(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Charles Barkley had it right about the Spurs.

During the playoffs last year The Big Larynx said they were “like cockroaches.” And he meant it in a nice way, as in “You can’t kill ‘em.” And the Suns will certainly sigh a heartfelt “Amen” to that

Again!!!

The Suns trampled the Spurs early, hammered them to death on the boards all night, and appeared to have slipped them a lethal dose of poison when they freed up Grant Hill for a lay up on a perfectly executed two-point play out of a timeout to take a 90-88 lead with 4.3 seconds left—   only to have the Spurs run a perfectly executed three-point play to free up Roger Mason for a 22-foot jumper at the buzzer.

Ironically, although the Suns played some ferocious defense most of the night, it was a breakdown by Jason Richardson that left Mason unguarded in the corner, a forgivable lapse in view Richardson is still learning the Porter system.

Coach Terry summed up the 91-90 loss in a nutshell. Two nutshells actually.

Nutshell Number One – “To play as well as we did and still lose has to hurt.”

And Number Two — “If we play like this the rest of the year we’ll be fine.”

I’m definitely with him!

I’m not into moral victories any more than you are, but, given all the question marks that have hovered over the Suns most of the season, this has to be one of the most encouraging losses they’ve suffered in a long time.

They defended, they rebounded, they executed, they played with poise against a great team that’s been buried more times in November and December in recent seasons than Count Dracula, but rises from the “grave” every Spring – and they got great efforts from Amar’e Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal, aka Mr. Inside and Mr. Even Further Inside.

In other words, what that they delivered was playoff-worthy basketball, which, it will be recalled, has been the re-tooling mantra since they were bounced from post-season by the Spurs last year.

Amar’e had 25 points and 13 boards, and Shaq weight in with 23 and 12, and between them they blocked six shots while pretty much ruling the paint. Shaq also delivered a bit of revenge against the much derided hack-a-shack defense when he converted five straight free throws, much to the delight of the sellout crowd.

Bottom Line Number One — Regardless of who you were rooting for, this was great holiday entertainment. It had star power, suspense, tension, intriguing subplots, heroes, villains (see Ginobili, Mano) and a nail-biting last act.

Bottom Line Number Two — You don’t want to put too much emphasis on any NBA game in December, especially a day game, but for me this one is convincing evidence the Suns are moving in the right direction. Maybe not at warp speed yet, but steady as she goes.