Just when the Phoenix Suns thought their playoff shooting problems were behind them, they got worse.
Early in the second quarter of Tuesday night's loss, the Suns were sizzling along at a 62.5 percent clip from the field. Not surprisingly they led 31-21. But suddenly they fell back into their old habits from the first two playoff games. They missed their next five, which allowed the Jazz back in the game.From their 62.5 start, the Suns shot just 34.4 percent the rest of the game and finished at a meager 42.7 percent. That's just barely above their playoff average of 41 percent. Not surprisingly they lost by nine.
Phoenix Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons didn't have the answer. "We just have to do some things better," he said, shooting being one of them.
"You probably have to give the Jazz some credit," said Jeff Hornacek, one of the better Suns' shooters during the playoffs. "You don't shoot 40 percent because nobody's guarding you. They're forcing us to take some shots with the clock running down and hands in our faces. They're doing a good job defensively on us."
Suns point guard Kevin Johnson, who was 6 for 22 in the first two games, continued his miserable shooting Tuesday.
After breaking out with 4 of 5 in the first quarter, Johnson went 0 for 7 the rest of the game. He also struggled at the foul line. An 84 percent free throw shooter during the regular season, Johnson was just 2 for 6 on the night.
Afterward he had no explanation for his shooting woes. He refused to blame his hamstring injury from a couple of weeks back.
"I felt good," he said. "I'm not playing good, but I felt good tonight."
Fitzsimmons didn't even play Johnson the first five minutes of the final quarter, but claimed it had nothing to do with his condition or his play. "I was just resting him, getting him ready for the stretch run," he said.
Johnson didn't do much in the stretch run, making just one of two free throws and missing two shots from the field. But he was involved in one of the game's key plays just after entering the game.
He and John Stockton had a jump ball at the Phoenix free throw circle with the Suns' leading 84-83. Johnson got the tip as expected, knocking it back toward the Jazz basket. However it went over Hornacek's head and Jeff Malone caught it and went in for an easy layup.
"We're supposed to check them off," said Fitzsimmons. "Hornacek was supposed to freeze Malone and Dan (Majerle) was freezing his man. We probably would have been better off switching men and let Dan freeze Malone. He would never have gone anywhere."
Late in the game, Majerle was hit in the face going up for a shot and went down, holding his eye. He had blood on his forehead and after the game his right eye was almost swollen shut. Majerle was unavailable for comment, but not Fitzsimmons.
"Majerle's a battler and somebody got him," he said. "I`ll look at the film tomorrow and see who hit him and if somebody got him intentionally. I hope they didn't. If they did . . . that's just the way it is."
The Suns say they'll be ready Thursday.
"I think everyone knows how we can play and what we have to do," said Tom Chambers who led the Suns with 26 points. "It's just a matter of going out and doing it. I know we can beat them here."