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Aftermath: Suns fight hard, but fall short to the Spurs

There was hope, and then there wasn’t.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As I mentioned last night, the game was secondary on the mind’s of those that reside within the NBA community. Craig Sager’s death was a shock to everyone, and Greg Popovich, longtime Sager sideline interview foil, was clearly shaken up when he addressed a scrum of media members.

“On a day like this, basketball has to take a back seat because we all think about somebody that was very unique, very special. Whether you knew Craig or not, he was a special person in a lot of different ways. Right now, I just feel for his family. To talk about him being a professional or good at what he did is a tremendous understatement. All of us who knew him, he was an understanding guy. That fact was what he was all about as far as work was concerned,” Popovich said.

“He was a way better person than he was a worker even though he was amazing. He loved people and he enjoyed pregame, during games [and] postgame; he loved all the people around him. Everybody felt that. The most amazing part of him is his courage. What he’s endured and the fight that he put up and the courage he displayed during the situation is beyond my comprehension. If any of us can display half the courage he has to stay on this planet, to live every life as if it is his last, we’d be well off.”

Coach Earl Watson also chimed on Sager’s impact before the game. (Keep in mind that Pop and Sager had an incomparable, special bond that spanned several years.)

“The loss of Craig Sager is big to basketball. The time he spent to the game and what he did to all of our lives growing up, we all grew up as fans. He’s always been the vision and dream that we had to play in the NBA, to be interviewed by him, to see his presence forever is imprinted in the minds and the lives of my generation, the generations after and before,” Watson said. “His imprint on basketball is beyond just his time here with us, and it’s a tough loss for the NBA and the game of basketball as a whole.”

As for the game, Phoenix fought hard for 75 percent of the tussle before the tank turned empty almost immediately during the fourth quarter. Watson pointed to a stiff schedule as a factor for the fatigue, but was also quick to give the Spurs credit.

“First of all, you’ve got to give the Spurs credit. They’re a veteran team, they’re successful for a reason,” Watson said. “For us, I feel like we had some calls that could have been either way, could have changed the tempo, momentum of the game. And it just looked like we hit a wall. Maybe it was the two overtime games this week, I’m not sure. But our guys fought, they gave all they could, some games end up like this.”

Jared Dudley, the usual (and rightful) spokesman following a loss, shared his thoughts on the fourth quarter struggles.

“We have a couple more hurdles to get over, but that’s the biggest hurdle, the fourth quarter,” Dudley said. “And for us, when team’s go on big runs, we lose our confidence, we lose our composure, and that happens with a young team. But overall, when a team is not getting a lot of wins, it is deflating when [the other team] goes on runs. We have to embrace that pressure in the fourth quarter. That’s when we have to pass the ball extra, instead of a good shot, a great shot, and don’t get discouraged. That is going to be tough for us, and that is something we are going to have to overcome throughout the season.”

It is a classic Dudley answer, but at the same time, there is a lot of truth in that quote. The Suns are young, still finding their way, and perhaps the most enriching part of being a fan right now will be watching the evolution of the young guns during pressure situations.

Here are the highlights for those who did not have the pleasure of tuning in: