While I was at the Cardinals’ Monday Night Football thriller against the 49ers, I spent a couple minutes discussing the struggles of Leandro Barbosa with a Suns fan sitting next to me.
We both agreed he clearly hadn’t been the Brazilian Blur we were used to seeing explode for points in bunches the last few seasons and speculated this had to do with playing less with the starters and a diminished role in Terry Porter’s offense on top of taking the court with a heavy heart while his beloved mother ails in Brazil.
Little did we know that just as we were speculating as to what was wrong with LB across the city, the Brazilian Blur was exploding for 16 fourth-quarter points to go with a team-high 27 in the Suns’ 107-102 win over the Grizzlies.
Barbosa scored every which way, on twisting, off-balanced shots, tough 3s, scoop shots and driving layups past flat-footed defenders, outscoring Memphis’ bench on his own and leading Phoenix’s bench to 50 points. No shot was bigger than his final score, a go-ahead 3 in the corner that gave the Suns the lead for good with 43.8 seconds left.
“He was great tonight,” Porter told Suns.com. “LB was rolling so well, I just wanted to keep him in there. He really was explosive, and I thought he just got into his rhythm a little bit better tonight. He made a couple shots at the basket, and it opened up things a little bit, and he really found his game tonight.”
Barbosa’s big day started right when he checked in with about two minutes left in the first quarter when the Suns called a pair of set plays for him. LB made a nice cut for a layup seconds after checking in on the first such play, which set the tone for the rest of the contest.
The Blur hit 10-of-13 shots (76.9 percent) after entering the game as a 33 percent shooter, nailing a pair of 3s and 5-of-6 free throws in just 22 minutes.
Since scoring 18 in the season opener at San Antonio, Barbosa had been largely nonexistent. He has scored two or fewer points three times and had never put his stamp on a game like Suns fans had grown so accustomed to.
In Barbosa’s defense, he missed all of training camp to be with his mother who was suffering from a lung infection in Brazil. That couldn’t be easy for LB, who had to learn Porter’s system on the fly while his spirit was a continent away.
The system in itself should also mean a decrease in stats for Barbosa, who thrived in D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less,” shoot-whenever-you-want style.
And an underrated reason for Barbosa’s lack of production results from Porter’s rotation, which has often involved playing a group of bench players together, sometimes with Amare.
This means defenses can key in on Barbosa, who doesn’t have near the kind of rapport withas he does with .
In the fourth quarter of this game when LB went off, Porter used the three-guard lineup D’Antoni loved so much with Nash, Raja and LB, and that put Barbosa in a position to be more of the player he’s been in prior seasons.
“It was the first time that I was doing (well) and I felt like I could go to the basket and I could shoot,” Barbosa told Suns.com. “My teammates were helping me and the coach was helping me too, and it was great.”
On one hand, Barbosa is a dynamic scoring threat who in theory should be one of the top guns in the second unit, so maybe a game like this can be the confidence-booster he needs to make that a reality.
But Barbosa needs minutes to score, and he averaged 13.1 points in 27.9 minutes in 2005-06, 18.1 in 32.7 in 2006-07 and 15.6 in 29.5 last year. Even with Monday’s outburst, LB is still only going for 10.0 points in 20.8 minutes per contest.
It will take a hell of a balancing act for Porter, but 10-man rotations mean players like Barbosa get the squeeze. When he’s rolling like he was on Monday, I’d like to see him get back in the 30-minute range with more time in the potent three-guard lineup with Nash and Raja.