Denver Nuggets 105, Phoenix Suns 99 -- Devastating collapse

All the Suns could do was hang their heads after a crushing loss to the Nuggets on Friday. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

If the Phoenix Suns are ultimately unable to do the unthinkable and sneak into the playoffs, Friday night’s 105-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets will be forever viewed as — like Katy Perry so eloquently put it — the one that got away.

With their backs against the wall and their postseason hopes more or less on the line, the Suns had everything in place to knock off the Nuggets and move into seventh place in the Western Conference.

The stars were aligned to win their fourth straight game, be in position to capture the all-important tiebreaker from Denver, and take one step closer toward completing their improbable run into the playoffs.

Instead, they collapsed, lost the tiebreaker, snapped their three-game win streak, and dropped back into 10th place in the West, two games back of the eighth place Houston Rockets, who defeated the Lakers on Friday night.

After going blow for blow with the Nuggets in every aspect of the game for the better part of three-and-a-half quarters and leading 99-96 with 3:09 remaining, the Suns’ offense disappeared. Phoenix misfired on its final nine field goal attempts — seven of which were jump shots — and failed to score over the course of the final 3:09 as the late-game heroics that catapulted them to victory in Utah vanished.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, carved up Phoenix’s combination of zone and man defense and went 2-of-4 from the field while knocking down four crucial free throws to escape defeat.

Andre Miller scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, Al Harrington knocked down big-time threes on his way to 23 points in 29 minutes, and Arron Afflalo exploded for 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including a triple with 48 ticks left that pushed Denver’s lead to 103-99.

The Suns fell apart down the stretch, wasting an effort that should have resulted in a win. While it was a back and forth contest from the start, the Suns captured the lead halfway through the fourth quarter thanks to their bench mob that turned a 78-75 deficit at the end of the third into a 94-90 lead before turning it over to Steve Nash and company with 5:56 remaining.

Michael Redd scored 11 of his 15 points in the first 5:21 of the fourth quarter and you could feel the Suns starting to pull away as they turned a 13-1 run into a 92-87 lead halfway through the fourth.

They were clicking on all cylinders and dominating the boards against a Nuggets team that ranks fourth in the NBA in rebounding differential — Phoenix finished the game with a 54-41 advantage on the glass.

Aside from Afflalo and Harrington’s outbursts and Miller’s fourth quarter, notorious Suns-killer Ty Lawson was a non-factor with two points and eight assists on 1-for-8 shooting and Phoenix limited Denver to 40.2 percent shooting from the floor.

But in the end it was Phoenix’s inability to create easy opportunities down the stretch combined with its 16 turnovers (turned into 26 Nuggets points) and Denver’s 11 three-pointers that doomed the Suns.

The Suns clearly weren’t going to win out the rest of the regular season, and losses were expected. But what’s devastating is the nature of the situation along with the fact that Phoenix played well enough to win the game.

They got a combined 22 points and 25 rebounds from Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat, solid minutes from their bench, 18 points from Shannon Brown, 17 from Jared Dudley, and 14 and 11 from Nash.

They jumped out to a 29-21 lead after one, were knotted up at 52 at halftime, and led by as many as five in the fourth quarter. The Suns did a great job keeping the Nuggets on the perimeter and Denver’s traditional big men Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, and JaVale McGee shot a combined 8-for-21 from the field.

But Denver made timely shots, Phoenix settled for out-of-rhythm jumpers late in the game, and the Suns’ playoff chances took a serious hit as they still have the Lakers (tomorrow night), Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Rockets, Spurs (twice), Trail Blazers, Thunder, Clippers, Nuggets, and Jazz to close out the season.

It’s too early to count the Suns out yet, but there’s no doubt they missed a golden opportunity in the Mile High City on Friday night. When the dust settles and the playoff seeds are set, if the Suns are on the outside looking in they’ll certainly look back at this April 6 contest and wonder “what if.”

And 1

  • While the Suns struggled with turnovers, the Nuggets coughed it up only five times, which led to only four Phoenix fast break points. The Nuggets scored 16 points in transition.
  • Redd went for 15 or more for the third straight game, the first time he’s done that since January of 2009.
  • Although it doesn’t show up in the box score, Josh Childress gave the Suns 15 solid minutes. He was active defensively, took a few smart fouls and finished with two points, three rebounds, an assist and two blocks.
  • While the Suns lost the Rockets defeated the Lakers 112-107 and the Jazz beat the Warriors 104-98. The Suns now trail the Rockets by two games the Jazz by half a game.
  • Strangely enough, the Suns also suffered a crushing defeat by the same 105-99 final margin two years ago in the Pepsi Center.

  • Tony

    Ughhhh!! What a miserable loss tonight for the Suns. I have to say, the lack of clutch players on this Suns team is astounding. Gortat, the guy who is supposed to be our first “legitimate” center and future star, completely collapses in the fourth quarters. Tonight, he dropped an easy pass from Nash and did nothing the fourth quarter. I think the Suns may be better off looking to deal Gortat possibly for a top-5 pick in this draft and resign Lopez. Gortat’s playing as well as he ever will and since he’s unable to handle the pressure, the Suns cannot depend on him.

    Next, Dudley is driving me crazy with his overrated defense, stupid plays, and his pathetic play in clutch moments. First Dudley allows Affallo to drop 30 on him, including leaving him wide open in the critical shot that he hit in the fourth quarter. Then, he’s constantly missing free throws. Lastly, almost every time Gentry designs a play for him following a timeout, he misses. I don’t know what’s worse, Dudley always missing or Gentry always calling plays for him or Frye.

    Speaking of Frye, what is up with that guy? He’s such a faker. He over-compensates for his lack of self-confidence by constantly saying he’s super-confident in his shooting in big moments but yet, he almost always misses. The only time he does hit big shots are when just like in the Jazz game, in which the play breaks down and he’s forced to just throw up the ball because of the game clock winding down.

    On another note, Dragic with 26 points and 11 assists tonight to lead his team to a W over the Lakers. So Blanks, I guess Dragic must be a saint because you stated that he’s a better person than basketball player! Instead of going to China to go for your Chris Rock look-a-like, why don’t you do your job and make sure you bring Dragic back next season? But, when you have an owner only willing to hire the cheapest, it’s no surprise you get stooges like Blanks who subsequently make hideous trades such as the Dragic and a 1st round pick for nothing.

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    If you’re saying Blanks is not the best evaluator of talent, I would have to agree. He seems atrocious to me. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, if he’s solely responsible for the roster changes, he ought to be in the hot seat, and perhaps ready to get ejected.

    As for the Denver game, too much of the time the Suns looked like the Keystone Kops. Gortat, in particular, had several bad plays. Not sure what the reason was for that, but maybe Lopez should have played more minutes, or … maybe Gortat and Lopez should have played together.

  • Cam

    26 and 11 line for Dragic tonight against the Lakers. Tony already pointed that out though. Steve Nash scenario all over again? Send him out and then bring him back! I can always hope. It isn’t going to be cheap though! Go Suns.

  • John

    When I heard that the Rockets won, I knew before I even checked the box score that Dragic had to have been huge for them. I remember watching the ticker to see if the Suns made a move at the trade deadline that year and when I saw Dragic for Brooks, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. That one move was not only the difference maker to us more than likely not making the playoffs this year, it also caused our future to take a huge hit.

    It was almost as painful to watch the last few minutes of this game. I don’t know how the Suns can have such beautiful ball movement one game and have their offense flow perfectly to the point of finding a wide open shooter or better yet, a man at the basket to that choking, train wreck of a finish last night of just dumb basketball. It was a tough one to swallow and Dragic’s night just threw salt in the wound. I predict a huge game from him in the last matchup between these two teams.

  • Brian C

    First of all, PLEASE STOP WITH THE WHINING about bringing back players we don’t have…right now we need to win with the players on the current roster, PERIOD! Next, I gotta say I NEVER EVER gave up on this team from the beginning of the season and always believed they would make a playoff run. With Steve Nash leading the charge, I knew he and G-Hill would use their leadership to gain good chemistry and keep the team focused. I’m more disappointed than surprised that they aren’t in the top 8. However, we gotta live with the fact that players like Shannon Brown and his selfish play at times is killing this team of chances…Frye I thought would be the leading scorer on this team after the year he had last year but he still is playing weak…and of course Gortat is still learning and has lacked focus and was raising everyone’s expectations when he really isn’t that great of a player yet…Not to blame them for everything but I hope Coach Gentry puts the best players out there at the end of the game and throughout the game to help this team win! G-Hill needs to get well soon and now that the bench has FINALLY gotten their act together (M-Redd, who I knew with more playing time would play well) it should be a wild ride to the finish. Be patient SUNS FANS and whatever happens will happen. I think Stevie Nash understands he needs to be the aggressor at end of games and players just need to step their game up around him…LET’S GO SUNS and SURPRISE SOME FOLKS WHO DIDN’T BELIEVE IN THIS TEAM!!!!!!~

  • stu O.

    Well lookee over here…Baseball…

  • Cam

    Why is Brian C. yelling? I was just make an observation between how eerily similar the Steve Nash departure and return to the Suns would be if Dragic returned as a FA this next offseason. In Nash’s return the Suns had sent him off, he had raised his game up a level, and the Suns gave him the money they needed to get him back, valuing him more than anyone else. It’s safe to say that that could happen again, especially if Nash doesn’t get more than the reported two year deal the Suns have on the table and he bolts for greener pastures. I’m really just not commenting on the game. Ecause I have nothing good to say. And like your mother said, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all! Go Suns!

  • Scott

    Frye’s performance has dropped in conjunction with being moved to a different role / position. His best performance for the Suns has been as 2nd unit center and reliable plug-in at PF/C in case of foul trouble or injury. Maybe things would be different if there was a go-to guy on the team, freeing Frye up for better shots, but I don’t think playing as starting PF allows him to shine as much as playing backup C.

    Shannon Brown was a selection made by talent evaluator Lance Blanks. I don’t have a problem with Brown being added to fill out the roster for a year, and I do think he’s doing everything he can to help the Suns be successful. I don’t blame him for the Suns’ bad year, and there’s been times where the Suns have been lucky to have him. However, he’s not ready to give consistent, high level performance, and the same situation extends to Telfair.

    I would like to see the Suns make the playoffs. I believe they have had the ability to do it, but things have not always gone their way. There’s been a lot of turnovers this year, a lot of scoring droughts, team identity issues, roster problems, and so on. Whether or not they get to the playoffs depends a bit on luck. As luck is not a dependable thing, I would not be surprised if the Suns fall just a game or so short of the playoffs this year.

    As for “bringing back” players, we all know Nash won his two MVP awards only after being brought back to Phoenix, and Jason Kidd won his championship only after being brought back to the Mavs. Maybe Dragic will be brought back and have greater success, and maybe not. It’s a valid point of discussion.

  • jules

    all these

    “gortat is supposed to be the future star legitimate center he just lives off of nash he’s soft he doesn’t dunk like he’s suppoesd to and why alvin gentry can’t see how bad gortat is”

    is funny

    when they got VC pietrus and gortat

    as bad as he may seem to be (yes, he’s no duncan,shaq or even an ilgauskas)

    nobody knew that he’ll be this good

    and when was he the designated “STAR”?

    he never talked like he’s THE GUY

    i don’t follow tweets and interviews as much as you guys do but

    i dont remember his teammates or gentry or even the suns franchise talking about or giving hints about gortat being the star

    RoLo is okay but…come on

  • grover

    Have any of you been to a game at Denver’s arena? Curious… It seems of all the road games the Suns play, that’s the one location where the officiating seems to most consistently go agains the Suns in the form of no-calls on very physical play. I only watch the occasional Denver home game on TNT or ESPN against anyone other than the Suns so I don’t have many observations behind me, but it seems to apply to other visiting teams as well – not just the Suns. It must have a pretty rabid fan base to create that much of a home team advantage in officiating.

    Don’t get me wrong – that’s not why the Suns lost last night, though there was a lot of body contract on Suns shots in the last few minutes that might normally have garnered a whistle. Clearly this one was all on the Suns and their failure to execute offensively or defensively in the last five minutes.

    As big as that loss was, it wouldn’t have been as important had the Suns not choked against NJ and Cleveland at home a couple months ago. If the Suns barely miss the playoffs, those two games will still stand out to me as the biggest reasons. Losing on the road to a playoff bound team doesn’t comps to losing at home to a couple of the worst teams in the league.

  • Nick

    I genuinely, genuinely do not understand how or why channing frye continues to get the minutes he does. He is truly a garbage player and it’s shocking that gentry continues to ignore it. Did you see the one footed fade away jumper in crunch time when we desperately needed a good look last night?? This is the stuff he does every night. Just look at his stupid facial expressions when ANYTHING doesent go his way. He must be a terrible teammate to play with, he can’t contain his glee when he does something good and can’t help but blame others when something goes wrong. There is a bunch of things wrong with the suns but make no mistake, Channing frye is the worst starter in the western conference. And your team can never be better than the worst player on the floor. Worst thing of all for me I am a diehard Zona alum, he makes me sick.

  • GoSuns

    @nick I totally disagree with you about frye, his shot has been off all season and thats his bread and butter but he has step up play in other areas such as rebounding and defense and @scott I also disagree that he shines more at the 2nd unit role c, how do you explain last season when he was excelling at starting pf, and you dont have the most effective starting five unit in the league by having the worse starter in a conf

  • Scott

    @GoSuns -

    I’ll admit my recollection of Frye’s performances over the last few seasons is becoming jumbled. However, what I recall is that Frye came to the Suns with very few expectations on him, and emerged in pre-season as a surprisingly accurate 3 pt shooter. He played mostly as backup center with Dragic, Barbosa, Dudley, and Amundson, helping that crew develop a devastating perimeter shooting offense that changed games.

    At later points he also excelled as starting center, though playing the extra minutes and heavy defense ate into his offensive energy.

    I don’t think he played at PF till the trade last season that netted Gortat. After that, my impression is that his scoring – which was always erratic – began to wane, and Gortat’s rose, as it was determined that in the pick and roll Gortat’s scoring was more consistent, and Frye was rarely open.

    I think Frye was able to score better at center than at PF because PFs are more likely to defend out to the perimeter than centers are (esp. the corner, where Frye often is now), while centers are generally slower and reluctant to leave the paint. Also, Frye would have even more of an advantage against 2nd unit centers, because they’re typically inexperienced, relatively unathletic, or just not very good. Furthermore, on that bench unit, Frye was one of 4 3 pt shooters, so either Frye was guarded at the perimeter with a mismatched (smaller) player, or if the center came out to the perimeter to guard him, Dragic or Barbosa would dash in to the hoop.

    The move to PF, and the difficulty with producing shots at that position, is a reason why Frye has been working on driving and dunking, which he really was not called upon to do while at center.

  • Scott

    @GoSuns -

    Let me also add that Frye used to play PF in Portland, also, and while in that role was considered a no-impact player and not worth re-signing. That’s how he came to the Suns.

  • PennyAnd1

    Gortat you sorry SOB catch the f*ckin’ ball. (That guy pisses me off!)

    Nash can’t do much with the players he the pressure around him is too much for him to take over. Dudley & Frye needs to be consistent in scoring. As for Brown, the guy really made stupid plays as of late. This is why we need Hill back.

    @Brian C
    Can’t help but whine about having Dragic back. The dude was supposed to be the Suns’ future. And I agree…Dragic wants back in Phoenix, I say why not and try get him back..Nash’s days are numbered, and Dragic don’t mind backing up Nash as long as it is in Phoenix. He loves the Suns system.

  • Tim from British Columbia

    I agree with those who lament the loss of Goran Dragic. I am happy for him everytime I see him have a great game and love to watch his highlights but on the other hand I am sad for the Suns who lost him (am I whining too much about losing him?!) If the Suns don’t make the playoffs (although I sure hope they do) I will cheer for the Rockets because Dragic is one of my favourite players (and like other players on the team and way they play so hard) and I will also cheer for the Pacers because of Lou and Leandro. Both of these teams and Grizzlies may surprise a few people this year. In the meanwhile though, Go Suns and BEAT LA!!!

  • Tim from British Columbia

    The Dragon and Steve Nash together again…yes! (and he has proven he can be a starter when Steve retires)

  • Nick

    @GoSuns, “his shot has been off ALL season”, exactly. And it was only “on” one year out of the seven he’s been in the league netting him way, way too much scrill. There is no other team in the West he would start for not even the Hornets. If we’re going to make the playoffs the dude needs to get a serious clue, I really hope that happens!