The Phoenix Suns organization put together quite an evening at US Airways Center Thursday for “Satisfaction Guaranteed Night.” The in-game entertainment was lively, the concession lines were packed and the 17,517 fans in attendance (a season high) seemed to be enjoying themselves for much of the night.
The only problem was the on-court product didn’t match up to the surrounding elements, as the Suns dropped their fifth straight game in a 97-94 loss on national television to the Dallas Mavericks.
From the opening tip, it seemed as though the Suns would treat their home crowd to a pleasurable experience, one free from talk of promotions and marketing schemes. Michael Beasley found Marcin Gortat for a beautiful alley-oop dunk on the game’s opening possession, and Phoenix raced out to a 13-3 lead before you could even say “refund.”
However, the Suns went scoreless over their next eight possessions and Rick Carlisle’s veteran-laden squad had no problem getting back in the contest. Despite their red-hot start, the Suns found themselves deadlocked (23-23) with Dallas after a quarter of play.
Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal combined for 12 points and six rebounds off the pine in the second quarter, and the Suns’ bench held firm, just as it did two nights earlier in Memphis. But while Phoenix was able to pull slightly ahead of the Mavericks 44-40 at the half, a lack of production from Gortat and Beasley in the first half was only a sign of things to come.
Coming out halftime, the Mavericks created separation with a crippling 23-4 run, as the Suns failed to hit a field goal over a seven-minute span in the third quarter.
“The ball was sticking,” Markieff Morris said of the Suns’ third quarter offensive lull. “We weren’t getting as much movement as usual and they were making tough shots.”
O.J. Mayo, who visited the Suns’ facility over the summer during his free agency tour, made sure to remind Phoenix’s front office what they missed out on at shooting guard. Mayo’s two three-point shots highlighted Dallas’ game-changing spurt and from there it was same old, same old for the Suns: play from behind, make an impressive run, pull even but eventually fall short.
After missing 13 of their first 14 shots in the quarter, the Suns converted their last four attempts from the field to cut Dallas’ lead to eight after 36 minutes.
Phoenix, of course, also made things interesting in the final frame but did so without the services of Beasley.
Before Thursday’s game, Alvin Gentry suggested the coaching staff would likely “tweak” the starting lineup in the coming days. Although that could be taken a number of ways, the obvious insinuation was that Beasley would likely be the odd man out.
Beasley’s latest audition to remain a starter did little to instill any confidence in Gentry. After hitting two of his first three shots from the field, Beasley went ice cold. He kept shooting and shooting, but nothing would fall for the former No. 2 overall pick.
The small forward flung his headband into the crowd minutes into the third quarter as if to wave the white flag and his exit would follow soon after at the 7:24 mark. On the night, Beasley finished with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
In addition to Beasley’s lack of production, the Suns were dealt another blow when P.J. Tucker suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee on the final play of the third quarter.
Without a clear option at small forward, Gentry opted for a three-guard lineup of Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown down the stretch. And low and behold, it worked.
Phoenix hit its first four shots of the fourth quarter, Telfair and Brown converted on several key jump shots, Scola added six points off the pine and Markieff Morris recorded five of his 17 points as the comeback effort was in full effect.
The Mavericks also didn’t appear as though they had any interest in winning the contest (six fourth quarter turnovers), and Gentry’s plucky squad managed to crawl its way back from 16 down to tie the game at 87 with 48 seconds remaining.
When push came to shove, however, the better team looked like the better team. Mayo converted a tough 21-foot jump shot in the face of Telfair with 34 seconds to go, Goran Dragic responded with an ugly miss on a point-blank layup — the Suns’ sixth miss from inside of three feet — with 24 seconds remaining and Dallas secured the road victory with six late free throws from Darren Collison and Vince Carter.
The Mavericks snapped their three-game road losing streak, and in the process left local patrons and Suns players alike asking the same question: When will it end?
“It’s always the same story,” Goran Dragic said. “We came up short. They make a great run in third quarter. We are trailing in the fourth quarter and then we try to get back and we did. It’s just tough. You’re tired.”
When Luis Scola came to Phoenix via amnesty waivers in the offseason, he thought he was coming to a team with a lot of potential. After the Suns’ loss Thursday, he wasn’t shy about voicing his displeasure with the team’s early-season struggles.
“It’s not a sense of frustration, it’s frustration,” Scola said. “We are losing. We’ve lost five games in a row, and we’re looking bad. We’ve got to find a way to win. It’s not a sense. We’re just playing bad and are making mistakes and are losing games.
“I know there’s enough talent here. If you take out the bad part of the game [against Dallas], we played great. …We’re capable of playing well, but we’re just not capable of playing well for 48 minutes.”
As for changes, Gentry said after the game the team “will more than likely” move Beasley to the bench heading into Saturday’s road game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
While it was unclear if Beasley could sense a change was coming, he was rather reflective following yet another underwhelming performance.
“I don’t know what it is, because I come into every game optimistic about my play and my shots,” Beasley said. “It’s just not clicking for me right now. It’s not anything anyone else is doing, it’s all me.
“Of course I’m frustrated, because I visualize myself as something I am not right now. Not to say I can’t be, but as of right now I’m not playing as well I can play, as well as I know I can play and as well as the team needs me to play.”
Four of the Suns’ last six losses have come down to a play here or a play there in the waning moments. In Philadelphia, it was a missed Michael Beasley layup that did in Phoenix. In Toronto, Shannon Brown failed to convert at the basket on a little bunny. Against the Grizzlies, a lack of execution and clock management forced Jermaine O’Neal into a tough jump shot as time expired in regulation. And on Thursday night, Goran Dragic’s missed layup ultimately cost the Suns a chance to tie, which begs the question: Are they any closer to finding a late-game option?
“In this case, I think our go-to guy is going to be the guy that’s going good that night,” Alvin Gentry said. “It’s happened on other teams. I don’t say night in and night out, ‘Okay this is our guy.’ With this team, until someone rises above it all, we’ll go with this.” …
The Mavericks snapped their three-game road losing streak in large part due to their bench effort. Brandan Wright scored a season-high 16 points, Chris Kaman had his way with Gortat (three points and six rebounds) in the paint and added 15 points and seven rebounds and Darren Collison connected on 10 free throw attempts in the victory. Dallas’ bench outscored its starters 56-41. …
Thursday night’s game became a battle of attrition. In addition to Tucker’s MCL sprain, the Suns lost Jermaine O’Neal in the third quarter after he was poked in the eye. He did not return. Rick Carlisle also suffered a key blow to his lineup, as former Sun Shawn Marion (10 points and five rebounds) suffered a strained groin injury in the second half. …
Lost in another defeat for the Suns was the play of second-year forward Markieff Morris. The former No. 13 pick recorded his first double-double of the season with 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.