PHOENIX — For a quarter Wednesday night the Suns looked like the Phoenix Suns of old, running off makes, running off misses, knocking down open threes and overall demoralizing a tired opponent that played the night before while running up a 23-point lead.
But Derrick Rose and the Bulls steadily chipped away at the deficit and ultimately revealed why this isn’t your big brother’s Suns. Like the Arizona Diamondbacks, this team has no closer.
And thus a Bulls team that never led in regulation departed US Airways Center with a 123-115 double overtime victory after the Suns blew their fourth-biggest lead in franchise history.
“It’s tough, but that’s the NBA,” Hakim Warrick said. “No team no matter what, no matter how big the lead, you can’t get comfortable. Guys are too good, teams too good, and I think we got a little bit too comfortable. Every play down the stretch that they needed to make they made.”
With Rose scoring at will and Joakim Noah cleaning the boards the Bulls did exactly that, while the Suns stagnated.
Phoenix led 99-94 after a Channing Frye jumper with 2:29 left and then scored only two points the rest of regulation on a bailed out foul drawn by Steve Nash at the end of the shot clock.
In that time the Suns recorded a shot clock violation, a long Hedo Turkoglu miss at the end of the clock, a Nash turnover and a missed Hill jumper after Nash could not find a better shot during the final possession. Those plays came after Nash was unable to create off a switched big man mismatch that he usually pulverizes while the Suns tried to take advantage of a mismatch inside.
“We didn’t do a very good job of executing down the stretch, and the result is that it’s a bad home loss any way you look at it,” Gentry said.
The Suns just didn’t have that go-to guy to get them a basket when they really needed one, no Nash-Amare pick-and-roll to milk for an easy two.
On the other hand the Bulls knew they could go to Rose when they needed a shot, and although he missed a few clutch ones, he did enough when it counted to ensure a victory.
While Rose often scored effortlessly in crunch time, everything seemed so difficult for Phoenix as the game bogged down and Noah prevented Nash from taking advantage of the mismatch.
In a game like this you can point to many sequences where things started to turn, all of which added up to this demoralizing defeat.
There was the final seconds of the first quarter when Nash missed one of two free throws, James Johnson drove coast to coast for a hoop and a foul and then Turkish national team center Omer Asik rebounded the miss and was fouled for two more free throws that he canned. That’s a five-point swing, and the ensuing momentum lift from the lead being at 19 instead of 24 was important for Chicago.
The Bulls then finished the first half on a 10-3 run to cut the lead to a manageable 12 points at the break, but when the Suns extended it to 18 with 4:40 left in the third they refused to step on Chicago’s neck. The Bulls answered with six super quick points, and hope was regained.
“We were doing all the things we’re supposed to,” Richardson said of a Suns team that even held a 20-11 rebounding edge at one point. “I think we just got a little too lax at the end of the second quarter. They made a run and cut it to 12, and once you give a team confidence they will continue to play hard, and that’s what they did.
“We have to have that killer instinct. When we have a team down we’ve got to bury them.”
Added Gentry, “We’re not doing the little bitty things that help you extend leads or they help you maintain leads. We had a chance to get enough separation where maybe we could have made them think about quitting, but we just kept doing silly things that kept them close enough that when they got a couple baskets they were within reach of making it a game, and that’s what they did.”
Instead of getting buried, the Bulls continued their run in the fourth by pulling off a 14-4 spurt that cut the lead to three with seven minutes left, and from there this was a new ballgame.
In overtime, Jason Richardson drilled a huge trey to put Phoenix up one with 1:04 to go, and all they needed to do was knock down free throws after Kyle Korver was called for a strange offensive foul and Rose missed a shot at the rim with 13 seconds left.
Frye hit a pair of foul shots to stretch the lead to three, but Noah tipped in a Rose miss from three to put it back to one. Next it was Richardson’s turn, and after he hit one of two when Nash was denied hard by Chicago, the Bulls only needed a two.
They pulled out a play run successfully by the Suns, which Sebastian Pruiti breaks down over at NBA Playbook. I was terrified of the Korver three for the win with the Bulls playing a back-to-back, and Noah/Rose read this perfectly. The Suns countered with the lob to J-Rich that tied the Memphis game, running the exact same play, but the Bulls snuffed it out.
The Suns continued to struggle offensively in the second overtime, hitting 18.2 percent after knocking down 30.0 percent of their shots in the first OT, and the Bulls took an early five-point lead and cruised to victory.
Gentry’s rotations in this contest were purely D’Antoni-esque. Nash played 48:38, Hill 46:36, Frye 45:47 and J-Rich 42:41. Warrick and Hedo Turkoglu played another 36 and 34 minutes, respectively, and the rest of the bench barely got loose.
Goran Dragic played for just 8:36 as Nash rested for just over two minutes in the second half and overtime excluding defensive substitutions.
“He didn’t play very good, and as a result of that I had to play Steve too many minutes,” Gentry said of Dragic, who scored a point and dished two assists. “Forty eight minutes for Steve is too damn many. Then I have another guy out there playing 46 minutes who should be playing 30, so we’ve got to get the bench back playing well again.
“We’ve got to have those guys, we’ve got to have Josh and Jared play better for us and more consistent so we don’t have to have those guys playing extended minutes. It’s not good when I have to put Steve back in the game with nine minutes to go in the quarter.”
Gentry wouldn’t say it — noting that the Bulls arrived in town in the middle of the night — but I will. Nash and the starters tired down the stretch, and there’s no excuse for that with a bench theoretically so deep and talented. On a night where running worked so well early, it’s a shame the bench didn’t get more time to do what they do best, but at the same time you can’t fault Gentry for going back to his safety blanket when the game was slipping away and he had no clue this would go into double overtime.
Nash missed a pair of open would-be dagger threes in overtime that you’ve got to think he hits if he were a little fresher.
Overall I would call this game a reverse Memphis. It was a similar circumstance but opposite with the Suns blowing a huge lead, wilting down the stretch and dropping a game in double overtime that had no business getting close.
Just like we were talking about how big of a boost a game like that can be, now we must ponder how crushing this loss was. If you can’t beat a weary East team on a long road trip that played a grueling game against the Lakers the night before, didn’t show up in the first quarter as you raced out to a huge lead and oh by the way started a shooting guard at power forward with its top two fours injured … well, then who exactly can you beat?
Everything seemed to shout “Suns victory” about this one, but the Bulls kept fighting and the Suns lacked the kind of execution that can salt away such a victory.
Gentry maintained perspective after the defeat by exclaiming, “It’s a loss, but it’s also 15 games into the season, so we can’t panic or do anything like that.”
However if the Suns don’t clean up their crunch time offensive attack, it will be time to do just that.
- Hakim Warrick was the story of the first half by exploding for 23 points on 7-for-8 shooting in 14:30 of the first half. Warrick scored 19 of Phoenix’s 26 second-quarter points, and not only hit a season high in the first half but also scored more than he did in all but one game last season. “It’s just one of those games, everything was falling for me,” Warrick said. Warrick, however, finished the game with the same 23 points through two overtimes.
- Hill scored a team-high 27 points and has now scored 20 four times this year, one less than all of last season. He also has now scored at least 17 four straight times for the first time since November 2007. … The Suns fell to 5-1 when owning a double-digit lead. … Nash dished 16 assists, but only two came in the fourth quarter or overtime. … Rose has never lost in US Airways Center.