On a night John McCain lost his bid for the highest office in the land, the Arizona senator can at least take solace in one development from the evening.
His home state Phoenix Suns played a damn good basketball game and, unlike McCain, look like an entity whose demise may be greatly exaggerated.
Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that the Suns played a near perfect game in their 114-86 win aside from 16 first-half turnovers and a New Jersey parade to the free-throw line that kept things closer than they should have been with just a 10-point lead at halftime.
Aside from four turnovers each credited to Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal and three courtesy of Grant Hill, the Suns’ first-half numbers pop off the stat sheet:
- Shaq – 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting, 4-for-5 free throws and six boards.
- Raja Bell – 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting, including three 3s.
- Matt Barnes – 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting, including 3-for-4 3s.
- Amare Stoudemire – eight points on 3-for-4 shooting.
- Nash – eight assists.
In all, the Suns somehow missed just one shot in the second quarter (hitting 92.9 percent of their 14 attempts for the best non-overtime quarter of the Bush presidency) and nailed 23-of-30 in the first half overall, good for a steamy hot 76.7 percent. Take out Robin Lopez’s two misses, making him the only Sun to miss more than a shot, and that percentage goes up to an unconscionable 82.1 percent.
The ball movement was crisp, always finding the open man when the Nets doubled the post, and that shooter rarely missed.
“It’s a tough call for any team when you have guys who can shoot the ball and fellas like Amare and Shaq in the post,” Bell told the Associated Press. “You have to pick your poison. Some nights you pick, and what you pick works. Some nights everything is going and you can’t do anything about it. I think tonight was just one of those nights we shot the skin off the ball. They were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.”
For the game, Bell finished his sparkling performance by hitting all six of his 3s for a game-high 22 points, the third time he has hit six 3-pointers without a miss in his career, and he was joined by a balanced offense that saw seven Suns score in double figures while shooting at a 63.2 percent clip and hitting an uncanny 12-of-18 3-pointers (66.7 percent).
The Suns outscored the Nets by five points in each of the first three quarters and then turned on the defense in the fourth quarter with a lineup of bench players that held the Nets to nine points on 3-for-20 shooting (15 percent), dropping them to 33.7 percent for the game.
Putting the Nets away after starting the fourth quarter with their bench crew allowed the Suns’ starters to rest up for Wednesday’s contest in Indiana as they continue this brutal four games in five days road trip, and the minute distribution could not have gone better in head coach Terry Porter’s wildest dreams when coupled with a blowout win.
Ten Suns played between 17 and 28 minutes, the game-high totals logged by Amare and Raja, and six were between 20 and 26. Nash got his 12 points and 11 assists in 26 minutes, and Shaq needed just 24 minutes to score 18 on 7-for-8 shooting.
Then the turnovers went away in the second half, as Phoenix committed only one miscue in the third with mainly starters and three in the fourth with only reserves.
“The starting group came out in the 3rd quarter and really did a good job of taking care of the ball,” Porter told Suns.com. “We limited our turnovers and got refocused to build up the lead.
“It was nice to see our second unit go in there and do a really good job in terms of building on the lead. Early on we have been getting ourselves into trouble with turnovers. When we don’t have turnovers we do a good job of moving the ball on offense and (make) the right decisions on defensive rotations.”
That’s change Suns fans can believe in.
The Twin Towers meet again
The intriguing side story that really didn’t matter to the outcome of the game literally centered upon twins Robin (Suns) and Brook (Nets) Lopez.
When Brook checked in with 5:26 left in the first quarter, I was thrilled to see Porter counter by bringing in his own twin tower.
Robin, the Suns’ last option on offense who previously had only scored on a putback, immediately called for the ball and missed a 6-foot hook shot with his brother defending. Robin then was blocked on a layup attempt by his bro next time down the floor.
“The first time I walked out my head was spinning a little bit,” Robin said on the Suns’ postgame show. “The first minute it was kind of a circus because both sides were talking smack.”
For the game both twins scored just two points, with Robin playing 20 minutes and Brook 19, but Robin showed why the Suns drafted him with three ferocious blocks in the fourth, the first of which occurred from behind Devin Harris and led to a fast-break bucket on the other end. For the game the Suns blocked nine shots, including a pair from Amare and Shaq.
But as for the twins, nobody was prouder than their mother Deborah Ledford, who wore a Suns hat and a Nets shirt to the game while cheering on both teams.
“It was hard watching them tonight battling against each other because I’m used to seeing them play with each other and complementing each other,” Ledford said on the Suns’ postgame show. “It was more difficult than I imagined.”