Now that the Suns have been eliminated from the 2012 NBA playoff race - amazingly not until the second-to-last game for a team with no stars - the Suns have to at least consider making tomorrow more important than today.
At the moment, the Suns sit in the 13th position in the lottery for the NBA draft. If this position seems familiar, it is. The Suns have earned the dreaded 13th position
twice once in the last three years: 2011 (Markieff Morris) . They even came close in 2008, drafting Robin Lopez at 15th and in 2009, drafting Earl Clark at 14th.
But if the Suns lose tonight to the Spurs and Houston beats New Orleans in their finale tomorrow, the Suns would improve their draft position to 12th overall! Not a big move, but that's one less team who can take your favorite mid-first-round sleeper before your turn comes up.
On the other hand, beating the Spurs tonight would leave a better lasting memory of 2012 in our, and the players', collective minds. And, it would ensure a winning record, a remarkable feat considering the curcumstances of the season.
So, really the Suns are in a win-win situation tonight. Win, and start the offseason on a higher note. Lose, and possibly improve your chance to get the sleeper you want in the draft.
Of course, if Houston loses to New Orleans tomorrow, the Suns are stuck in the 13th slot no matter what they do against the Spurs.
The Spurs, for their part, have sewn up the #1 seed in the West but need at least one more win to earn the #1 overall seed in the playoffs. Having home court advantage through the NBA Finals would be ideal for any team, so don't expect the Spurs to give away their last two games. All "Big 3" made the trip to Phoenix, so expect at least 2 of them to play tonight.
Somehow, in the wake of the loss last night, Nash kept his cool and remained his usual philosophical self. Dwight Howard should take notes.
"Phoenix feels like my team," Nash said, while sharing a beer with former Sun and current Jazz coach Jeff Hornacek after the loss to Utah. "It has the feel -- and you don't always get it in professional sports -- but it feels like a high school or college team. I spent so many years here and had so much success here. It's a special place for me, no question.
"I'd like to play three years. I feel great and I don't feel like there's any reason why I can't continue to play at a high level and contribute the way I've been. I want to keep going.
"The feeling is to have a great game tomorrow night and finish with a winning record. Then I'll try and put together a picture of what opportunities are out there and what situations will fit me well. Phoenix will be one of those for sure, but I'll take my time to evaluate what opportunities are out there for me."
Leave it to Nash to throw the tanking idea out the window. While he is likely to be struggling physically tomorrow, there is no quit in Steve Nash.
Regardless of whether the Suns play to win or lose, Steve Nash will most certainly start the game and end the game.
And when the final seconds tick down, we all owe it to Stevie to stand and cheer and hoot and holler for him. Even if you're home on our couch, otherwise trying to keep quiet with the family sleeping around you. If this is Nash's last game as a Suns, he should leave with a smile on his face.
He gave us 8 great years, more than half of them good playoff seasons. He won 2 MVPs as a Phoenix Sun. He made almost 100 million dollars in the process, but it was the best possible way to spend 100 million dollars if you're going to spend it.
We love you, Steve.
And we really hope to see you in a Suns uni again, with a better team around you.
It was a pretty close game all things considered. The Phoenix Suns held a two-point lead with about 10 minutes to go and they were down just five points with over four minutes to play. Shots were missed. Mismatches were not exploited. Legs looks tired.
Game over. Season over.
Before we move on to a) the NBA Playoffs as spectators b) draft prep and coverage c) free agency and #NashDecision2012 and eventually d) Vegas Summer League, let's take one last look back at this final game of the season.
(Yes, there is technically a game Wednesday night but it will have all the meaning of a preseason game and will be played with
as much less intensity and interest.)
For this final breakdown of the season, we'll look first at the big picture themes of the game and then two key stretches in the fourth quarter where the game was lost.
There will also be plenty of time for reflection, but here's my thoughts on the season as a whole written before Tuesday's loss:
Suns End Season On High Note, Props Must Be Given - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
In sports, winning matters and closing out the season on a positive note as a competitive team fighting down to the wire for a playoff spot is a far better result than tanking and getting to pick a few spots higher in the draft. So congratulations to the Phoenix Suns on a well played season. Expectations were exceeded and for at least half the year the team was highly entertaining and competitive which is far more than most "experts" predicted.
On to the final breakdown.
Marcin Gortat Goes 1-8
He took zero free throws. He was blocked five times. In some cases that's on him for not doing more with the ball, but in others he was simply beat by a bigger, more athletic player like this one where Favors got him from behind.
Defensively, Gortat was unable to handle Al Jefferson on his own. It started very early in the game when Jefferson caught the ball in the mid-post about 15 feet from the rim. He easily backed Marcin down into the lane and turned into a simple bucket.
Marcin knows he didn't play well. Here's his quotes:
POSTGAME QUOTES: SUNS VS. JAZZ - APRIL 24, 2012 | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE PHOENIX SUNS
"I am going to take the blame for that. I should finish stronger just played smarter and make the right decision. I was just rushing everything. My teammates were open on the wing I should have kicked it to the wing make sure they got the shot."
Pick and Roll Fail
It's no surprise that the pick and roll is the Suns bread and butter and without Channing Frye to keep the defense honest, they were able to collapse and protect the rim from the roll.
As this image shows, the play worked but the player didn't.
Here's Nash explaining it better than I can:
Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes extinguished
"That was our bread and butter for a while," Nash said of rolls to Gortat, who once led the NBA in field goal percentage. "That hurt a little bit. I don't think it helped the rest of our game. When people have to think about that and protect about that, it opens up other things. When we didn't connect on that as much, it made the game harder for everybody."
No Nash Scoring
Not to "blame" Nash, but it didn't help that his shot wasn't available. Very early in the game he came off a screen and when the defense sagged he missed a shot. Having seen Nash play long enough now, you can tell pretty early in a game when he's "feeling it", which is to say when his body is feeling well enough to make shots. This isn't the same guy who can drop 30 in a playoff game. Those days are gone. He is mortal.
When Nash's own shot isn't there and the shooters aren't keeping the defense honest by hitting threes, the pick and roll is defensible. That's what we saw. And yet despite that, the Suns were very much in this game.
The Jazz beat the Suns on the glass 56-42 and when Paul Millsap played at the three, they were particularly difficult. But as Gentry said, if you play big you open yourself up on the other end and the Suns didn't take advantage (which isn't exactly surprising since that's something they haven't done well all season).
"It's tough but you need to be able to punish them on the other end. Millsap is not accustomed to guarding the three man. Coming off screens and things like that you have to take advantage of that. We never really took advantage of that. So him being in the game on their offensive end becomes problematic because he is a post-up guy he can step outside and shoot jumpers. But then you also have Favors and Jefferson in there so rebounding wise we got really hurt on that."
Bench Big Shots
As we're about to see in the breakdown of two key stretches, the bench had a chance to lift this team as we've seen them do several times over the last month but they didn't get it done. It's hard to fault guys like Shannon Brown (12 points), Michael Redd (15 points) or Sebastian Telfair (5 points) for not doing more, but in this game it was going to take somebody having a heroic night and that didn't happen.
As well as the Jazz played, I don't think they win that game if the Suns have a healthy Grant Hill and Channing Frye. Missing two starters in a big game is a lot to overcome.
At the same time, injuries happen to all teams and the Suns have been pretty lucky on that front this season. If they win a game or two more early in the season when they had all their guys on the floor, Tuesday's loss doesn't matter.
The injuries are an excuse for this one game, but not for the season's result. Missing the playoffs is due to a slow start to the season.
Key Stretch #1: Fourth Quarter 10:14 to 6:15 (Jazz 8-2 run)
We've seen the Suns bench carry this team and when they took a two-point lead with about 10 minutes to go, it looked like they might do it again. But playing against starters on the road in a big game, the key shots just didn't fall.
Still, the defense was good and they held their own and turned over a four-point deficit when Nash and Gortat game back in the game. Again, it's hard to fault them for not doing more but when you watch this stretch you see:
Telfair missed two shots, Brown missed a shot, Redd and Dudley each missed a three. The only two points scored in this stretch was a layup by Telfair.
We've seen all those guys make big shots. If they get hot and score five or seven points in this stretch, it's possibly a different game.
Key Stretch #2: Fourth Quarter 4:35 to 3:40 (Jazz 6-0 run)
The Suns clawed their way into a chance to get hot and steal the game, but Nash's inability to score and Gortat's horrible game did them in. Al Jefferson, who only had 18 points in the game but scored 8 points in the 4th, put the dagger in the Suns.
On one end, Big Al abused Gortat in the post with a baseline spin move that resulted in a dunk. That was quickly followed by Gortat missing an opportunity at the rim off a rare pick and roll that worked. Jefferson came back and nailed a 18' jumper in Marcin's face.
In a different world and a different time the Suns would have a chance to overcome a nine-point deficit with 3:40 to go, but not in this game.
Thanks to the Suns and thanks to all you folks. Try not to get too down on missing the playoffs for the second-straight year. This team has given us a lot to cheer for over the decades and over the last few months.
As bad as things look right now, there's plenty of examples of things turning around fast. We'll wait and see what happens next and give Babby and Blanks some room to see what they can do. They are now on the clock.