Just as the Phoenix Suns started clicking, another letdown lurked right around the corner.
On Monday night that letdown materialized in the form of a 12-point blown lead in the second half, more struggles on the defensive glass and a heavy dosage of David Lee, as the Warriors ended the Suns’ hot streak with a 102-96 victory in Oakland.
The Suns entered tonight having won four of five while winning games in a variety of different fashions. Their bench come alive to beat Charlotte, they used a complete game that Grant Hill described as vintage “Phoenix Suns basketball” to take down Atlanta, and they exploded for stretches of electric offensive basketball to defeat the Bucks before Kings coach Keith Smart lauded the Suns’ defense after Saturday’s win in Sacramento.
They seemed to have regained their mojo, but thanks to their old arch nemesis rebounding the Suns allowed the Warriors to hang around long enough to take control at the end.
“You’ve got to finish games. You’ve just got to finish games,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry repeated on the Suns’ postgame show. “We did a terrible job of finishing the game, and I said to the guys at halftime, ‘You can’t play around with a team like this that has that many weapons. One of their guys is going to get hot, and we’re going to regret it.’”
Although the Suns bottled up Monta Ellis (18 points of 5-for-20 shooting) and Stephen Curry (nine, 3-for-10), Lee was the man who got hot to the Suns’ regret tonight. Lee finished with a fat stat line of 28 points and 12 boards on 13-for-22 shooting, and it all started on the offensive glass, where Lee grabbed four of the Warriors’ 15 caroms.
This of course is nothing new, as the Suns entered the night ranked 25th in defensive rebound rate — and they were even worse last season — yet once again it’s a major reason they lost. The Warriors grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half alone to stay within three points at the break despite Phoenix shooting 50.0 percent and Golden State 37.3.
“It all started in the first half when we gave up so many offensive rebounds,” Gentry said. “We did a really good job offensively, but we gave up so many offensive rebounds that they were able to stay in the game.”
Still, the Suns built a 12-point advantage midway through the third, only to see the Warriors roar back to take the lead with a subsequent 10-0 run as Lee scored 15 in the period and Ellis 11 following his 2-for-12 first half.
The Dubs led throughout the fourth, extending their advantage to a game-high 10 points when Nate Robinson capped a 9-2 run with a long three-point bomb. The Suns quickly answered back with a 7-0 run of their own, but Jared Dudley missed a potential game-tying three and then Ekpe Udoh hit a back-breaking bucket in the paint that sealed the game when Dudley could not knock down another open three down five with 30 seconds left.
“I def have to hit one of those shots at the end of the game!!” Dudley tweeted. “But now we gotta put that behind us and get ready for Denver tomorrow.”
Gentry left the arena “disappointed” because he felt the Suns had a great chance to win if they would have taken care of the things written on the team’s whiteboard, which he said included (as always) offensive rebounding, turnovers (the Suns committed 14) and the transition game.
“We didn’t win those battles,” Gentry said. “The last time we played them we won those battles, and we didn’t win those battles tonight.”
The Suns lost despite a monster game from Marcin Gortat, who nearly matched Lee with a career-high-tying 25 points and 12 boards while hitting 11-of-17 shots. Nash did his job with 14 assists complementing seven points, Channing Frye continued his hot stretch by chipping in with 18 points and Markieff Morris added 10 fourth-quarter points as the Suns made their comeback.
The Suns’ 29 assists also tied a Warriors opponent season high. On the flip side, no Sun other than Gortat pulled down more than five rebounds and the team knocked down just 5-of-25 shots from long range. It goes without saying that this is a completely different game if the Suns hit just a couple of them.
The loss was disappointing mainly because this was a winnable game against a below average opponent on a night the Suns controlled things through two and a half quarters.
It especially hurts because the Suns now must finish off this three games in a row stretch with tough ones at Denver and home against Atlanta before facing the Lakers twice in a row. Toward that end every Suns starter played at least 31 minutes (including 36 for Nash and 34 for Hill), yet it all went for naught.
Overall the past six games have been encouraging and the Suns certainly are playing at a higher level than they were earlier this season, but if they are going to make a surprise run back to the fringes of the playoff picture this is the kind of game they needed to take care of.