If Alvin Gentry could have scripted his first game as the Suns’ interim head coach, it would have looked exactly like Tuesday’s 140-100 victory over the Clippers.
Aside from 22 turnovers mainly committed by bench players, Phoenix played a perfect game.
The Suns ran at a breakneck pace like Gentry ordered, slaughtered Los Angeles on the boards by a 58-21 margin (15-3 offensive) and received excellent play from all of their rotation players and even some of their non-rotation players.
Phoenix broke its own NBA season high with 90 points in the paint, sprinted out to 33 fast-break points and finished off plays with so many highlights it looked like a continuation of Sunday’s All-Star Game.
The Suns won quarters by margins of 41-26, 40-23 and 37-23, and no starter missed more than three shots, as the unit combined to shoot 36-for-47 (76.6 percent) and assist on 22 baskets. That effort helped the Suns score at least 140 points in regulation for just the second time since 1995-96. And the offense has been kind of OK the past few years.
Phoenix led by as many as 52 points, set season highs for points in a game, points in a half (81-first half) and points in a quarter (41-first quarter) while making the Clippers look more like famed Los Angeles-area prep school Mater Dei.
The obvious comparison to this game would be the domination of Sacramento a couple weeks ago in which the Suns won a contest by 48 that Shaq cautioned could be a “fool’s gold” blowout. It took less than three minutes to figure that out when the Suns trailed 17-2 in their very next game at Golden State and a few games later got blown out in Philly and Cleveland.
This dominating win just felt different, though. It felt like the good old days when the Suns would literally run teams off the floor with a style of play that was basketball in its purest form.
Everybody was having fun, and I can’t remember the last time their body language looked that good. Certainly never this season.
The Suns looked so much like the Suns of old, you almost expected Mike D’Antoni himself to walk out of the locker room at halftime and resume his role at the head of the bench.
Maybe Gentry isn’t just D’Antoni Lite after all.
“It was a lot of fun,” Amare told Suns.com. “It’s beginning to be a lot of fun out there – when we play a high-octane offense. We got ourselves going, everybody got themselves good spacing and shooting rhythm and we played well.
“It felt totally different. We felt relaxed, we felt poised and we just ran and played free. Guys played well and we’ve just got to continue to keep that up.”
You hardly would have known the Suns were missing a key offensive starter with Jason Richardson suspended for an excessive speeding violation.
In his place, Leandro Barbosa played the best all-around game of his career, going for a team-high 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting and 3-for-4 threes while recording seven boards, five assists and five steals.
We all know LB is best suited for this type of pace, and even before today I’ve felt like his minutes need to be increased. Barbosa’s PER is right around his career-best season of 2006-07, but he’s averaging about 10 less minutes per game.
The Suns were always at their best with that Nash-Bell-LB lineup, and I think a Nash-J-Rich-LB lineup would be even more devastating. Hopefully the new style will lead to more such lineups, something I have been calling for since the Richardson trade but Basketball Prospectus’ Kevin Pelton researched has only been used for 67 minutes thus far.
Speaking of career games, Goran Dragic looked like a capable backup point guard tonight, and that’s the first time I’ve ever written that sentence. Most importantly he didn’t play timid, he wasn’t afraid to shoot, and that led to a box score of a career-high 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting, four boards and two assists (although also four turnovers).
Gentry talked about limiting the minutes of Nash and Shaq, and with Nash that’s something Porter couldn’t do with the way he had no faith whatsoever in Dragic. It also was noteworthy that Dragic wasn’t looking to the sideline every time he made a mistake, as Gentry told him to just play. It would be huge if he could give the Suns even 10 minutes a game.
Gentry played 10 guys in the first quarter, at one point going to an all-reserves lineup. Porter gave up on playing beyond eight guys about a month into the season, so it will be interesting if this keeps up.
“Well I don’t know if we will play 10, but we are going to try and get guys in the game early even if it is for a couple minutes and see if we can get them in a relaxed situation so if we have to use them later on it won’t be the first time they are in,” Gentry said at his presser. “That won’t happen every game, but we are going to try to definitely get them in.”
I’m a strong believer in an eight-man rotation, at least in the playoffs, but it couldn’t hurt to actually develop some young guys for once and keep the vets’ minutes down.
The only player not to get into that first quarter was Robin Lopez, who didn’t play until the fourth and was the only Sun whose minute total did not start with a ‘2.’ That really says something about what Gentry feels about him while he’s playing the rest of the bench so many early minutes.
For those of you who like crazy numbers, this contest marked the largest margin of victory ever following a coaching change, the Suns recorded 15 steals including five from Jared Dudley, and Phoenix’s bench trio of Dudley, Matt Barnes and Lou Amundson outboarded the Clippers, with each player recording more rebounds than Los Angeles’ high player (DeAndre Jordan with seven).
The stat lines were ridiculous as well, with Amare going for 23 in 20 minutes, Hill 20 in 23 minutes, Shaq 15 and eight on 6-for-6 shooting and Nash 10 assists to one turnovers. Barnes’ shooting is still off but he collected nine boards, six assists and two steals, Amundson went for a career-high-tying 13 and eight, and the team as a whole shot better than 62 percent.
To finish off the stat barrage, Nash was at a plus 39 and LB and Hill plus 38, while Eric Gordon was a minus 45 and Ricky Davis minus 42.
Yes, I understand the Clippers are one of the worst teams in basketball, and the Suns were almost certain to play a great game and win big off the momentum of the coaching change. I understand nobody should get too excited about beating a team missing its four best interior players after Zach Randolph was ejected for punching Amundson.
But it wasn’t the margin of victory or the ridiculous stats that has me excited today and hoping Steve Kerr gives this team a chance to climb up the Western Conference standings on a day the Hornets traded Tyson Chandler and the Rockets lost Tracy McGrady for the year.
It’s the fact that for the first time all season the Suns looked like the Phoenix Suns, running another team off the floor and having fun in the process.
If they continue to do that, they won’t need to worry about just sneaking into the playoffs.
Tags: Leandro Barbosa