The Phoenix Suns were unable to contain the resurgent fourth quarter of the San Antonio Spurs, giving Lindsey Hunter his first loss as the Suns’ new head coach.
The Spurs’ Tony Parker ended the game with 31 points, while his teammate, Manu Ginobili, finished with 20 points. Conversely, the Suns’ Michael Beasley closed the game with 25 points and Jared Dudley finished with 23 points.
“He is unbelievable,” Ginobili said. “I cannot say he became a fourth-quarter finisher this year because of how he played last year, especially in the first two months. But he is in that point of his career where he is so confident. He is doing so good that he can relax a little bit in the first half then when we need him, he starts making those jumpers and takes over.”
Saturday night’s game at San Antonio might have been arguably Hunter’s toughest test as the Suns’ new head coach. Why? The Spurs average 26.4 points in the fourth quarter alone, which leads the entire NBA. On the other hand, the Suns have been notoriously known for their struggles in the last 12 minutes of games.
Nonetheless, with high-octane offenses and sparse defenses, the first half looked remarkably similar to the Suns vs. Spurs rivalries of the recent past. Despite the Spurs’ 58-56 halftime lead, the scoreboard was constantly shifting back-and-forth. That’s unsurprising when nearly every measurable statistic was nearly identical.
The Suns as a team shot 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from the 3-point line and 73 percent from the foul line. The Spurs likewise shot 54 percent from the field, 46 percent from the 3-point line and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Both teams committed just four turnovers and neither recorded a single block. Like looking in a mirror, huh? The Suns’ 18 assists to the Spurs’ nine was the only contrary stat by the end of the first half.
The third quarter was no different. What might have been the biggest game changer was the ejection of Shannon Brown in the closing minutes of the quarter. Brown was given a flagrant-two foul after hitting the head of Ginobili during a layup attempt.
“I saw a clear path and I thought I was going to go to lay it up and then I felt that hit in the head and I did not know what happened,” Ginobili said. “I knew it was a flagrant foul, but I did not see what the player was doing.”
Unfortunately for the Suns, their narrow 82-81 lead was not sufficient enough to carry them past the Spurs entering the fourth quarter. But looking at the details, the final outcome might not be all that perplexing.
Under Hunter, the Suns have aggregated two impressive wins in a row. However, an argument could be made that this coaching change has yet to be justified in spite of Hunter’s now 2-1 record.
The Suns’ first win came at the hands of a struggling Sacramento Kings organization that is facing a number of distractions including their pending relocation to Seattle. In the Suns’ second victory against the Los Angeles Clippers, the team did not have to account for the Clippers’ floor general and leader in Chris Paul.
Consider the facts. The Spurs have a veteran roster as well as the second-best record in the NBA, trailing only behind the Oklahoma City Thunder (34-10). Also, do not forget the Spurs have won 15 straight home games prior to this match. Nevertheless, after coupling the absences of the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich (illness) and Tim Duncan (knee) with the sudden hot streak of the Suns, there was certainly a compelling level of intrigue entering this game. Although in this case, the Suns were simply outplayed down the stretch against a superior team. Regardless, Hunter expressed both pride and positivity toward his team, according to the Suns’ Twitter feed.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys right now,” Hunter said. “They are growing day by day.”
The question now is how will the Suns under Hunter respond against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday?