PHOENIX – The Suns, still searching for that one critical stop, that one critical hoop, came up a Santa Claus whisker short again Wednesday against a depleted New York Knicks team that was teetering toward its second loss in a row.
But it did not happen – the Knicks made the plays in the final 10 seconds to salvage a 99-97 victory when J.R. Smith hit a forced 20-footer from the left baseline right in front of Suns forward P.J. Tucker as time expired at US Airways Center.
Smith’s game-winner was set up when Jason Kidd deflected a pass on the Suns’ final possession and Sebastian Telfair ran it down but was called for stopping on the right sideline – right in front of the seats occupied by Larry Fitzgerald and kids – with one second remaining.
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After a timeout, Kidd inbounded the ball to Smith, who took a dribble to his left and hoisted up the kind of shot that falls in a shooter’s dream, but not so often anywhere else.
“I don’t know whatever words you want to use, but he loves the moment,” Kidd said of Smith, who was 11 of 27 from the field.
Smith had 27 points, leading the Knicks (21-8), who were without starters Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton and reserve Rasheed Wallace. They still made nine 3-pointers, continuing on their league-leading pace.
The Knicks won because they were able to find Smith late, while the Suns were not able to find Jared Dudley on their final possession.
The Suns tried. They ran a play for Dudley, who had a career-high 36 points and made five 3-pointers, running him off three baseline screens in an attempt to free him on the right wing. When Knicks center Tyson Chandler switched out on Dudley after the third screen, Suns center Marcin Gortat broke toward the basket, and Telfair attempted to get him the ball, but Kidd saw it coming and disrupted the play.
“Whatever the team needs,” Kidd said.
Kidd, a former Sun, had 23 points and eight assists while playing 30 minutes in place of Felton, who suffered a fractured pinkie in a 100-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
“J.R. hit a tough shot, and they deserved to win,” Telfair said.
Telfair, who had 11 points and made three 3-pointers, played the entire second half Wednesday and could see his time increase on the coming road trip, when the Suns play Indiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma City in the span of four days beginning Friday.
Goran Dragic suffered hip, wrist and back injuries when he was fouled by Smith on a drive to the basket with 22.1 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Dragic, the Suns’ leading scorer at 14.5 points a game, was attempting a layup when Smith brushed into his right hip, knocking him off balance. Dragic landed hard on the point of his left hip and remained on the floor for several minutes. Dragic remained in the game, in obvious pain, and missed both free throws before exiting.
Smith was given a flagrant 1 foul, but the Suns did not feel the play was intentional.
“That was the first thing he said to me,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “He goes, ‘You know I’m not that kind of player.’ He said he would never try to hurt anybody out there. He plays hard and he competes like crazy. It was one of those things that happens.
“He’s just going to be really sore. We’ll evaluate it and we’ll see in the morning.”
After running off a four-game winning streak to get within one game of the Lakers, Phoenix (11-18) lost its third straight.
And while Smith’s last-second shot won it, Gentry pointed directly at the second quarter for the reason for the loss, and not because of Dragic’s injury. The Suns scored 15 points and had nearly as many turnovers (four) as field goals (six) in the quarter as the Knicks turned a two-point deficit into a 54-44 halftime lead. It was similar to the second quarter of their 103-77 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, when the Suns were outscored 30-19 in the second.
“We have to do something about the second quarter,” Gentry said. We can’t seem to get that right. That’s where all of our troubles started. We had no rhythm whatsoever in that quarter. We didn’t move the basketball, and we got ourselves in trouble.
“We dug ourselves a hole. When we do that and put ourselves in harm’s way that way, everything has to go perfect. When it doesn’t, the thing that happened tonight, where you have a guy making a difficult shot to win the game, those are the things that can happen. We have to do a much better job of being able to maintain when we play the second quarter. If not, we are going to start having to play the (regulars) a heck of a lot longer minutes.”
Dudley had the Suns’ first 30-point game since Shannon Brown had 32 against San Antonio on March 27, 2012. Dudley’s previous high was 33, almost two years ago to the day against Miami on Dec. 23, 2010. The Suns ran plays for him, and he rewarded their faith.
“Sometimes it’s energy. Sometimes it’s bad turnovers. It’s lack of concentration when you get that” bad quarter, Dudley said.
“I don’t know if you get it with a young team. I don’t know what excuse you want to use, but if it keeps happening, you’ll keep finding yourself losing games by four to six points. It was one or two plays. We just have to keep plugging away.”