PHOENIX — Entering tonight’s game the Phoenix Suns seemed positioned for a run out of the West’s dungeon, at least so much as that can be the case for a squad sitting in 13th in its conference five games under .500.
After all, Phoenix had just followed perhaps its best win of the season Sunday over the Lakers with a convincing effort Monday against Washington and 10 of its next 12 games were scheduled for downtown Phoenix.
Then the first quarter happened tonight against the Warriors to remind us all why the Suns were in this dire predicament in the first place.
The Suns hemorrhaged 39 points to the Warriors (a Golden State season high) in a pathetic opening period that had head coach Alvin Gentry fuming when Monta Ellis’ game-winning jumper over Grant Hill prevented a Phoenix comeback from 21 down and gave Golden State its first win in Phoenix in 14 tries, dating back to March 8, 2005.
“The game was lost in the first 10 minutes of the game,” Gentry said of Phoenix’s 106-104 defeat. “We got an opportunity to do something good and we come out like that is just ridiculous. It’s unfair to the fans in the stands. The way we approached the game sucked. What we do is exactly what I said in the first timeout. We dig ourselves a hole then we have to play so hard to get back it’s a perfect storm.
“The difference in the game was what happened in the first 10 minutes in the game. I am disgusted with the way we played and I’m disgusted with the fact that we got a chance to end the break on something upbeat and positive and instead we just walk through the first 10 minutes of the game and that cost us the game.”
The Suns dug themselves a 16-point hole in those first 10 minutes of listless play. During that time they rolled out the red carpet for David Lee to score 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting while Stephen Curry added nine for a Warriors squad that shot 60 percent for the period.
Jared Dudley said that such a bad quarter can be blamed on many things, including blown pick-and-roll coverages and offensive rebounding, and Channing Frye said he needs to improve his weakside help defense and energy.
“It was one of the toughest games this season, definitely,” said Marcin Gortat. “Giving up  points in the first quarter is unacceptable. That’s how you lose a game, and there’s no way you can come back and win a game.”
But the thing is, the Suns nearly did just that.
Curry exited 9:42 into the game with another foot injury and did not return aside from 18 seconds at the end of the first half. The Warriors could have used his firepower as the Suns held Golden State to 44.4 percent shooting in the second half and came all the way back from 21 down to tie on a Frye jump hook with 4:25 remaining.
Be it effort, execution or just great offense from Golden State, the Warriors were unstoppable with Curry on the floor but it was a different story with Nate Robinson in his place.
After Golden State surged ahead by four with 1:24 left, the Suns battled back to tie once again when Hill scooted through the lane for a layup.
That gave the Warriors one final shot with 11.6 seconds remaining, so of course they called the same unoriginal play every other NBA team does in this situation: an isolation for their best player.
Monta Ellis is that man and he got that call despite the fact that Hill limited him to 18.0 points on 30.6 percent shooting this season and 18.8 on 41.2 percent shooting last year as well as 9-for-22 marksmanship tonight heading into that shot.
Ellis drove right, stopped on a dime and faded away for an impossibly tough attempt with Hill draped all over him but just like Eric Gordon in the season opener his shot dropped through the bottom of the net.
The Suns really could not have asked for a better defensive scenario — a player prone to bad shots taking a crazy difficult one on their best defender — but there’s a reason Ellis is one of the league’s most feared scorers.
The Suns had one last chance with one second left to secure only their second three-game winning streak of the season, as Hill found Frye breaking free to the corner for a potential game-winning three but Lee jumped out to contest and Frye’s shot clanked harmlessly off the front iron.
“I’ll be honest, once I shot it I thought it was a good look,” Frye said. “I couldn’t even see the rim. David Lee did a good job of putting his hands in front of my eyes, but it shouldn’t even have got to that point.”
Indeed it should not have, but now the Suns are left to ruminate over their second straight crushing loss to Golden State in the last week and a half.
In fact back on Feb. 13 in Oakland the Suns seemed to have righted the ship having won four of five entering that contest, only to blow a 12-point second-half lead that triggered a four-game losing streak.
Things seemed to be looking back up once again after these last two wins only for those pesky Warriors to zap the Suns’ momentum once again.
Now the Suns must face a reality that has them three games in the loss column out of 12th in the West with more than half their schedule in the books.
“We have to decide what kind of team we want to be,” Gentry said. “Do we want to be a tease where we win a couple of games, then we decide not to play the first 10 minutes or are we going to be a team that bears down and tries to grind this thing out so we can get back into the playoff race? We have to decide that, and I mean we, everybody, players and coaches, too.
“We have a chance to do something good here, end up on a high note and then we’ve got [nine] home games out of the next  coming back. We’ve got to decide. What do we want to be?”
The Suns may want to be a playoff team, but a blown opportunity like this speaks volumes as to what they are.
The Warriors took the season series against the Suns for the first time since 1994-95. That is partially due to the fact that they only play three games this season whereas most seasons the Suns would have a chance to go for a split in the fourth. … Frye scored a season-high 22 points but he needed 23 shots to get there. … Gortat produced another superb game with 21 points and 15 rebounds, his third 20-15 game in his last four. … Nash dished “just” nine assists, his first single-digit outing since Feb. 3 in Houston when he also handed out nine helpers. … The starters once again all played heavy minutes, with Shannon Brown’s 18 the most anyone saw off the pine. As Gentry put it pregame, “We’re not Major League Baseball. We don’t have pitch counts.” … Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez of the New York Red Bulls soccer team attended the game as guests of Nash.