The energy among the team was high all night and it eventually fed into the crowd, who hooped and hollered the Phoenix Suns through a second-half comeback from 12 points down after the second unit struggled once again to find their traction despite playing with high effort.
The fourth quarter was a seesaw affair, with each team hitting big shot after big shot.
Goran Dragic (31 points, second highest of career, 12 assists and 9 rebounds) was the player of the game for the Suns, just short of a triple double after three quarters alone. He poured in points when the Suns needed them in the fourth as the Nets tried to start flexing their muscle.
Unfortunately, the Suns had a hard time stopping Deron Williams and the Nets in the fourth quarter. The Nets scored on 5 of 6 possessions after the game was tied 87-87 to take a 99-95 lead with two minutes left.
From there, the Suns could not muster enough offense (a missed layup, a missed three and a missed stepback jumper all on the same possession) to tie it up or take the lead before it became a free throw fest.
Gerald Wallace missed one of two free throws, giving the Nets a 100-97 lead with 14 seconds left. With the Suns sporting the league's second-worst three-point shooting offense (and worst overall in recent weeks), prospects did not look good to tie it up.
In fact, they didn't even try a three. Dragic tried to draw a double-team down low for the kick-out but the Nets guarded the line well. Eventually Dragic sank a short jumper to cut the lead to one. After a quick foul, C.J. Watson made both free throws and the Suns could not get off a three-point attempt before Dragic was fouled inside the arc.
Dragic made the first and missed the second, on purpose, but Haddadi missed the lefty layup on an offensive rebound with mere seconds left.
THIS is the kind of loss that's easier to take than laying down against the Wolves, Suns fans.
Brooklyn, missing former Sun Joe Johnson tonight, came into the game with a 40-29 overall record, and a better road record (18-15) than the Suns' home record (16-19).
Apparently, these Suns seem only to be able to get up for the good teams while they don't even bother showing up against the bad ones.
This is getting to be a pattern, one that makes little sense until you consider how frustrated these guys are with how the season is going. They have been out of the playoff picture since early January, no chance to salvage the season. Their fans don't want them to win, and even the moves by the front office and coaching staff scream of evaluation for next season.
It appears the only time the players are fully engaged is when they get to prove themselves against a "good" team - one that's currently positioned to make the playoffs. Since Hunter took over (signaling the season to be effectively over), the Suns have beaten the Clippers, Lakers (twice), Grizzlies, Spurs, Hawks and Rockets.
If the Suns could put out this same effort against teams like Sacramento, Washington and Minnesota they would have a much better season record.
Wesley Johnson finished with 21 points, his high with the Suns.
Markieff Morris had 15 rebounds, his second-highest board total for the season (though he only had 5 points on 5-18 shooting).
The Nets made 28-31 free throws, just enough to top the Suns on the road.
The Phoenix Suns (23-47) have been teetering with franchise history all season, but records that a team never wants to break like the least amount of points in a game, and most losses in a season. They are safe in terms of the worst mark ever (16-66), but if they drop the game tonight to the Brooklyn Nets (40-29) they will match the seventh worst mark in franchise history.
For the Nets, they are in a position that they would have never thought imaginable three months ago with an opportunity to win the Pacific Division.
Each team is playing for something different, but something that is equally important to each.
As the Nets climb the standings the Suns are descending the same standings into the high end of the lottery. They are two different teams with different trajectories, which does not bode very well for the fate of the Suns. What interim head coach Lindsey Hunter is looking for is effort and energy from his players, something a few of them are learning the hard way.
(Recent) History Lesson
The Suns were able to keep pace with the Nets in the first half last time out, in Brooklyn, and they were even up seven at the half. A barrage of two's in the paint and free-throws brought the Nets back and then allowed them to put the game away as a lid was firmly placed on the basket for the Suns offense in the second half.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 106.3 PPG (4 wins)
Netss: 103.3 PPG (2 wins)
The Nets have won the last two games (104.5-to-91) taking control of this series, but over the past 10 years the Suns have dictated the pace and were the victors in this cross-country series. Before the last meeting the Suns had scored 100+ points in nine consecutive games with the exclamation point being a 161 point effort in double-overtime in 2006.
Joe Johnson vs. Suns: 17.5 PPG 5.1 RPG 4.4 APG 1.05 SPG 37.7 FG% (17 games)
Luis Scola vs. Nets: 15.3 PPG 7.2 RPG 2.5 APG 0.5 BPG 56.3 FG% (10 games)
In his career against the Suns Johnson shoots his second lowest percentage overall, but still puts up his normal stat-line. He gets after his old team when they square off. Scola does not do anything special against the Nets traditionally, in fact he shoots it low for his standards against the other New York team and will be an important factor tonight.
PG - Goran Dragic v. Deron Williams
SG - Wesley Johnson v. Joe Johnson
SF - P.J. Tucker v. Gerald Wallace
PF - Markieff Morris v. Reggie Evans
C - Luis Scola v. Brook Lopez
Over the past few months all Hunter and the Suns have been mentioning and talking about is energy and effort. That is something an individual can control without the help of a coach or his teammates. Some players are giving it and others are not. In this case Evans is pure energy and if Morris does not show up with energy then a role player like Evans could go off and beat the Suns himself, with energy.
Interesting Stat: 0-9
The Suns are 0-9 on Sunday, but score the third most points on this day of rest.
Meaningless Stat: Sweet Sixteen
During their days in college Shannon Brown, Marcus Morris, Kendall Marshall, Dudley, Markieff, and Johnson have all played in the Sweet 16. As the NCAA Tournament currently sits, Johnson (Syracuse), Brown (Michigan State), Marcus and Markieff (Kansas), Marshall (North Carolina), and Diante Garrett (Iowa State) all have something to cheer for still.
(Update: Sorry Diante)
There is that.