PHOENIX – Alvin Gentry spent a minute and 40 seconds discussing why the Phoenix Suns fell to the Milwaukee Bucks despite at one point holding a 10-point lead in the second half and at one point having the game knotted up at 86 with less than four minutes to play.
A minute and 40 seconds was all the time he needed after the 98-94 home loss on Thursday.
“We got the game to the point where we should have won it,” Gentry said, as if searching for any more schematic of an answer. “You’re up 10 and you’re at home, you got to find a way to win the game. That’s been the story of our whole season, we haven’t been able to do it.”
Making plays was all it took for the Bucks to recover for the win. The broad phrase of “making plays” was all the difference in the world for a team to buck away a 24-game losing streak in Phoenix.
Monta Ellis scored 24 for the game, but he led the rally for Milwaukee with 10 of those points in the fourth quarter. Larry Sanders, who appears to dislike the Suns to a great degree, finished with 19 points 15 rebounds and no blocks – none until he swatted a shot at the rim by Marcin Gortat and then another by Luis Scola, both in the final two minutes when the Suns needed baskets dearly.
The Suns simply didn’t have it in them.
Shannon Brown led the team with 20 points, many with shots of the dunk variety. Phoenix forced 18 turnovers to score 21 points in a odd-feeling game that produced 41 combined fastbreak points. The Suns themselves had 18 turnovers leading to 21 Milwaukee points.
“But once again, 21 points off of 18 turnovers,” Gentry said, “you can’t … you put yourself in too tough a situation. We’re struggling offensively right now.
“And we’re just not play very good right now.”
And a poor start by Phoenix looked like it wouldn’t come down to the final seconds, as the two players that could be the Suns’ best – Gortat and Goran Dragic – struggled mightily. Gortat finished with seven points on 3-of-10 shooting, five rebounds and three turnovers, while Dragic’s 10 points and four assists also came with a trio of miscues.
Jermaine O’Neal was the first player off the bench after Gortat picked up two quick fouls and gave up three offensive rebounds to Sanders the Suns-killer. Sebastian Telfair was next to enter, replacing Dragic after Brandon Jennings had already scored 10 points on the Suns’ starting point guard.
Trailing 32-22 after the first, Phoenix’s bench outplayed the second unit of Milwaukee for a time, but they still couldn’t cut into the lead.
Three minutes before halftime, Markieff Morris found Brown on a three-quarter court pass for a dunk off a made Bucks basket, and Brown earned an And 1 dunk a minute later. The ensuing free throw pulled Phoenix within four, 45-41.
With foul trouble to the Suns big men, P.J. Tucker briefly saw time at the power forward slot with Scola at center – Gortat and O’Neal had three fouls apiece while Morris picked up four in the first half. Phoenix would tie it at 48 with less than two minutes to play, and it led 56-53 at halftime after some second-chance points by Scola and Tucker inside.
Phoenix burst out of the locker room with a 7-0 run, but the Bucks whittled down their deficit to tie it up at 80 with eight minutes to play.
From then on, it was a scrappy back-and-forth. Monta Ellis got hot, hitting tough fadeaway jumpers. Sanders made his key blocks.
With Milwaukee leading by five with just more than a minute left in the game, Mike Dunleavy nailed a three-pointer that extended the Bucks’ lead to 94-86, putting the game out of reach.
The Suns only shot 38 percent from the floor despite the 22 fastbreak points and the 15 second-chance points.
“They had some good shotblockers down there, got two big fellas with long arms, nice height on them,” Brown said afterward. “But you know, you’ve got to continue to battle, to play hard.”
Scola scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but he sat in the Suns locker room afterward looking stunned.
“If we had an answer, we’d have a better record,” said Jared Dudley. “It’s tough.
“With this young team, we have flaws,” he added. “Some of the flaws, we play a little bit selfish at times. We’ve got to work on that, myself included.”
The score was 89-86 Milwaukee with just less than two minutes to play.
That’s all the Milwaukee Bucks needed for Sanders’ two big blocks, plus clutch jumpers by Jennings and Dunleavy, to sink the Suns.