This is the type of loss expected from a team expected to win 20 games, if lucky.
It wasn’t necessarily a blown 21-point first-quarter lead that said a lot about how much the Phoenix Suns missed Goran Dragic in a 112-108 loss on Friday, or how far Eric Bledsoe is from being a true floor general.
The list of incomprehensible mistakes the Suns made in the second half at the AT&T Center said more.
Danny Green, who finished with 33 points, was left wide open beyond the arc with two minutes left after he’d already scored 30 and hit six threes, and the shot gave San Antonio a 106-100 lead. Gerald Green left Kawhi Leonard to nab an offensive rebound on the very next play. And with 32 seconds left, Eric Bledsoe pushed the ball on the break and got to the rim, but then decided to fling the ball to Channing Frye for a three-point attempt instead.
It didn’t drop, but the Suns did in the Western Conference standings as the Memphis Grizzlies cruised past the Philadelphia 76ers.
Bledsoe finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but his seven turnovers came on casual and difficult dishes that the Spurs picked off — Phoenix committed 20 turnovers leading to 26 San Antonio points. Bledsoe’s command of the team wasn’t there as the Morris twins and Green got caught flinging long jumpers early in the shot clock, as if hero ball has ever saved the Suns.
It didn’t always look so painfully bleak for Jeff Hornacek’s team.
Like lackluster win at New Orleans didn’t happen, the Suns came out of the gates rolling like they had at Portland and against Oklahoma City, and they did so with Dragic sidelined with a sprained ankle.
The Suns shot better than 58 percent from the floor in the first half, at which point Bledsoe already had his season averages covered. He scored 19 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the first half, mostly against a far-from-limber Tony Parker, who played through a back injury.
San Antonio rolled without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the second night of a back-to-back, and it went as expected. Gregg Popovich’s team saw little drop-off with players stepping up in place of the two absent veterans.
A 62-49 halftime Suns lead wasn’t enough to feel comfortable and soon enough they started getting back on their heels. The Suns had kept pace behind what amounted to Bledsoe’s big day, Gerald Green’s 27 and Markieff Morris’ 20, yet late-game execution and the 37-19 Spurs advantage in the third quarter did Hornacek’s team in.A Marco Belinelli jumper with 2:40 left in the third quarter game San Antonio a 79-78 lead, and the Spurs would take a five-point advantage to the fourth quarter as the Suns floundered.
A speedy, aggressive pace in favor of Phoenix suddenly reverted back to stagnant isolation ball as Green and the Morris twins failed to get into the paint. The kicker came when the Suns finally got a transition opportunity with a more than a minute left in the third quarter, but as Ish Smith found Markieff Morris for an open dunk, the forward threw the ball off the back-iron and two put-back attempts by P.J. Tucker didn’t go.
Making the law of averages ever more true, the Suns made just four field goals in the third, wiping away the success of the first quarter.
It was another missed opportunity with Phoenix falling to ninth in the standings thanks to the tiebreaker going in favor of Memphis.
So if there’s any good to come of Friday, it’s that the Suns see a Saturday matchup against the Dallas Mavericks not only as the most important game of the season but a chance to brush the taste of a bitter loss out of their mouths.
To the big questions asked by Dave Dulberg in the game preview.
Will Goran Dragic play? And if he does, how does he get around on the ankle?
Dragic didn’t play and watched from the bench as his team coughed up a 21-point lead and failed to execute in the fourth quarter.
Can Phoenix contain the “other guys?”
While Duncan and Ginobili sat out, Danny Green led the Spurs with a career-high 33 points. And once it became clear he was the man to stop — that was obvious in the first quarter — the Suns failed to keep tabs on the swingman, who went 12-of-17 overall and 7-of-10 from three-point range.
Does the light switch go on immediately?
Uh-huh, but it flickered out in the second half. The Suns shot out to a 35-14 lead before the Spurs closed the first quarter on a 10-2 run. Phoenix was smoking with four made threes, 70 percent shooting and decent-enough defense that held San Antonio to 33 percent shooting, but despite taking the first Spurs run well, it was all washed away in the third quarter.