The Suns might not have gotten any help in the final seconds of Monday's game with Minnesota, but they didn't help themselves much all night either. Even with a shoddy defensive effort and a poor-shooting, careless effort on the offensive end, the Suns had a chance to force overtime.
But Minnesota star Kevin Garnett swatted away a Shawn Marion shot just before the final buzzer at US Airways Center, preserving a 103-101 Timberwolves win, the latest in a series of Suns losses to sub-.500 teams.
Phoenix players and coaches complained long and loud for a goaltending call on Marion's shot, which was rushed after the Suns fumbled their last possession around in the game's last 14 seconds.
"I saw the replay," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I saw it five times. It is what it is, I guess."
Guard Steve Nash, who fed Marion for the last shot, said he "felt like the Seattle Seahawks" — referring to what were believed to be bad calls made by the officials in Sunday's Super Bowl XL loss to Pittsburgh.
But while the officiating crew of Bernie Fryer, Mark Ayotte and Derek Richardson spent most of the night drawing the ire of players and coaches on both sides, television replays from several angles showed Marion's shot didn't appear to be on the way down when Garnett swatted it into the stands.
"That was a good block," said Garnett, who had the last five Minnesota points, including a 13-footer with 31.9 seconds left that provided what proved to be the winning point. "As soon as it left his hand, I got it. I’m sitting right here in front of you all with a win."
And Nash, who felt as if the Suns' pockets have been picked before in close games (they are now an NBA-worst 0-6 in games decided by three points or less), was beyond frustrated after this one.
"There’s like five games this year where we’ve not gotten a call in the last 30 seconds. It’s remarkable," said Nash, who tied a season high with 31 points but had only six assists. "After a while, you realize you don’t get those games back, and it’s tough to take.
"Everybody else seems to get that call. Do you get punished for losing? I don't know. Do (referees) get punished for having that sort impact on the game, especially that many times? I don't know."
As a result, the Suns are again even in the loss column with the L.A. Clippers in the Pacific Division (17 each) after a modest three-game winning streak quietly crumbled before a grumbling home crowd.
After hitting 35 3-pointers in their last two home games, the Suns made only six and attempted only 16 as the T-Wolves stayed home on the perimeter and forced Phoenix to find another way to win. But on a rare night when they had more turnovers (17) than assists (16), the Suns never had any flow and allowed Minnesota to dictate play with a small, quick lineup — which featured new additions Marcus Banks (19 points) and Ricky Davis (18 points) from its Jan. 26 trade with Boston.
Banks, Davis and fellow newcomers Justin Reed and Mark Blount combined for 44 points as Minnesota had the best shooting night of the season against Phoenix (57 percent) and made 10 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter.
"It should have never come down to a last shot," said Marion, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds despite missing nine of his first 10 shots from the floor. "They had open looks all night, and we let people get going like that too often. We gave it to them.
"We should have won, but we put a game in someone else's hands — you can get burned."
It was Kurt Thomas bobblehead night Monday, and the little plastic figurine might have had a better night if D'Antoni had started it over the real thing.
Thomas didn’t attempt a single shot in 23 minutes and contributed just one point and five rebounds even though Minnesota employed a small lineup most of the final three quarters.
The Suns tried to get the ball inside to Thomas several times, but there was no reward.
"They threw a lot of small, athletic guys out there and we had a hard time matching up," D'Antoni said. "Boris (Diaw) did a few times."
Nash's 21 points in the first half were the most by a Sun this season, and the most in any half since Diaw had 21 of his career-high 31 in the second half at Minnesota on Dec. 26.. . .
The Suns, on pace to shoot the fewest free throws ever in an NBA season, shot a season-high 30 free throws (making 27) and were 17-for-18 in the first half.. . .
Marion had a career-high eight steals, six of them in the first half, which tied an arena record. The eight steals tied the third-highest total in franchise history, trailing only the 10 by Kevin Johnson (Dec. 9, 1993 vs. Washington) and nine by the late Johnny High (Jan. 28, 1981 vs. Washington).