The Suns began a new road trip yet encountered a familiar problem Sunday night in San Antonio, as lack of crunch time execution prevented Phoenix from stealing a game in the Alamo City.
The Suns trailed by as many as 18 a minute into the second half, but roared back to cut the lead to five with 5:28 on a Gortat basket. After Nash answered a Tim Duncan basket with a bucket of his own with 4:41 left, the Suns suffered through six consecutive scoreless trips over the next three and a half minutes while watching the Spurs score a trio of baskets to salt away their 102-91 victory.
Crunch time issues have been the story of Phoenix’s now four-game losing streak. Even the Lakers game was reasonably close, as Schmitz broke down exactly what went wrong from the time the Suns trailed that contest by one with six minutes left.
Tonight’s six-possession drought featured a Nash turnover, two missed shots from Two Time, two Dudley misses and a Markieff Morris clanked three-pointer. This slump was more about lack of execution than anything as all were good shots except for Dudley’s attempt in the paint over a pair of defenders, and Nash appeared to be fouled on his turnover.
However, give the Suns credit for even making this a game they could blow in crunch time as an early 20-4 run put San Antonio in control from the opening minutes. The Spurs extended that lead to 17 after a 13-3 second quarter run after the Suns had fought back.
“It was an uphill battle,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “The game would’ve been an even game if we would’ve put ourselves in an opportunity to make it interesting. Once again, we dug ourselves a hole as we spend most of our time trying to get ourselves out of it.”
Nash and Gortat were the shovels that allowed the Suns to come so close near the end.
Gortat shook off a rough start by scoring 24 points and bringing down a season-high 15 rebounds while hitting 11 of his 20 shots. He was often the recipient of Nash passes, particularly off the pick-and-roll, as Two Time put up a Nashian line of 20 points and 10 assists.
Clearly The Polish Hammer’s broken thumb hindered him quite a bit in the early going, as after averaging a mere 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds on 52.6 percent shooting in his first five games he’s produced like a franchise center in his last seven with averages of 18.0 points and 10.3 boards on ridiculous 65.9 percent shooting.
Gortat has now reached double figures in rebounding in four straight and has shot over 50 percent in seven in a row and 10 of 12 overall to lead the entire NBA in field goal shooting by a good margin.
Nash continued his superb work in January as he’s now averaging 16 and 11.4 this month after a
weak injured December in which he averaged 8.3 and 7.8. Nash is tied with Rajon Rondo for the NBA assists lead at 10.1 a game yet he plays six and a half minutes less than the Celtics’ star.
“Yeah, they played great as Marcin is getting better and Steve had a lot of zip tonight though he’s still not feeling great,” Gentry said. “I thought he played well as I thought at the end he ran out of gas a little bit as he also got hit. I thought we did a great job of reading situations in the game and using the pick and roll at appropriate times with Steve making the shot.
“We’re still not shooting it like we’re capable of and we’re not scoring like we’re capable of, but the shots were there. We just have to get the confidence to step up and knock them down.”
That may be true, but on this night that only applies to a select group of Suns. Channing Frye (seven attempts), Michael Redd (four), Robin Lopez (three) and Hakim Warrick (two) combined to miss all 16 of their shots. Take that quartet out of the equation and the Suns shot well enough to win the game, just over 50 percent.
There were certainly bright spots beyond the Suns’ best two players as Markieff Morris continued his solid rookie season with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting, Ronnie Price dished seven assists in 13 minutes to give Phoenix 17 assists from the point guard spot and Jared Dudley went for 12 and eight.
After their early struggles, these Suns helped the team fight back late, yet once again they could not execute when it counted.
“Can’t keep spotting good teams leads,” Dudley tweeted. “We gotta stay mentality focused and positive on and off the court. We haven’t put it together yet but it will come, just have to keep plugging away (in) practice and games to grasp some chemistry and understanding on what we’re trying to do.”
The Suns have only just begun a trip that will span 6,072 miles over a week and a half, but they better put it together soon if they want to return home with any optimism.
- Gentry during a second-half timeout: “We’ve got to do it like we used to do it, ball’s out of the basket, going in quickly, we’re pushing it down.” Good times, good times.
- It’s no longer news when Josh Childress gets a DNP-CD as he did tonight, but Warrick joined him on the bench for all but six minutes of this contest while Redd played just 13 and Dudley (36) and Shannon Brown (24) got their usual time. Frye also played just 18 minutes to Morris’ 25 as the rookie outplayed him.