Suns 113, Magic 112 – A wonderful beginning


The Suns executed their crunch time play to perfection for once. (AP/Paul Connors)

The Suns executed their crunch time play to perfection for once. (AP/Paul Connors)

As a former University of Arizona basketball beat writer who watched every game the last four years as well as their two choke job losses this season, I cringe every time the Wildcats have the ball in the final seconds with the game on the line because I know what’s going to happen.

And it’s not good.

Whoever the coach (be it Olson, O’Neill or Pennell) thinks is the best player at the time will dribble down the clock like Barkley over the Admiral in ’93 and pull up for a jumper.

Unfortunately, that play hasn’t worked since Salim Stoudamire graduated in 2005.

The Suns favor the iso play as well, as Amare Stoudemire popped a J in Spencer Hawes’ eye to win a game in Sacramento earlier in the year, and Steve Nash has been known to pull up from 3 in such situations. It’s almost as if coaches stop coaching at the most important moment and have their teams go playground style with their best player going one-on-one.

Which is great if you have Michael Jordan on your roster.

After Hedo Turkoglu had just stuck a go-ahead jumper going one-on-on on Grant Hill with nine seconds left, the Suns appeared to have the usual iso play called for Amare. But then something happened that never does in such situations in the NBA and college.

The Suns ran an actual play.

And it worked to perfection.

With everybody’s attention on Amare, Steve Nash of all people set a back pick on Turkoglu, who was defending Hill. Hill cut to the hoop, where Amare found him with a beauty of a pass and the former Orlando Magic star put in a reverse layup to win it for Phoenix, 113-112.

The play was genius. Nobody would expect Nash to set a game-winning back pick, but that’s exactly what happened as Jameer Nelson failed to switch onto Hill, allowing him a free path for the layup.

Say what you want about head coach Terry Porter, and many people have, but he deserves credit for that brilliant play call.

“I just figure if I cut I might be open,” Hill told The Associated Press. “I was surprised Amare threw it.”

Added Stoudemire to AP, “They picked their poison and Grant finished it.”

Porter said the Suns had three options on the play, either Amare could take it, he could execute a dribble handoff with Nash or he could make the play that ended up winning the game.

It’s a good sign that Amare made the team play and found Hill for the game-winner.

J-Rich provided a spark off the bench in his Suns debut with 21 points. (AP/Paul Connors)

J-Rich provided a spark off the bench in his Suns debut with a team-high-tying 21 points. (AP/Paul Connors)

J-Rich shines in debut

Although the game was dramatic from start to finish, this contest will always be known as the debut of Jason Richardson.

Richardson did not start, but he may as well have, scoring 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting in 34 minutes. He also grabbed three boards and dished three assists.

The newest Sun appeared nervous at first but eventually settled in, scoring 14 of his points after intermission.

His first bucket as a Sun was an and-one layup, which he followed up with a sick reverse dunk off an alley-oop with a showing of athleticism that you certainly weren’t going to get from Raja Bell.

“I was very nervous,” Richardson told Suns.com. “The first couple of shots I thought were going to be air balls, but after I got that layup, I felt like my normal self.”

Richardson seemed to become more a part of the game plan as the contest went along, and I’m sure he will be integrated even more so with the weekend off before Monday’s tilt against the New York D’Antoni’s.

You could tell Richardson and his new teammates weren’t always on the same page, as a couple of times fellow Suns threw balls away because J-Rich wasn’t in the spot they anticipated he’d be at. That’s certainly understandable and will improve as they play together, but still the Suns have got to be happy with only 13 turnovers.

In all, it was a stellar debut for Richardson, who cracked the 20-point barrier without really knowing any of the plays.

“It was huge; we went to him early in the post a little bit,” Porter told Suns.com. “We thought we had the advantage there. Just his energy, the dunk was good. A couple of times he got some rebounds, we decided to go to him in some iso situations to create some opportunities for him. It was good to see.”

This and that

This was kind of a bizarre game in that it was an old-fashioned shootout for the balance of the contest yet contained stretches of being a defensive slugfest.

The Magic ripped off 25 points in the first 5:21, then scored two points over a 5:55 stretch of the second quarter and suffered through two separate droughts of at least 2:30 and three minutes in the third quarter.

After both teams were running and gunning and hitting shots all over the floor in the first quarter, when the squads combined to hit their first 11 attempts, the score stayed at 77-70 Suns from a Rashard Lewis shot at 5:16 to a J-Rich dunk at 2:20, almost three full minutes of action without even a point.

Still, as a whole this game certainly falls under the shootout category, and the Suns just made the last shot.

They shot better than 50 percent from the field, hit 10 3-pointers (at a better than 50 percent clip) and did a nice job getting up and down the floor.

Balance was another key as Amare, Nash and J-Rich tied for the team lead with 21 points and Hill, Matt Barnes and Leandro Barbosa all scored at least 14. With Shaq not playing, that’s as perfect of a scoring line as Porter could ever want, and nobody can complain about not getting the ball.

The Suns used the Nash-Barbosa-J-Rich-Barnes-Amare lineup I was craving before the game for much of crunch time and although it gave up the lead, that’s a unit that will cause major matchup problems for everybody in the NBA. I hope the Suns stick with it as an option when the Shaqtus rests.

We also did not see an appearance from Goran Dragic, which is a very good thing. Especially with the added punch of J-Rich, the Suns need to use the Hill-Barbosa combo when Nash rests, which will provide plenty of offense and keep Phoenix’s best players on the floor at all times.

Jared Dudley only saw the court for two minutes, but that will change once he learns the system. I think Dudley will be a major factor off the bench.

Finally, Robin Lopez was lucky Dwight Howard missed most of the second half, as the rookie was completely overmatched against Superman (don’t tell Shaq I make a Howard reference with that nickname). Howard’s knee caused him to leave the game for good at the 8:36 mark of the third quarter.

He had scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the first quarter against Lopez and was on his way for a monster evening. I know he’s one of the best interior players in the league if not the best, but he really made the Suns rookie look he belonged back at Stanford, not that anybody else on the team had any kind of a chance against him.

You also knew any rebound near the duo would go Howard’s way, and that was the case as Lopez’s only offensive rebound of the game came off his own missed layup. In 20 minutes of floor time.

So Robin needs to chalk this one up to being taken to school by Mr. Howard and continue to make an effort to improve on the boards. Lopez should make an impact for the Suns as a rebounder-shot blocker, especially now with Diaw’s minutes in Charlotte, but he doesn’t deserve to see the floor if he rebounds like he has of late.

Tags: Jason Richardson