiencies of 100.0 at Orlando, 106.1 at Charlotte (in a game the defense collapsed), 90.7 vs. Orlando and then 96.9 at Houston. Only the Rockets game was even close as the Suns seemed utterly lost without their floor general.
Today’s porous effort proves that their 113.3 offensive efficiency against the Clippers was likely more a function of Los Angeles than any sans Nash improvement on the Phoenix side after the Suns scored 99.0 per 100 in this one.
Predictably Marcin Gortat sounded off in disgust about his team’s performance, as told to Spurs.com:
“I feel bad. We played really bad, no energy, no focus, no toughness, and no intensity at all. Missing your shots is one thing, but not playing hard is totally a different story. We just didn’t look today like a basketball team.”
“I don’t know what was the reason, you would have to ask each guy what was the reason. I felt pretty all right, I tried to play hard, tried to get rebounds, and I made a couple mistakes also. Because of the lack of communication we lost a couple points, but at the end of the day we all have to play hard. We need 10 players on the team to play hard and tonight we didn’t have that.”
“I don’t want to answer that question (on motivation getting harder), but I’ll just tell you one thing: I’m embarrassed. I’m glad in the second half we stepped up a little bit to not get blown out by 40 or 50, but it’s embarrassing.”
This loss was indeed an embarrassment on the Phoenix side in that San Antonio played so much harder than the Suns. The Suns just lacked the focus and determination they showed in the Clippers win, and the result was another thrashing on ABC, a network that has been unlucky enough to televise the Suns twice now in listless performances without Nash.
Brooks went for 14 and six in 26 minutes and Dowdell six and one on 3-for-11 shooting, hardly resembling their performances from Friday night. Jared Dudley recorded a double-double with 12 and 10 and Channing Frye hit 5-of-7 shots for 14 points, but nobody really played a standout game.
Before the Clippers game with the Suns’ elimination all but inevitable, I wondered whether their effort would wane with the games now lacking meaning, and we saw that here this afternoon. With the Suns having nothing to play for aside from momentum for next season and long-term roles/contracts, I would not be surprised by a disaster road trip as much as Gentry keeps urging for the kind of effort that was missing today.
“We have to have all our guys playing hard, it cannot be just a selective few,” Gentry said. “The only thing I am obligated to do is to have the team prepared to play and the only thing they are obligated to do is compete hard. They owe that to Robert [Sarver], to every fan that has come to our game, we owe that to Phoenix, and we owe it to everyone in the locker room. That has to be our goal right now, to compete hard and do the best we can and if we do that, then we can live with that.”
Mickael Pietrus will be away from the team throughout the road trip to rehab his sprained right knee on his own. That should mean continued minutes for Josh Childress, who scored four points in 19 minutes on Sunday. … Gentry said Friday he hopes to try different combination throughout the rest of the season. … The Suns dropped to 4-21 (.160) against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better. Only the Timberwolves (0-26) and Kings (3-20) are worse in the West. … The Suns’ 5-11 March was their worst month since February 2004 (3-9), which occurred a few months before signing Steve Nash.