“The big thing for us is we just haven’t been able to finish games. All of these games we’ve been able to be right there. The whole inconsistency has been our Achilles’ heel. We’ve competed like crazy, but we have very little to show for it from a tangible standpoint.”
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry made that remark before last week’s contest against Oklahoma City, rattling off a litany of tight games just that week the Suns had failed to close out down the stretch.
Gentry may as well have saved that statement to repeat Tuesday night in Chicago after the Suns played inspired ball to rally from a 22-point deficit behind Vince Carter of all people before — let’s say it together now — they once again couldn’t finish a game and lost 97-94 to the Bulls, their sixth loss in seven games.
After Kyle Korver missed one of two free throws to put the Bulls up three with 13.1 seconds left, the Suns had plenty of time to either score a quick two and foul again or create a good look for a game-tying three.
The play was supposed to be a pick-and-pop involving Channing Frye, but Frye set a weak screen on Derrick Rose five feet beyond the three-point line and the Bulls switched to prevent the open look for Frye the Suns likely wanted.
That left Joakim Noah on Nash, and Two Time could not shake the long 6-foot-11 stalwart defender for a step-back three-pointer so Nash drove to the basket with 5.5 seconds remaining. At this point Nash should have kicked it out to Frye percolating to the corner but instead Nash dished it off to Marcin Gortat in the lane for what would have been a harmless two-pointer in a three-point game.
Noah certainly deserves credit for bottling up Nash and making his potential game-tying three so difficult that Nash didn’t even attempt it, but it’s unacceptable for Phoenix to fail to even launch a long ball in this situation. A quick two would have been fine immediately but a vet like Nash should have known there was not enough time by the time he made his move, and I’m surprised a guy like Nash with eyes seemingly in the back of his head didn’t see Frye finding space in the corner with Rose shifting off him to watch the drive for no apparent reason.
“We were supposed to set up a screen for Channing. If we couldn’t get that, we hope we could get it set for anyone else,” Gentry told Chicago reporters. “It broke down and it was not a good possession for us. We just couldn’t get it in the basket most of the game. We need to play like we did at the end and not just to make a comeback when you’re down 22. In the third quarter we played with a lot more energy and we need to learn from that. See, we have to play for 48 minutes, not 24.”
Added Grant Hill, “We didn’t execute the play that we drew up. Steve wound up with Noah on him. He tried to penetrate and see if something good would open up but it didn’t. That’s what happened.”
Fourth quarter scoring has been the Suns’ biggest problem all season. Usually it involves blowing leads; this time it occurred after the Suns outscored Chicago 33-13 to cut a 22-point lead all the way down to two with five minutes left during a run that took almost 11 minutes of game time.
Both offenses stalled from there on out as Phoenix’s so often does when the opposition’s defense stiffens up. Carter scored 15 points during the Suns’ big run, including a run of nine straight Phoenix points during one stretch of the fourth that was capped by a sweet four-point play.
But as so often happens after Carter goes hot for a while he cooled off just as quickly but continued to take bad shots, missing eight of his 10 attempts in the final 6:36. The 14 total shots he attempted in the final period was just four less than the Bulls took as a team. I understand going with the hot hand, but once that hand cools down he should stop getting the ball.
That’s especially true on a night when a bouncier Nash — save for the final play — carved up the Bulls all night with his 16 assists after missing the past two games with the flu. He was such a wizard with the ball tonight he even managed to sneak a pass between Carlos Boozer’s legs for a Gortat slam.
The Suns must be commended for fighting back late in the game from what seemed to be an insurmountable deficit after rolling over the game before. After poor performances against the Spurs and during their first-half stint, the bench was largely responsible for the big comeback in the second half. This time around they played like they actually cared about getting the win.
The defense really locked Chicago down starting with Phoenix’s run and continuing until the buzzer, but while the Suns’ offense went dry with no go-to guy to bail them out, Rose came up with a pair of huge buckets that were the difference when the Suns failed to even attempt a final shot.
Although the comeback against the best team in the East was stirring, the Suns aren’t a playoff team this year because they could not finish enough games like this one that came down to execution in the clutch.
Jared Dudley slammed home his ninth dunk of the season, putting him just one wham bam slam away from his preseason goal of 10. … Nash arrived to the court wearing his practice shorts so a few players made a human wall around him as he changed into Zabian Dowdell’s shorts on the floor, a predicament the whole team had a good laugh over. … Sure looked like Hill was set for a late charge that was called a block on a Rose three-point play that put Chicago up five with 1:52 left. Said Hill, “I thought that I was there but didn’t get the call. Derrick is the MVP here at home. It’s not the first time that an MVP got that call down the stretch.” Hill was previously called for charging into Korver when he appeared to split the defense. … Gortat compiled another double-double with 10 points and a game-high 13 boards, as he helped the Suns outrebound Chicago 43-41 and hold Noah to four caroms. … Rose hit just 6-of-15 shots. … Going back a game, Dudley was one bright spot in the Spurs debacle, somehow posting a plus nine in a game-high 32 minutes of a contest Phoenix lost by 17. He also gave us this fantastic playoffs tweet: “RT @SteveNash: Guys, I’m feeling better this morning. I should feel great by the playoffs!! ( PLAYOFFS!!!PLAYOFFS!!! (coach mora voice lol).”