Right now most of you out there you’re probably trying to figure out why the Suns lost. I know this because you have become so spoiled with all these 60-win seasons that any time they lose, or even if they don’t win in the style to which you have become accustomed, you are baffled and fretful.
Despite Nash’s efforts on Wednesday, the Suns couldn’t overcome Yao Ming’s Rockets. (NBAE Photos)
But the fact of this matter is that figuring out why the Suns lost this one is your basic slam dunk. What’s really baffling is how they actually had a chance to win.
The Suns, who hang their hats on their offense (and usually lose their shirts when it’s not there), went some seven minutes without a field goal in the third period and shot 27 percent in the fourth period., Two of their top guns, Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell, were a combined 5 for 19, and Coach Mike’s Gang that normally shoots better than anybody else in the league, hit a dismal 42 per cent as a team..
Yet with 51 seconds to go the Suns were down two!
So how come?
Well, the short answer would be Steve Nash, who scored 11 of his 29 points and four of his team’s six field goals in the fourth period. A slightly longer answer would include an uncharacteristically stout defense led by Shawn Marion (5 steals, 4 blocks) and Amare’s 25 didn’t hurt (although he did struggle a bit from the field.
As for why the Suns ultimately did lose the tall answer would have to be Yao Ming. The 7-6 Rocket center scored 31 points, including 10 in the fourth period. Yao, who has to be the best free throwing 7-6 Chinese Center in NBA history, hit all seven of his tries from the line, and his feather-soft little hook shot at 1:08 gave the Rockets an urgently needed bit of breathing room at 96-92. If the guy plays this well all the time he’s liable to carry the USA as well as China in the All Star Game balloting.
Yao is not always this tough against the Suns, usually because they set a pace that he finds hard to keep up with. Not that this is a knock against him. After all, many much shorter Americans have the same problem.
But this game was played not on Phoenix Faster Than Daylight Time but on Yao Standard Time. And in fact, Yao actually managed to actually beat Amare down the court a few times.
To put some numbers to this revoltin’ development, when the teams met in Houston earlier this month the Suns had 31 fast break points and shot 63 percent from the field while cruising to a convincing victory. Last night they had 10 fast break points.
“We’re just not in sync”, sighed Coach Mike, not for the first time this year. “But,” he added, also not for the first time, “we will be.”
One thing that will “unclog the sync” faster than Liquid Plummer is getting Barbosa healthy. I haven’t heard him complain much, but my suspicion is he’s been bothered by an ankle problem for the last several games. And I think it has affected both his shot (2-for-11) and his explosive finishing drive to the hoop.
It should also be noted Bell’s back isn’t 100 percent and, as good as his numbers are, Amare still hasn’t worked his way all the way back into top game shape.
I offer these caveats neither as excuses nor to detract from Houston’s victory, but merely to point out they are solid reason for believing Coach Mike isn’t just whistling past the graveyard when he offers assurances the team will hit its stride.
The bottom line: At least the Suns are not making the always fatal in the NBA mistake of peaking too soon.