Suns drop close one to Hornets, 101-98

A brilliant third quarter was not enough for the Suns to make up for an awful first half, and they fell to the New Orleans Hornets, 101-98.

After trailing by 13 at the half, the Suns scored 34 points in the third quarter to tie the game at 80. But they just couldn't sustain the excellent play and scored a mere 18 points in the final quarter.

Even so, the Suns still had a chance to win it at the end, down by 1 and in possession of the ball. But Shawn Marion's drive into the lane ended with an indecisive flip to the basket which missed everything - or was it a pass? - and they fell short. The play was symbolic of Marion's relatively poor night, compared to recent performances. He finished with just 11 points after scoring only one basket in the first half.

In fact, after combining for 73 points against Utah, the Suns' "Big 3" of Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash scored a paltry (for them) 39 points in this game. Stoudemire wasn't hitting his jumper early on and promptly abandoned it. Then he never could seem to handle the muscular defense presented by the Hornets, particularly 7'1" center Tyson Chandler. Every one of STAT's 16 points seemed hard to come by. Meanwhile, Nash was just 4-of-12 from the field for 12 points and finished with 7 assists, a big drop-off from his recent streak of double-figure games.

The only good news was that the rest of the Suns were ALMOST good enough to make up the difference. Grant Hill scored 17 points (most of them in the first half), and Raja Bell hit a few threes while also contributing 17. Best of all, Leandro Barbosa found his shot again (8-for-12, including 3-for-6 from three) and finished with 19 points.

Once again, rebounding was an issue, with the Suns losing the battle 55-46, including giving up 13 offensive boards.

It's sad to say, but the Hornets backcourt of Chris Paul and Morris Peterson definitely got the better of Nash and the other Suns' guards. They each scored 21 points, and Paul finished with 10 assists, 2 steals, and just one turnover. He's definitely a star on the rise. Hornets' fans even had fun with an "MVP" chant for him late in the game.  

So now the Suns have lost 3 of 4, heading into the "big showdown" on Monday night that everybody has been waiting for. Definitely not the best type of streak you'd want to be in, going to San Antonio.

Suns' Player of the Game: Leandro Barbosa. It was great to see him being his free-flowing self again.

Hornet's Player of the Game: Chris Paul. He only shot 8-of-20, but he was always in control of the game.

Grade for the Suns: C-. The supporting cast did as much as they could, but the Suns' top 3 players simply can't afford to have an off night all at once.