Suns 104, Pistons 86 – Shaq sets the tone

Shaq was not pleased about being ejected from a game he was dominating. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Shaq was not pleased about being ejected from a game he was dominating. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Boom!

That’s either the sound of Shaq slamming Rodney Stuckey to the ground or the resonance of the Suns recording their first statement win of the season, 104-86 over the Pistons in a game that was as much a blowout as the final score suggests.

The Suns’ opening-night win in San Antonio lost some luster the way the Spurs have struggled out of the gate, but there’s no marginalizing a win over perennial Eastern Conference finalist Detroit a game after the Pistons smacked around the Lakers in becoming the first team to defeat the defending Western Conference champs this year.

With the win the Suns became the first West team to eight victories, pulling a half-game behind the Lakers, and no other Western team is better than 6-4. Take that, preseason prognosticators.

The defining moment in this one came about halfway through a second quarter Shaq had been dominating when Stuckey drove to the basket and Shaq threw him to the ground to protect the rim, sending a message to any future opponent that wants to go to the hole on Shaq and the formerly soft Suns.

The play looks just disgusting at first glance with the 325-pound Daddy putting a ferocious hit on the young Detroit point guard, but when slowed down Shaq was clearly going for the ball to make a clean play.

Of course, when you’re Shaq and the other guy goes flying it doesn’t quite look like that.

If any other guy in the league makes the play Shaq does it probably isn’t a flagarant, but with the way Stuckey was flopping around on the ground and the vicious look to the hit the refs called it a Flagarant 2 and thus kicked the big man out of the game.

Shaq could be on the hook for a suspension, but I doubt it given the fact Shaq was trying to make a clean play. The Suns’ announcers even speculated it could be reduced to a Flagarant 1 after the league takes a look.

Then again, with the way the league typically handles Suns suspension issues, we shouldn’t expect anything.

Shaq was livid by the call and pushed away head coach Terry Porter as he went to plead his case to no avail.

“The laws of physics state that ‘a body in motion stays in motion,’” Shaq told Suns.com. “And if you have two objects that meet in air, the smaller object is going to fall much harder at the same rate of speed it was going. I’ve never been the type of player to take anyone out – I was going for the ball. He fell and he added a little bit to the end.

“The referees looked at how he fell, I think. It’s nothing I’m worried about; I’ve never been that type of player. If you understand physics like that, anytime you come in there out of control like that and you run into a brick wall, you’re going to get that effect.”

Added Porter to the Suns’ official site, “Sometimes in those situations, the fall may look worse than the contact was, and I think that’s what happened.”

The good news, kind of like with the unfair Nash suspension, is that the Suns won the game anyway and will have a fresh Shaq Monday in Utah after he logged just 13 minutes. So in a sense Shaq will have still gotten some semblance of a rest in this back-to-back after setting the tone for victory in this one.

Despite playing just 13 minutes, Shaq still managed 12 points on 12 shots, as the offense frequently consisted of throwing the ball into Shaq and everyone else watching before the ejection.

Shaq took a couple bad shots, although for the most part you can’t complain about his efficiency, and it was incredibly strange watching the Phoenix Suns’ offense completely revolve around Shaquille O’Neal without the ball movement and outside shooting that defined the D’Antoni years.

Birthday boy Amare Stoudemire, who turned 26 on Sunday, picked up the slack with 29 and 11 on 11-for-17 shooting, breaking out of his mini-slump the past couple games in which he only averaged 11.5 points.

Steve Nash went for 17 and seven assists, hitting a pair of crucial 3s at the end of the first half when the Pistons were making a run, and somehow even got up for two blocks, including a rejection of Rip Hamilton on a fast break that Eddie Johnson described as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The Suns shot 56.9 percent for the game, hitting 18 of their first 22 (82 percent), and held Detroit to 39.8 percent shooting in a contest they dominated from the tip.

It must have felt great for Porter, a Detroit assistant the past two seasons, to beat his former squad after it passed him over in its head coaching search this offseason.

The only downside to the night was free-throw shooting, as the Suns hit just 16-of-28 (57.1 percent).

Rotation ramblings

Backup point guard controversy anyone?

As the Suns continue to search for a capable backup to Nash, both Goran Dragic and Sean Singletary got equal looks against the Pistons.

Singletary nailed a 3 and recorded a rebound and assist in his seven minutes, while Dragic went scoreless with two assists, a steal and a block in seven minutes.

Besides garbage time, each player got about four minutes in the first half while Nash rested. Before Singletary played reasonably well Friday in Sacramento when Nash was suspended, Dragic played all of those minutes and Singletary only saw action during garbage time.

Neither player got in until garbage time in the second half of this one because Nash played the first 21 minutes of the half. That’s extremely odd not only because Nash always gets a rest earlier in the half regardless of the score but also because there’s a trip to Utah on tap Monday and Sunday’s game was reasonably in control for much of the fourth quarter.

Boris Diaw played well in his 35 minutes, going for 13 and seven while punishing smaller defenders in the post when he got the chance, and Robin Lopez admirably filled in for Shaq after the ejection.

The rookie immediately entered the game after the Big Cactus was thrown out and brought instant energy, playing tough defense on Rasheed Wallace and stealing an Allen Iverson pass. Lopez finished with nine points and four rebounds and showed he deserves minutes even when Shaq isn’t tossed early.

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