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Suns Strokes: Blown lead and loss to Bucks ‘tough’ on Hornacek

Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo, left, fouls Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — Again, the Phoenix Suns found themselves unable to build on a double-digit lead.

Again, the defense failed to stop momentum and the offense sputtered.

As such losses grow in number, coach Jeff Hornacek finds it harder to accept. This time, a 101-95 loss on Sunday came as the Milwaukee Bucks outscored Phoenix 48-27 in the final 18 minutes.

The Suns had built a 15-point lead midway through the third quarter before, like the beginning of the game, the offense seized up and the defense let a team coming off a hard-fought battle with the Golden State Warriors find life. After the game, Hornacek found it difficult to hide his frustration.

“You had a chance to blow it away, the importance of the ball, you know, we have 21 turnovers again,” he said. “We just throw the ball all over the place. We got to get stronger, more aggressive with the ball. And then defensively once you let guys go, you get in trouble. Then you’re in for a battle.

“It’s a tough one for me.”

Ronnie Price arguably played the best of the Suns’ three point guards, putting together a plus-14 plus/minus in 16 minutes. Brandon Knight, against his former team that traded his expiring deal to the Suns last season to free salary cap space, put in a quiet nine points and four assists.

Eric Bledsoe led the Suns with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, but he pounded the rock too much to finish with a single assists and four turnovers.

Twenty-one of the Suns’ miscues led to 21 Milwaukee points — and the effort wasn’t there to justify the mistakes or cover them.

“Transition, you got to sprint back,” Hornacek said. “A lot of times it’s off a turnover. If there’s a turnover, you got to sprint. If you want it enough, you got to sprint.”


– The second unit indeed moved the ball producing 11 of the team’s 18 assists. Much of that was courtesy of  T.J. Warren, who had 14 points at the half on 7-of-9 shooting by hitting everything from fastbreak layups and dunks, to scoring off backcuts, to taking 12-foot floaters off the dribble. He finished with 18 points.

– It wasn’t just Warren and Markieff Morris, who scored seven first-half points and finished with eight. Overall, the bench won the plus/minus statistics. The Suns’ second unit of Price, Warren, Devin Booker, Alex Len and Morris made up most of the difference to help their team trail just 27-26 after 12 minutes. Even at the half, the Phoenix starting five all had negative plus/minuses while Warren, Len and Price were in double-digits on the positive side of point differential while on the floor.

– Phoenix came away with a five-point possession with seven minutes left in the game. With a four-point lead, Warren went up for a fastbreak layup but was grabbed around the shoulder and neck area by O.J. Mayo. After two free throws for a flagrant 1 foul, Suns forward Jon Leuer hit a three atop the key — in his sweetspot for an 86-77 lead. That was the end of the good news.


– A poor start from an effort perspective plagued the Phoenix starters. They trailed by double-digits in the first quarter by committing eight turnovers and allowing the Bucks to score 20 of their 27 points in the paint. Eight fastbreak points were included in that success for Milwaukee.

“All night, the starters weren’t as active as they usually are,” Hornacek said. “The bench in the first half got us back in the game. They had the energy.”

– Bledsoe finished with a plus/minus of minus-24. It was notable considering it was a differential of 13 points worse than the next Sun (Jon Leuer at minus-11) and because the offense was so poor when he was in the game. Bledsoe scored six first-quarter points but his team was down 25-16 as he recorded two turnovers, had two fouls and blew two plays with lazy defense. Once, he was behind Greg Monroe but allowed the big man to get behind him before goaltending a layup, and then he gambled and didn’t recover as Michael Carter-Williams drove for a jam. Bledsoe had three steals but also missed a fastbreak layup off his first takeaway to begin the game. He closed with a blocked shot that hit him and went out of bounds, and a turnover on an inbound.

– Turnovers kept the Bucks in contact. The Suns built a 68-53 lead with 5:43 to play in the third quarter but went the final 6:11 without a field goal as Milwaukee closed the lead to 71-70 heading to the fourth quarter.


21: The number of miscues and points off said miscues.


“Even though we were up, they still were in the game the whole time and they didn’t panic. I think teams know that now, just keep it close and we’ll do something dumb to let you win it.” — P.J. Tucker


– Among the Bucks to get hot down the stretch was small forward Khris Middleton, who scored 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Meanwhile, Michael Carter-Williams went 9-for-16 for 20 points.

– Mirza Teletovic, coming off the bench as the third power forward, played 10 minutes but couldn’t find his stroke, putting up eight shots but making only one.

– Len has recorded a block in the last 12 games.

– Hornacek entered the game with 99 career wins. Seven other coaches in Suns history have surpassed the 100-win mark.


Phoenix travels to face the Utah Jazz on Monday at 7 p.m. MST. The 12-17 Suns are on the heels of the 11-14 Jazz for the eight spot in the Western Conference standings.


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