Grisly night for Suns in lackluster loss

Goran Dragic's career-best 33 points weren't enough in the Suns' 99-91 loss Thursday night.

PHOENIX –– The crucial number from a frisky Thursday night at US Airways Center was 48.

That’s how many minutes NBA teams are required to play in a regulation encounter. This particular marathon provided the Suns with plenty of time to rally from a shaky first half while overtaking the deadly serious Grizzlies.

Unfortunately, after an 18-0 third-quarter run helped Phoenix achieve an eight-point advantage, there was ample time remaining for the Grizz to win the fourth quarter, 30-18, and recover for a 99-91 victory.

Here’s the money quote from Suns coach Jeff Hornacek:

"Their bench killed us again."

And by "again," the Western Conference’s Coach of the Month for December was referring to a 19-point loss in Memphis on Dec. 3, during which the Grizzlies triumphed despite playing without low-post bullies Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. In their place, a trio of hotshots named Jon Leuer, Ed Davis and Kosta Koufous combined for 58 points.

Well, Memphis (now 14-17) still is working without Gasol (MCL sprain) and had enough pluck to exploit what seems like a team-wide matchup edge over Phoenix.

The Suns, by the way, entered this one at 19-11, sitting on the conference’s six seed and obliged to compete without point guard Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe hurt his knee in Monday’s road rout of the Clippers and was unable to answer the bell. His status for Saturday’s visit from the Bucks is uncertain.

"That shouldn’t matter," Hornacek said of having to go against the Grizzlies with only half of a recently-devastating double-point-guard group. "That gives guys opportunities."

So mercurial sharpshooter/dunker Gerald Green got another chance to start, but he couldn’t take advantage, going just 1 of 7 from 3-point range. The Suns, whose 10-wins-in-12-games run often was fueled by salvos from beyond the arc, went only 8 of 30 from long range against Memphis.

Ish Smith also had an opportunity to work with Goran Dragic in a two-point-guard alignment but went only 1 of 6 from the field. Reserve three man Marcus Morris was an icy 0 for 5.

Aside from the crooked shooting, the Suns weren’t exactly demonstrating the usual us-against-the-basketball-world intensity.

"Even with that all said," Hornacek pointed out, "it’s just the fact that we got outhustled … outhustled and outmuscled. There was a lot of loose balls we didn’t get, rebounds … we got destroyed on the boards."

Yeah, it was 59-40 Grizzlies off the glass.

"I don’t know what it ended up at," Hornacek continued, "but we gave them 19 offensive rebounds. Those are big things. Eric Bledsoe is a point guard, so how’d they get 19 offensive rebounds?"

Dragic, by the way, sprinted and shot his way to a career-high 33 points and seven dimes, scoring 15 during the Suns’ 32-16 third-quarter run.

"Memphis is not a good matchup for us," Dragic said after his big scoring performance was wasted on Goran Dragic Bobblehead Night. "They have a lot of big guys under the rim, and they attack the paint.

"We were not pressuring the ball. Everybody was just standing there. We did not rebound well and they took advantage, and in the end they won the game."

The aforementioned Memphis bench supplied 54 points, with former St. Mary’s High and University of Arizona star Jerryd Bayless going for 17. Davis had 16 and 11 rebounds.

In addition to ably filling his role of designed sniper, Bayless (3 of 6 on 3-pointers) kept busy by bantering with Suns fans sitting near his big-shot locations and helping Dragic take a couple of tumbles.

A decent portion of the fourth quarter was on the chippy side for several players. The hard maneuvers and feelings were rewarded with two technical fouls for each team. But instead of maintaining their poise during trying times, the Suns lost much of their focus.

Hornacek said his team needed to be mentally tougher.

"Not fake tough," he said. "Tougher in terms of good execution, making sure you get a good shot instead of just going hard to the basket and hoping you get a foul call."

On the bright side, the Suns (now 19-12 and in seventh place) were able to erase the Grizzlies’ 12-point halftime lead in a little less than five minutes. Hornacek must have unloaded some really Coach of the Month-caliber knowledge at intermission, right?

Actually, a lot of the adjustment was made with the help of visual aids.

"We saw nine plays of horrible defense," Hornacek said of the quick halftime video review. "We just couldn’t sustain it when we brought in our bench guys. The defensive intensity wasn’t there."

And without Bledsoe teaming with Dragic, the offense didn’t have enough juice to make up the difference.

"When you’ve got two playmakers out there, it limits the defensive focus of the other team," Hornacek said.

When you don’t, this Phoenix team has much less margin for error and no chance without superior effort.