PHOENIX — Contrary to popular belief, the Phoenix Suns’ season did not end at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
That only appeared to be the case as the Suns coughed up a 17-point third quarter lead and lost 112-108.
It was the largest blown lead of the season, and the defeat seemed to linger longer in the locker room afterwards.
“It’s getting down to the nitty gritty here,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, who waited several more minutes than usual before arriving at his postgame press conference. “You’re trying to win every game. If you lose a close game, you lose a close game. I think it was just the fact that we were up and let that slip away.”
The Suns used a 22-5 run to take a 91-74 lead with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter.
And then the air went out of U.S. Airways Center as the Suns were outscored 38-17 over the final 13:30.
“Nothing really glaring,” Hornacek said after watching the tape with the team at practice on Thursday. “It’s just little things here and there — a play here, a bad shot there, a turnover here and all a sudden it all accumulates.”
Most alarming was the accumulation of turnovers (five in the fourth quarter), many of which according to Hornacek were “soft passes” that led to easy Clippers baskets.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe said the errors were correctable, including his own. He called himself out for not getting back defensively in transition.
“I made a mistake and it won’t happen again,” he said.
Added Hornacek, “just like anything else, you can’t dwell on it. If we dwell on that game it spills over into the next one, so just got to go on.”
The Suns play at Portland (49-27) on Friday and for the most part have responded well after losses.
“We just told them this morning that you guys all woke up this morning. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. It could be a lot worse,” Hornacek said. “Whatever happened happened — you got to win the next one.”
The one bit of good news for the Suns is that they’re not alone in their recent struggles.
Both Dallas and Memphis have lost two of their last three, keeping all three teams fighting for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference. In fact, all three teams share the same record at 44-31.
“I mean it helps,” Bledsoe said. “But at the same time, we got to start closing out these games we need.”
By way of tiebreakers, the Suns currently find themselves on the outside looking in with seven games remaining.
“Everybody is playing each other,” Hornacek said. “Everyone is playing the good teams. It’s the team that is going to sneak a couple of these tough games out that will probably get in.”