The Suns found themselves in the embarrassing position Wednesday night of trying to steal a home game against a 12-22 team, and almost pulled the heist off. The operative word there, of course, being “almost.”
With the Suns trailing most of the night, more often than not by double digits, Leandro Barbosa led a late charge that he climaxed with a three-pointer that pushed Phoenix into their first lead of the game with 45 seconds to go. And they were positioned to escape into overtime when the Pacers inbounded the ball with only nine tenths of a second left and the score tied.
But that was time enough for Danny Granger, who had tied it with a 20-footer at :34.9, to drill a 27-footer that sent the Suns down to their second buzzer-beating loss in their last three games at US Airways Center. The reason he got as good a look as he did was that the Suns got caught in some switches that left the night’s (and the league’s) hottest shooter open enough so that he didn’t even have to waste a precious fraction of the less than one tick left on the clock with any kind of move.
The 6-8 swing man finished with 37 points, giving him at least 35 in his last three games, 30 or more in four of his last six, and eleven games with 30 points or more on the season.
In defense of the Suns (although frankly they failed to defend themselves much), losing to the lowly Pacers is not quite as embarrassing as the 12-22 record they brought into the game suggests. The thing is the Pacers have spent much of the season straining at gnats, but they have also swallowed four camels — namely the Lakers, Celtics, Rockets, and Hawks).
It should also be duly noted that the Suns were without Shaquille O’Neal (back spasms), and suffered through a rare spell of bad shooting. Never mind not being able to hit the ocean from the pier, in the early going they couldn’t even hit the PIER from the pier, missing 10 of their first 11 shots, and hitting only 27 percent from the field in the first period.
And without wishing to take anything away from the Pacers, and tactical and defensive shortcomings to the contrary notwithstanding, the plain and simply fact is the Suns lost because they missed a lot of shots they usually make — including two in last 30 seconds.
And the only reason the Suns were even in a position to steal the game late was that Louis Amundson delivered a Shaq-like effort early, both on the boards (14) and at the free throw line (1-7). He didn’t even play in the fourth period, but had the Suns won he was going to get this department’s coveted game ball for keeping his team and the fans in the game in the first half. Nine of his boards were at the offensive end, many of them on sheer energy and grit, and had the crowd chanting “Lou” when he went to the bench.
While a rare shooting slump was a root cause of the loss, all too-typical failure to take care of the basketball (25 Pacers points came off 19 Phoenix turnovers), and glaring defensive mistakes certainly had to be indicted as coconspirators. Given the way they handle the ball and defend, these guys are going to have to shoot 50, 55, or even 60 percent to even stay in games. Fortunately, they are able to do that most nights
The bottom line: The two buzzer-beating losses reminds me of the legendary Feets Brody, the late timekeeper for the Knicks. When Feets was in his prime, no visiting team in the Garden ever got off a shot with .9 of a second left. Hey, I’m just sayin.