A 4th quarter the Suns almost didn't lose

Do you believe in moral victories?

Most players would say no.

Shaq was pissed after losing to the Blazers and let it be known. He was so angry after losing to the Spurs he left the building without talking to the media. When Shaq is too mad to talk to the press then you know he's mad.

Even rookie Russell Westbrook after almost beating the Pistons in Detroit responded with a definitive "No" when asked the question by Twittering Matt from AOL Fanhouse.

If a rookie on a 3-27 team can't take some solace in an almost win then there's no reason Suns players, coaches, owners, managers or fans should either.

Hell, even Tim a Spurs blogger has pity on us and thinks we should be mad:

If I were a Phoenix fan, however, I'd be angry, but not at the Spurs. That's too easy. At some point, Phoenix fans just have to call their team out for not having the gall/guile/moxie/dial-a-cliche--balls?--to put the Spurs down. Let's move beyond the tired whiz-bang machinery of excuse-making. It's time. Bruce Bowen has left the building.

Maybe it's too much holiday cheer. Maybe the Bright Side is in my eyes. Maybe I am just a contrarian but I do take a moral victory on this one. Here's why.

The Suns have changed and change comes at a price

The outcome might feel all to familiar but the players have changed. Literally. At least on one side of the ball they have. This is not the same Suns team that's repeatedly been whipped by the Spurs.

There only three players left from the Suns team of two years ago. The coach is gone. The players have changed. And most notably the guy that blew the final assignment has been a Sun for all of five games now. 

It's not as if the Suns have practiced insanity by trying the same thing over and over hoping for a different result. No. The Suns are trying different things and getting the same result which should tell you a few things:

1) It isn't all about us. Yes fans it's true. The other team does on occasion deserve some credit and the Spurs as much as we love to hate them know how to win big games. They have a coach that understands what a critical possession means and a team that's been playing for him for a long long time.

2) The mistake that cost this game was obvious. Does Jason Richardson make it again? Not bloody likely and more importantly young Coach Porter isn't going to allow either. This isn't Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni who got burned by Bowen's three on a very similar play a few years ago.

3)  The Spurs really are just evil.

Steve Kerr has made a lot of changes to this team most of which were welcomed by the fans. There are lots more proposed on these digital pages every day but change comes at a price. You take a team that's played together for years against a group of guys with a key player that's brand new and guess what might happen...

Just how good are they anyway?

After giving Pop and the Spurs credit for either great coaching or a well sold soul let's not forget a few crucial plays that didn't go their way:

  • With a 1:01 left in a tight game Tony Parker loses his cool after not getting a call (that he didn't deserve) and earned a technical which tied the game. What would we be saying if that had been Amare?
  • Parker hit a jump shot with 3:47 left in the game to bring the score to 88-84. The Spurs didn't score again until Mason's buzzer beater. That's 3:46.5 minutes of scoreless play to close a tight game.
  • With 3:07 Richardson hit a wide open 3. Why was he so open? Because Duncan and Parker trapped Nash on a high pick and roll leaving Amare wide open with a clear lane in front of him. Ginobili rotated over but was late leaving Amare the easy pass to JRich for the open shot. Manu got his ass chewed on the sideline for that one.
  • Finally with 4 seconds left on shot clock (7.7 in the game) the Suns executed the same play they used in exactly the same situation just two weeks before. This time it worked even better because unlike the Magic, the Spurs didn't even rotate over from the weak side and force Hill to make a harder reverse layup. They just watched him sail right in. That's some clutch defense and coaching right there.

So yes, JRich blew it. He should have stayed home on Mason and let Parker throw up a circus shot to at best tie the game. But he's not the only one that made critical mistakes late in a big game.

Besides, the Suns D all night was geared towards denying the lane and forcing outside shots. If he had stripped the ball he's a hero. If he doesn't rotate and Parker manages to beat Hill for the and 1 he's a goat. If Mason misses he's not even mentioned.

Other Notes

  • We are quick to give Amare crap around here when his defense is poor or his rebounding effort isn't there. I think we can safely say he's turned that corner (at least for the time being).
  • Amare's defense in this game was outstanding. The Suns were switching the pick and rolls leaving Nash on Kurt Thomas or Bonner all night and Amare in isolation against Parker. Time and again Amare got down and defended the crap out of the little guy.
  • In the fourth quarter after Duncan hit a nice bank shot against him, Amare proceeded to front Duncan and get a steal and block in the next two possessions. On the block (which was clean as a whistle) Duncan was so upset he intentionally fouled Amare (nice composure there Timmy).
  • Overall the Suns defense was much improved. Aside from switching everything on the perimeter (except with Shaq) the Suns clogged the lane and denied Manu and Parker those easy lay ups and managed to keep them off the line.
  • It was the Suns offense in the fourth quarter that really sucked. 5 turnovers lead to 6 easy points and Barbosa and Barnes were miserable as they were all night. LB missed two wide open shots and Barnes had a horrible game on both ends.
  • At one point Barnes got beat off the dribble by Finely for a layup and then promptly clanked a three with no attempt to work the ball around. If the Suns bench (which is much thinner these days without Diaw) is only going to score two points all night AND let Michael Finely beat you off the dribble....well that's not going to get it done.
  • Two of those turnovers by the way go to Nash and both lead to points.
  • After Duncan got his 5th foul the Suns were smart to go right at him. Amare's first attempt was forced and poor. The second was well defended by Kurt Thomas from the weak side. The third went in an out and he was CLEARLY fouled.
  • Some say you can't give Amare the ball in those circumstances but I totally disagree. Nash wasn't playing well and the Spurs defend him too good anyway. Amare had made a couple of great shots already that quarter and it's just smart basketball to go at the guy with 5 fouls. The Spurs did it against Shaq last year (and it didn't work for them either btw)
  • In the end, Amare did make the go ahead play on the offensive end. Porter put the ball in his hands and he delivered the right pass. Again.

Moron Meter

As promised before the game, this one was going to earn Steve some points either way. You have to start with two Moron Points just for losing to the Spurs (again) in a big game and for JRich blowing the assignment. He's also getting a Genius Point though for Shaq and how awesome he was (even from the free throw line). So that's a net 1 Moron Point for those keeping score at home.

Moral Victories

I am glad the Suns are pissed and aren't satisfied with the outcome. This was a very winnable game and they should be mad. If this wasn't only 5 games into Suns v3.0-2008 I would be really mad myself.

As it is, this game came down to the wire. The Suns executed just as well as the Spurs if not better and if not for one shot we would be singing a much different tune. I wasn't thrilled with the close win over the Magic and I am not going to get down over this one.

There's plenty of time left in the season for the Suns to reach some kind of stride and go into the playoff's with everything clicking.

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