Six minutes and 13 seconds.
That’s how long the Phoenix Suns went without a basket to close out Tuesday night’s 99-83 loss to the Lakers in Staples Center.
Phoenix played the Lakers to a near stalemate for three and half quarters, withstanding Kobe’s eventual 48-point onslaught with solid team defense and big-time games from Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye.
Until the 6:13 mark in the fourth quarter, the Suns actually resembled a legitimate playoff team.
Frye poured in 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, Gortat played like the NBA’s most efficient scorer with 16 points and 12 caroms, and even Shannon Brown chipped in with nine huge fourth-quarter points.
After trailing 79-74, the Suns scored on three consecutive possessions midway through the fourth to cut the Lakers lead to 83-82 with 6:13 remaining. There was light at the end of the tunnel.
But, as was the case so often last season, the wheels came off. The Suns missed their last nine shots and scored one, yes one, point in the final 6:13 to move to 4-5 on the season.
“Obviously, Kobe took the game over at the end there. We just couldn’t make a shot, part of it was their defense, part of it was that we just couldn’t make the doggone things,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com after the game. “I thought we got some good looks.”
While it’s easy to chalk the draught up to a bad shooting run or Kobe’s 14 points during that period, the Suns’ untimely stall is more a product of Phoenix’s lack of a go-to scorer and playmaker.
Consider this: Of the Suns’ final nine shots, only one came inside of 16 feet. Five of those nine shots came from beyond the arc and the Lakers pressure-pick-and-roll defense wore down a tired Nash, who had 13 points and eight assists until he returned to the lineup in the fourth.
The Suns couldn’t dump it to Gortat due to his still-developing post game, Grant Hill couldn’t buy a bucket as he labored through a 1-of-12 shooting night, and there was no Amare Stoudemire to barrel down the lane and save the day.
That was the case all too often last season, a campaign in which the Suns gave away game after game due to their inability to score, defend and rebound down the stretch.
Tuesday night was much of the same. The Suns settled for jump shots, while the Lakers scored all of their final 16 points inside of 12 feet or at the free throw line as they made six of their final nine shots. That’s how good teams win close games, not by jacking up contested three pointers that aren’t in the flow of the offense.
But that’s why the Suns aren’t exactly pegged in the “good” category this season. They lack the offensive firepower to steal close games on the road, especially against a team like the Lakers.
Sure, there are a handful of other reasons for the Suns’ loss. Kobe turned back the clock five years. The Lakers outrebounded Phoenix 49-35 and turned in 18 second-chance points. The Suns knocked down only 42.5 percent of their shots, while the Lakers drilled 48.8 percent.
But ultimately, it comes down to a lack of offensive execution and personnel in crunch time. It’s that simple. The Suns did everything they could to win the game up until the 6:13 mark.
They jumped out to a 19-10 lead that the Lakers eventually squashed after a ridiculous 22-2 run, but even then, Phoenix battled back and stayed within striking distance.
They limited Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to a combined 30 points and 20 rebounds, which is a win considering how the Suns have played the twin towers in the past. Phoenix also only turned the ball over 11 times, while turning 15 Laker turnovers into 23 points.
“I thought we did a good job on both (Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol),” Gentry said. “Some of the baskets they got freed up because we were either rotating to Kobe or trying to help or something like that, and it freed them up a little bit. But, you know, I thought we played well, it was a one-point game with around 5:40 left in the game and we went south from there and just couldn’t make a basket.”
In the end, the Suns couldn’t get the stops and buckets they needed to in order to fend off Kobe and the Lakers. While losing to the Lakers on the road when Kobe has 48 shouldn’t be seen as a huge disappointment, this one is tough to swallow given all of the good things the Suns did for three and a half quarters.
If they’re unable to find a way to score down the stretch — whether it’s through sets or a secondary ball-handler — there will be a handful of losses to throw in the “tough to swallow” category, just like last season.
The Suns do have a chance to redeem themselves, however. They’ll play host to the Cavaliers and Nets on Thursday and Friday, respectively, before heading on a brutal nine-day, five-game road swing to San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas. If there’s such thing as must-win games in January, it’s Phoenix’s next two against Cleveland and New Jersey.
- Tuesday’s game was Kobe’s 108th career 40-point game. “He’s the best player in the world,” Nash said of Kobe. “You come to expect that type of performance from him. He does it regularly throughout the season and he was phenomenal tonight.”
- The Lakers defeated the Suns without key bench players Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy.
- In Shannon Brown’s return to Staples Center he missed his first four shots. He made five of his next nine to finish the game with 11 points in 19 minutes but racked up a -23. “It was fun,” Brown said of his return. “I got a chance to do a lot of things. I got a chance to come back to where my career got a real start to it. Two championships later I’m in a different situation, but I’m still thankful for what happened in LA.”
- In his last two games Channing Frye is averaging 16.5 points on 13-of-16 shooting and 7-of-9 from three.
- Marcin Gortat looked about as good as he has all season. He thrived in the pick and roll, crashed the boards hard and finished the first half with eight boards and nine rebounds. He even flashed a turnaround fadeaway out of the post over his right shoulder against the outstretched arms of Bynum.