I could have sworn the Suns team that topped the Jazz 106-104 on Saturday was a different squad than the one that got beaten down in Utah last month and entered this one having dropped four in a row in less than dramatic fashion.
This version of the Suns actually played with some energy and seemed to care about getting a victory, which can be seen in the rebounding numbers.
In that first ugly contest between these teams, the Jazz roared to a 47-26 advantage on the boards to win a game without Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur.
This time around in Phoenix with that duo playing but not Carlos Boozer, the Suns won by dominating the backboards to the tune of 54-37, a minor miracle in light of the last Utah game and a minus-29 differential over the previous two losses.
Without question the difference for the Suns on the boards was a certain 6-foot-10 freak of nature who exploded for 20 rebounds – including a career-high-tying 11 on the offensive glass – to record his fourth career 20-20 game by scoring 22 points as well.
Amare Stoudemire deserves praise for this standout performance, but it also begs this question: How can he go a half without a rebound just two games ago when he’s capable of performances like this?
“I had my focus on getting rebounds all night telling (assistant coach) Mr. (Bill) Cartwright that I was trying to get the rebounds and looking at my negativities and improving on them,” Amare told Suns.com. “When I do that it helps better the team.”
That leads me to believe Amare got a bit of a chewing out from the Suns’ big man coach after combining for just nine rebounds in Phoenix’s last two losses.
Nobody should be surprised that Amare would go for 20 boards. The surprise is that taking out the New Jersey game he only collected 18 boards in his previous four games besides that contest, and that after the first three games of the year he has only grabbed more than one offensive rebound in three separate games.
If he can do this against a stout rebounding team like Utah that killed Phoenix on the boards in the first meeting, why can’t he grab at least 10 every game?
“I told him that was the kind of energy and focus we need from him,” head coach Terry Porter told Suns.com.
And the bench delivers
The Suns addedto the starting lineup for the first time this season with and Shaquille O’Neal alongside him and the second time overall, a move that did more for Phoenix’s bench than for Hill himself.
Hill, who has put up better numbers as a starter than a bench guy, went for just six points in 19 minutes, but Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Matt Barnes each went for double figures in at least 30 minutes.
Barbosa scored a game-high 25, Diaw put up a 12-6-4 line and Barnes looked like the same guy off the bench as starting with 14 and seven.
“We got a big lift from our bench,” Porter told Suns.com. “Boris did a good job, Matt did a great job making some timely threes for us and Barbosa did a great job with just getting out in the open court and making some big shots for us.”
With the bench doing so much of the heavy lifting, only Amare and Nash played more than 23 minutes among the starters, and Raja Bell failed to score a point.
The win helped the Suns prevent their first losing streak of more than four games since a six-game slide in 2004-05 that directly followed a 31-4 start and included a Nash injury that won him his first MVP by how poorly Phoenix played without him.
Also, the tightly-contested game was an anomaly in that the score was tied after each of the first three quarters of a contest Phoenix eventually won by two. The teams also shot about the same percentage and committed a similar number of turnovers, so the game was really won on the backboards.