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Suns Strokes: Fourth-quarter woes doom Phoenix against Spurs

Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) blocks the shot of San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Just once have the Phoenix Suns won back-to-back games this season.

And that happened in the second week of the season.

Once again, the Suns were unable to follow up their victory against New York two nights earlier, losing 107-92 to the San Antonio Spurs in front of 17,165 at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday.

A back-and-forth game for three quarters, the Suns (8-18) simply ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. They were outscored 33-21 in a 12 minutes that saw the Spurs go on a 21-3 run after the Suns had taken a 77-76 lead two minutes into the period.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored nine points, capping his fourth-quarter performance with a four-foot hook shot for a 97-80 lead at the 4:19 mark.

Aldridge, who finished with 14 points, was one of five Spurs players in double figures.

Kawhi Leonard and Pau Gasol shared game-high honors with 18. Leonard added 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.

Devin Booker paced the Suns with 17 points, but he went6-of-19 from the floor.

Eric Bledsoe (14 points), Brandon Knight (11), Marquese Chriss (10) and Jared Dudley (10) all reached double figures.

Playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Spurs (21-5) won their third straight, eighth straight over the Suns and improved to an NBA-best 14-1 on the road.

THE GOOD

With Bledsoe and Chriss hitting 3s, the Suns jumped out to an early 14-7 lead just five minutes into the game. Bledsoe finished the first quarter with a team-best five points on 2-of-6 shooting with three rebounds. Booker also made two baskets — a step-back jumper and lay-up — plus added a pair of assists to account for nine of the Suns’ 20 first-quarter points, their fewest in the opening 12 minutes in the past five games.

Held to six points in 22 minutes against the Knicks two nights earlier, Dudley surpassed that point total in just 10 first-half minutes. He had five points in the second quarter, hitting a 3-pointer and lay-up; the latter of which tied the game at 25 at the 10:36 mark. Dudley had seven points at halftime, but it was Booker’s nine points that paced the Suns. Booker went 4-of-8 from the field including 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.

It began with two free throws, continued with a fast break lay-up and ended with a 26-foot 3-pointer, also on the fast break. Booker went on a personal 7-0 run in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter to pull the Suns to within three, 55-52, at the 9:34 mark. He finished the period with a team-high eight points, though he missed five of his seven shot attempts and entered the fourth quarter with a team-best 17 points.

Recalled from the Northern Arizona Suns, their NBA D-League affiliate earlier in the day, Derrick Jones Jr. made his second appearance of the season, checking into the game at the 2:50 mark of the fourth quarter. A short time later, he scored his first career points in the NBA with an and-1 lay-up with 2:23 remaining in the game to finish with three points, and a big smile in the locker room after the game.

THE BAD

Not the close to the first quarter the Suns wanted. They missed 10 of their last 13 shot attempts and turned the ball over five times to trail by three, 23-20, after the game’s first 12 minutes. While the Suns couldn’t buy a basket, the Spurs went on a 14-2 run, including a stretch of nine straight points, over 4:30 in which they turned a seven-point deficit, 14-7, into a five-point advantage, 21-16, at the 2:12 mark.

It was another awful quarter-closing performance for the Suns in the second. They made only two field goals and turned the ball over three times in the final 4:45 of the half. Meanwhile, the Spurs scored on eight straight possessions to go from down six, 39-33, to up eight, 51-43 at the break. Leonard had five of his eight second-quarter points — on 3-of-4 shooting — during what was a 19-4 run, including a stretch of eight straight points.

Midway through the third quarter, the Suns went five minutes between made baskets. They missed seven shots and then lost Chandler to his fifth personal foul at the 5:49 mark. Later, Knight twice hit the floor hard. He took a David Lee elbow to the face and then was fouled by Patty Mills on a breakaway. Knight was briefly looked at by trainer Aaron Nelson. Officials reviewed both plays and both plays were called common fouls.

As the Spurs were pulling away in the fourth quarter, the Suns went cold yet again. They shot 1-of-10 (P.J. Tucker’s 3-pointer was the lone made field goal) and turned the ball over four times during the game-deciding 21-3 run over a six-minute stretch. Aldridge made all four of his shot attempts to go with a free throw. Gasol and Leonard each added four points, while Jonathan Simmons and Kyle Anderson scored two points apiece.

STAT OF THE GAME

52.7: The Spurs shot an efficient 39-of-74 (52.7 percent, the third-best mark by a Suns opponent this season), including 62.5 percent in the fourth quarter on 10-of-16 shooting. That, compared to just a 34-of-85 effort (40.0) for the Suns.

HE SAID IT

“First of all, you’ve got to give the Spurs credit. They’re a veteran team, they’re successful for a reason,” head coach Earl Watson said. “For us, I feel like we had some calls that could’ve been either way, kind of changed the tempo, momentum of the game. And it looked like we just hit a wall. Maybe it was the two overtime games this week, I’m not sure. But our guys fought, they gave all they could, some games end up like this.”

NOTED

– The Suns didn’t attempt their first foul shot until 30 seconds left in the first half, and then made 3-of-4 free throws in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter.

– Alan Williams played seven minutes in what was his third Suns appearance in as many nights having played for Northern Arizona in Prescott on Wednesday.

– Alex Len (right hip contusion) and T.J. Warren (minor head injury) did not play; Len missed his second straight game, while Warren sat out his 13th in a row.

– Prior to tonight, the last time the Spurs visited Phoenix to face the Suns for a regular season game without Tim Duncan on their roster was March 20, 1997.

– The Suns, as did the entire NBA on Thursday night (save for the Warriors’ “moment of joy”) held a moment of silence for TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, who lost his battle with cancer at age 65.

UP NEXT

The Suns hit the road.

They’ll play two games in three days, beginning with a visit to Oklahoma City on Saturday, Dec. 17. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Thunder have won five straight in the series, including the first of four meetings this season when Russell Westbrook scored 51 points on a Suns opponent record 44 field goal attempts. He also had 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the 113-110 overtime decision at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Oct. 28.

It was in that game that Warren set his career-high in scoring with 30 points.

Since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle, the overall series reads 20-9 in the Thunder favor.

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