Another fourth-quarter fadeaway for the Phoenix Suns, and this one hurt even more than the first.

For the second time in as many games in the Western Conference finals, the Suns went into the final period leading the San Antonio Spurs, and in both instances, the visitors made the big plays down the stretch.

San Antonio’s 111-108 triumph on Tuesday night marked the first time Phoenix has lost consecutive games since April 8-9.

Now the Suns are down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, and face a four-day wait before Game 3 Saturday night in San Antonio.

Phoenix led 82-78 after three quarters in Game 1, and was up 85-80 heading into the fourth in Game 2.

The Suns were outscored in the fourth quarter 43-32 in Game 1 and 31-23 in Game 2.

While leaky defense led to their 121-114 defeat in the opener on Sunday, Tuesday night’s loss came down to the final 2:32, a span that may have spelled the beginning of the end of Phoenix’s storybook turnaround season.

No team has come back to win a conference final or NBA final series after losing the first two at home.

Steve Nash seemed to have the Suns headed for victory with two magnificent plays. First, his behind-the-back pass in traffic to Amare Stoudemire for a layup cut the Spurs’ lead to 100-99 with 3:27 to go, then his 3-pointer gave Phoenix a 102-100 lead 2:56 from the finish.

In Game 1, the Spurs shot 73 percent and scored 43 points in the fourth quarter.

This time, Phoenix’s much-maligned defense was solid much of the night, until the final 2:32.

Robert Horry, one of the top clutch shooters in the game, was left wide open for a 3-pointer that put the Spurs ahead for good 103-102. Manu Ginobili literally hid the ball on a driving layup, then sank an 18-footer after Stoudemire missed a layup, and the Suns were done.

Except for that play, Stoudemire was terrific, scoring 37 points.

Nash was in his MVP form. Obviously tired in another all-over-the court performance, he got to rest only once, lying on his back for 1:45 in the final quarter.

He made nine of his first 10 shots and finished with 29 points and 15 assists in 46 minutes. His off-balance desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was just short.

AP-ES-05-25-05 0000EDT


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