They have no choice but to call it just one game, merely 1/82 of an NBA season that rarely comes up for air.

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They really have no choice but to call it just one game, merely a fraction of an NBA season that rarely comes up for air.


Still, the Sonics’ demeanor afterward suggested that this one — a 112-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns last night in front of a sellout crowd at KeyArena — really was just a little bit different.


For the first time since before most of them were Sonics, the eyes of the NBA were set squarely on Seattle and a matchup of the two surprise teams in the NBA, who also happened to have the league’s two best records.


“Yeah, we haven’t seen this type of press and excitement in a while,” Seattle coach Nate McMillan had said beforehand. “I think it’s because of the style of play everyone is expecting to see, and you’ve got two teams I don’t think anyone expected to be in this position.”


As painful as the outcome itself, however, was the manner in which the game was lost.


Seattle had a 102-95 lead with 3:15 to go after a 12-5 run, but the Suns took it right back with a 10-1 run for a 105-103 lead with 1:10 left and never trailed again.


Shawn Marion started the run with a three-pointer and followed that up with a dunk that seemed to reverse the momentum for good.


“It’s disappointing to let one go like that,” said Sonics guard Luke Ridnour.


Proof that it meant something to the Suns? Reserve forward Bo Outlaw leaned over the press table in the final seconds and said he was hoarse from cheering.


Phoenix is now 20-3, the best start in franchise history, while Seattle is 18-5.


McMillan said the difference at the end was Phoenix’s ability to penetrate and get good shots.


“We had the game under control, but we just broke down defensively at the end,” McMillan said.


Phoenix’s Joe Johnson put back his own miss with 44 seconds left to put the Suns ahead 107-106. Seattle then missed four shots on its ensuing possession, and Marion followed with two free throws to put the game away.


“All it means is we have two more games to play with them,” said Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni, in full downplay mode. “Hopefully, we both go on from here and prove we are for real.”


The contest lived up to the billing in every way as the teams — Phoenix is No. 1 in the NBA in scoring and Seattle No. 5 — traded shots all night before the Suns finally landed the haymaker to put the Sonics away.


Seattle jumped out to a 16-point first-quarter lead, the Suns grabbed it back by the beginning of the third quarter, and the game then settled into the type of back-and-forth battle that would be expected of two seemingly evenly matched teams. There were 10 ties and seven lead changes.


The Sonics hit nine of their first 12 shots in taking a 22-10 lead with 5:57 left in the first quarter.


It was 37-21 at the end of the first quarter, tying Seattle’s season high for points scored in a quarter, set against Minnesota on Nov. 23.


But Phoenix, which hit just 8 of 24 shots in the first quarter, got right back in the game with three-pointers.


“You knew they weren’t going to keep shooting that poorly,” said Seattle guard Antonio Daniels.


Phoenix quickly cut the lead in half with three straight threes early in the second quarter, and by halftime it was exactly the shootout everyone had expected to see with Seattle clinging to a 57-55 lead.


Phoenix took its first lead of the game early in the third quarter and built the lead to four. But the Sonics quickly got it back and led 81-78 heading into the final quarter despite having made just 4 of 17 three-pointers.


The Suns scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, but Seattle came right back with eight in a row to take the lead again.


“I thought it was a great game and I was proud to be a part of it,” said Ray Allen, who led all scorers with 32 points. “There were shots going in from everywhere.”


Especially on the Phoenix side, as the Suns once again displayed the amazing balance that has been the key to their success so far.


Phoenix had five players finish with 18 points or more, but none with more than the 24 from Johnson.


“I haven’t seen a stat sheet that looked like that before,” McMillan said. “That’s a lot of people you are defending out there.”


Phoenix is now 10-1 on the road.


For the Sonics, it was just their second loss in 12 games at KeyArena this season, but also their second in their last three home games after winning their first nine.


“You can’t get too high or too low,” Daniels said. “We can’t do anything about this loss now.”


Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com