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Locker Room Report: Dragic, players talk about how they lost another winnable game

Late-game turnovers and bad execution cost the Phoenix Suns a winnable game over the Memphis Grizzlies, who have now won seven straight games over the Suns.

What a frustrating loss. The Phoenix Suns had a 7-point lead with 1:35 remaining after a thrilling comeback from 10 points down earlier in the quarter. Yet, they allowed an 8-0 run to lose the their 7th consecutive game to the Memphis Grizzlies, 102-101.

Jeff Green's rebound and jumper

To top off the comeback, Jeff Green soared for an offensive rebound and got himself fouled on the put back runner in the lane.

"I don't think it was a foul," Eric Bledsoe said afterward.

Bledsoe was right. Check the video at the top of this post. But Green got the foul anyway, and gave the Grizzlies the win.

The comeback

The Suns had a 27-12 run in the middle of the fourth quarter in a thrilling comeback from a double-digit deficit. Marcus Morris and Isaiah Thomas, along with the two other Trips Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic led the Suns to what looked like a sure-fire win with a 101-94 lead with 95 seconds left, capped by a big three pointer by Isaiah Thomas.

Isaiah Thomas had all 24 of his points in the second half, including 16 in the fourth quarter during that huge comeback.

"Be aggressive," he said of the second turnaround after a bad first half. "I mean I only played five minutes in the first half, so I just wanted to come out and try to make plays, take what the defense gives me, and be highly aggressive."

"The pace was pretty slow again," Hornacek said of the second half before the comeback. "And we needed some life and energy and that group got us going there, got us back in the game, got us the lead. But then, like anything else, at the end they probably didn't help us with the size. But they did great really attacking once we went to that small group."

The final 95 seconds

But the game was lost in the final 90 seconds before and after that pivotal Green score. It was lost of turnovers and putting the Grizzlies to the line too often. The Grizzlies outscored the Suns 27-11 from the line on the night.

"We're happy we're getting out of here with a win," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said after the game. "When probably it should have gone the other way. The ball bounces our way at the end of the game so we're fortunate for that but when we were down late, 7 or 8, we executed finally and we got what we wanted: we got the foul line, we got the ball inside, made some cuts and then obviously Jeff [Green] came up with the big play."

But Bledsoe took the blame for the loss. He put up 21 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals but had two crucial turnovers in the final 90 seconds, allowed the offensive rebound to Green and fouled him on the attempt. Green's subsequent free throw was the difference in the game.

"It was my fault," he said in the locker room. "I made two critical plays at the end that can't happen. Two turnovers, one to Isaiah and the other one I made and they came down and got two easy looks at the basket."

Hornacek pointed to the turnovers (Isaiah Thomas also made a real bad turnover): "We got back in the game with the little guys and we were out hustling them to rebounds. Then all of a sudden, they got a couple of them. We had some turnovers again at the end of the game that hurt us. We had two turnovers there that gave them the ball back. So those are big; you can't have turnovers in the last few minutes of the game."

Memphis coach Joerger doesn't know how to lose to the Suns, and the Suns don't know how to beat a Joerger-coached team. Both Hornacek and Joerger are in their second seasons as NBA coaches, but Joerger enjoys the higher talent level and greater NBA experience in All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

He was complimentary, in a big brother kind of way (that he likely didn't mean, but it came out that way anyway).

"It was a tough deal," he said of the win. "They're really hard to guard. We've been playing really well defensively lately and they just broke us down and got us in the paint and shot layups. They're really, really hard to guard. He (Hornacek) does a great job with them, he's brought a lot of excitement here. They're very competitive."

If that quote sounds like a pat on the head or the rump as you're shushed off to bed, it is. But it should be. He is 7-0 against the Suns in the last 18 months.

The Suns players were despondent.

"We had a couple shots that we usually make didn't go in ," Isaiah Thomas said. "And then they went to what they're good at. They went inside, we had a turnover where they scored...Jeff Green had a questionable call, but stuff happens. It's just tough, I'll tell you that. We thought we had that game."

"It's real tough to know that we're right there," Eric Bledsoe said. " And we keep losing off of crazy plays, but we just got to keep fighting."

The final play

Coach Hornacek was maligned in the post game thread for the Suns poor execution, especially on that final play that ended up looking discombobulated before getting blocked.

Watch the play here, and feel free to liberally hit the pause button every half second. It's amazing how this play evolved.

The Suns inbounded the ball to Eric Bledsoe in the corner with Markieff Morris on the wing and Isaiah Thomas spreading the floor on the three-point line after inbounding. Marc Gasol was guarding the inbounder, then decided to guard the entire half of the floor.

Morris had a cake walk to the rim if he'd just gone immediately, but he didn't. The play was all set up. Bledsoe with a bounce pass to Keef for the layup with time expiring... but alas, Keef didn't cut and within two seconds Gasol had dropped himself into the paint to defend the drive. But there were still open jump shots to take, with only one defender (Tony Allen) guarding Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Morris.

Jeff Hornacek: "Well we ran our normal play and we were going to have Isaiah (Thomas) sliced off there and try to get it right to Markieff (Morris) and let him go. But he had Jeff Green on his back, so it took a little extra time to get the pass. It looked like he may have been able to cut right there and might've gone right to the basket, but then (Marc) Gasol did a good job of knowing that. These guys are veteran guys; they know how much time is left on the clock and he left right at the right time to challenge Markieff's shot and got a piece of it."

Markieff Morris: "I was just following the play we ran. I thought I should've cut back door but you know that's what happened."

Eric Bledsoe: "I was looking to Isaiah, but the play was going to Keef. So we just made a little miscommunication because Keef didn't see Isaiah behind him so he caught the ball and they just made a great play."

Memphis center Marc Gasol: "I had the in-bounder (Thomas) and they threw it in the corner (to Bledsoe). It looked like they were going to run a flair out of that but I felt that Tony [Allen] had that covered and if that ball had got to him I think he would have got there. But the ball got to Morris and I had a chance to try to block it and I got my hand on it."

Bledsoe likely saw that Keef didn't take the first option (dive to the rim), and went to the second option to get the ball to the open Isaiah Thomas. If he'd gotten the pass, Thomas could have taken the shot or, if Allen had gotten there to contest, pump faked to get open or swung it to Marcus Morris who would have been wide open.

The play design had multiple good options on it.

  • immediate dive into the paint by Keef for a layup if Green fronted him
  • screen by Keef for the flair to the uncovered Thomas, if Gasol flashed to the paint
  • Thomas open shot, or Marcus open shot

Any of these could have happened, but didn't. Gasol first stopped the quick pass on the perimeter, then flashed to the paint to deter the Morris dive to the rim, then flashed back out to contest Keef's jumper. At no time was Gasol assigned to Keef, yet he defended Keef very well.

That's why Marc Gasol is always in the running for defensive player of the year.

End of game.

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