PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns held the Washington Wizards to 15 points in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth. Closing games like that are recipes for wins but not on Wednesday night in U.S. Airways Center.
Washington trailed by seven toward the end of the first quarter but held the Suns without a field goal for the next nine minutes while going on a 23-2 run. They built an 18-point lead at one point, and that’s all the Suns needed to fall 88-79.
Effort was the issue, and the Phoenix bench unit can take the majority of fault for the loss. Interim head coach Lindsey Hunter was upset enough with some of the young players that he sat them the entire second half.
“I wasn’t happy with none of our young guys,” he said. “And it wasn’t about mistakes they made. It was about effort, it was about fight — having a sense of urgency. Unacceptable.
“That’s part of the reason they sat and watched the second half.”
During the Suns’ game-changing drought, they struggled pushing Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker off the block. Hamed Haddadi got in foul trouble, and Washington’s second unit opened the second quarter on a 17-2 run as the Suns failed to hit a field goal until Wes Johnson hit a long two-pointer with 4:24 left in the first half.
The total run spanned nine minutes and was 23-2. The bench unit took the brunt of the abuse, as Seraphin bullied his way inside for 12 first-half points in addition to backup wing Trevor Ariza scoring 14 first-half points off the bench. The duo shot a combined 11-of-14 from the floor and only scored six more points once Hunter benched the group of Kendall Marshall, Michael Beasley and the Morris twins.
The Wiz shot 60.5 percent from the floor by the end of the first half while the Suns could only find the bottom of the net on 41 percent of their shots. Phoenix ended the night shooting a lowly 33.7 percent. But to Hunter it all went back to the sleepiness of his young players.
After all, Johnson played 38 minutes through a stomach illness, Hunter said, and led Phoenix with 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting.
“It felt good,” said Johnson. “Teammates were looking for me. I was really trying to stay aggressive out there.”
Point guard Goran Dragic played nearly 42 minutes – and the entire second half – to score 18 and dish out 11 assists. He was joined, mostly, by Luis Scola, an ill Jared Dudley and P.J. Tucker in a second half that saw the Suns outscore the Wizards 34-29.
“The second half though, we got back into the game,” Hunter said. “They scored 15 in the third, 14 in the fourth – you couldn’t play better defense than that. You give up 34 in the second quarter and you’re fighting an uphill battle.
“I’m just proud of the guys who played in the second half,” he added. “Those guys gutted it out. That’s what we’re going to stand for.”
Washington started off the second half with more of the same. Martell Webster hit a three off the bat, and like Ariza had three thress on the night — this after pouring in seven triples during the meeting with Phoenix last week. But the Suns struggled mostly against Wall, who dictated the game with his timely shots off the dribble and his speed coming off pick-and-rolls.
Once, a screen and jump pass by Wall on the right side of the floor led to Webster drifting to the left corner for a wide open three, first for a make. But the Suns fell for the same trick yet again just two plays later and the Wizards swingman had another open look that rimmed out.
“I think he really tried to string us out,” said Hunter, who mostly attacked Wall with Tucker. “When a guy has that much speed, he can really get places on the floor that you don’t see every guard do. He dribbled all the way to the corner on a pick-and-roll once.”
The Suns’ shortened rotation made a push, but it wasn’t enough.
Wizards rookie Bradley Beal earned a technical foul after a goaltend. He came down awkwardly on a Shannon Brown fastbreak layup contest, and Dragic’s free throw pulled Phoenix within six with just less than 10 minutes to play. The Suns got within three points with 8:30 left in the game, but never crawled over the hump as Wall overlooked his five turnovers to make the key plays down the stretch.
“I don’t know what happened,” Dragic said. “They really scored in the low post and John Wall was creating for others, he was penetrating.”
So it’s back to practice for Phoenix, which didn’t handle the success of the big win against the Lakers on Monday well at all. Hunter said the youngsters can earn their playing time back on a day-to-day basis. He alluded to Marcus Morris’ benching a game prior as a similar reason to his six quick minutes played on Wednesday.
As with everyone else, he’ll be evaluated at practice on Thursday.
“I’m not sure what it is,” Hunter said of the difference from his players game-by-game. “We’ll provide everything they need. It’s up for them to figure out, you know, what they need to do, whether it’s extra work or whatever.”
Jermaine O’Neal injures his calf
Starting center Jermaine O’Neal strained his calf in the final seconds of the Suns’ loss. He was icing it in the locker room after the game.