Kings battle back, but Suns survive
SACRAMENTO – Twice during a seven-game road losing streak the Phoenix Suns opened up big leads only to watch them disappear and lead to frustrating losses.
This game appeared to be heading that direction until Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire steadied the Suns down the stretch.
Nash had 30 points and 12 assists, Stoudemire scored 24 and the Suns used their experience to hold off the Sacramento Kings 113-109 on Tuesday night.
“We’re a little bit disappointed because we don’t know if the game should have gotten that close,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “But it did and we found a way to win. You can take some positives from the fact that we were able to recover after we let the game get tied. We have to find a way to close out games. We’ve struggled with that on the road.”
The Suns blew a 15-point lead at Portland and a 17-point lead in Denver in the past month as they had not won a road game since beating Toronto on Nov. 29.
They broke out to a 20-point first-half lead against Sacramento before finding themselves in a tie game in the final 2 minutes.
“We have to cut that out,” Stoudemire said. “We have to find a way to maintain the lead. Once you get a great lead like we did tonight, we have to win that way.”
Instead they needed to pull it out at the end to win for the 14th time in the past 16 meetings between the teams.
Beno Udrih tied the game for Sacramento at 103 with a tough jumper with 1:49 remaining. After the teams traded turnovers, Stoudemire got the lead back for the Suns with two free throws with 1:10 to go.
The Kings missed three shots right at the rim on the next possession, including two by Tyreke Evans. Nash gave Phoenix control with a jumper that made it 107-103 with 44.5 seconds to go. Stoudemire’s jumper restored the four-point lead and Nash hit four free throws in the closing seconds to ice the game.
“As far as talent and athleticism and size, they’re better than we are in many ways,” Nash said. “But experience and cohesion has got to be what allows us to beat a team like that.”
This was another disappointing loss for the Kings, who have lost six of seven games. That stretch includes overtime losses to Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Kobe Bryant that lifted the Lakers past the Kings at home, and close losses to Dallas and Phoenix the past two games.
For a team that often starts five players age 23 or younger, this is all part of the learning process.
“We will not be discouraged and we will start winning these games,” coach Paul Westphal said. “For whatever reason, we’ve had a string of having our heart pulled out of our chest. This team is coming back and we’re going to keep coming back and we’re going to start winning these close games.”
Evans led the Kings with 27 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists despite leaving briefly in the third quarter when he re-aggravated a sprained right ankle that sidelined him for three games recently. Fellow rookie Omri Casspi added a career-high 24 points as the Kings fell for the sixth time in the past seven games.
“I’m just disappointed,” Casspi said. “We need to find a way to win those games and we will do it. We can promise that. We are too good of a team. We will get there.”
The Suns started off fast, making their first five shots. Even when they did miss, they were able to convert second chances, including an acrobatic reverse dunk on a putback by Jason Richardson, who scored 20 points.
Leandro Barbosa banked in a 3-pointer from about 35 feet with 0.1 seconds left in the quarter to give the Suns a 34-25 lead. Phoenix expanded the lead in the second quarter, going on a 17-1 run that made it 60-40. But Sacramento cut the lead to 63-49 at the break.
NOTES: Kings swingman Francisco Garcia returned to practice Monday for the first time since breaking his right wrist in October. He is still at least a few weeks away from returning to game action. … Sacramento F Donte Greene left in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle but returned in the second half. … Boise State DB Brandyn Thompson sat courtside the day after returning an INT for a TD in the Broncos win over TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. Thompson grew up in the Sacramento area. … After a few fans argued a late foul call on Jason Thompson, referee Mark Wunderlich responded, “Why are you blaming me? He’s the one who had the stupid foul.”