PHOENIX – Amare or not, here they come.
Playing in their first game since finding out Amare Stoudemire is likely out for the regular season, the Suns exhibited what they need to do to win without their All-Star forward in a 140-118 win over the Thunder.
Phoenix’s aggressive defense forced 23 Oklahoma City turnovers including 14 steals, leading to 37 fast-break points in the runaway victory.
The Suns also mixed in 12 threes in 22 attempts, looking much like the racecar squad that captivated America during the Mike D’Antoni Era.
“I think this proves if we really push the ball and make good decisions, we can score no matter who is in the lineup,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “Obviously, over an extended period of games we’re going to miss him, but we have guys who can fill in the gaps for short periods of times. We just have to keep working together and make up for his absence.”
The Suns have now scored 140 points in every game since Alvin Gentry took over, something that had never been done in any three-game stretch in franchise history. The feat had last been accomplished in the NBA by Portland in November 1990.
Phoenix has also reached 100 points by the third quarter in three straight games, and the team has scored at least 30 points in 10 of 12 quarters since the break.
“It definitely was a fun game for us tonight,” said Suns guard Jason Richardson. “We did a great job, sharing the ball, running, being the team we’re supposed to be. Even if it’s against teams that are kind of struggling, this is a big confidence booster for us.”
The stars on Friday were Leandro Barbosa and Richardson, who to nobody’s surprise were at their best in a game in which the Suns ran on makes, ran on misses and ran on everything in between.
J-Rich scored a season-high 34 points, but he only earned second billing because Barbosa, starting in a Small Ball lineup in place of Amare, exploded for a career-high 41 points on 16-for-21 shooting and 5-for-7 three-point shooting while grabbing seven boards, dishing seven assists and recording six steals. He also turned it over just once in a game-high 42 minutes and earned a plus 29.
“Incredible performance,” Nash said. “What can you say? That’s Jordan-like numbers. It was fun for us to see him have a big night like that – he was everywhere – and hopefully he can get some rest for Sunday.”
Added Gentry, “When you get into an open-court game like we played tonight he is as good as anyone in the league from a standpoint of making steals. And when he gets on a roll shooting the ball, he really feels good about the way he is playing and real confident – so he shot the ball extremely well.”
What’s most amazing about LB’s performance is that he tired about midway through the third quarter and ended up cramping up. He also said he’s “not in shape yet” and that he finished the game “really, really tired, because I didn’t have legs.”
I’d like to see what Barbosa can do in this system when he does have his legs because that didn’t stop him from scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the final quarter.
He scored the Suns’ final eight points with the crowd cheering him every step of the way to Phoenix’s third 140-point game in a row and his career high.
Barbosa did not understand why Matt Barnes and Gentry urged him to drive in for a shot in the final seconds with the game comfortably over until later when he realized the benchmarks he hit.
When Barbosa nailed his final jumper the crowd exploded, something LB termed “a special time” for the way the fans cared about him.
Nobody expects the Suns to score 140 every time out or for LB to suddenly turn into a 40-point scorer, but Gentry knows there’s only one way for his team to reach the playoffs.
They have to run there.
“He just lets us run up and down like we used to,” Barbosa said. “He doesn’t really call any plays, whatever happens, happens, so we’re very comfortable with that situation, and we’re just playing the game. We feel like we’re doing well so far.”
140, 142, 140.
I’d say so.
After trailing by as many as 28 points, Oklahoma City turned this into a six-point game with about nine and a half minutes left. Then the Suns turned it on late on their way to the blowout. …
Gentry emptied his bench, giving double-figure minutes to Barnes (30), Lou Amundson, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic while also sending Robin Lopez in for a fourth quarter cameo to spell Shaq. …
On the other side, the Suns didn’t have much of a chance guarding Kevin Durant, who torched Phoenix defenders for 35 points. The Suns also did a poor job on the glass, yielding 19 offensive rebounds. …
Grant Hill exited the game at the 9:24 mark of the third quarter due to soreness in his foot and did not return. Gentry said Hill could have come back, but the Suns did not want to risk it. …
The Suns led from wire to wire in this one for the second home game in a row and the fifth time on the season. They have trailed for a grand total of 1:43 since the All-Star break. Of course, they also played the Clippers twice and the Thunder once. …
Phoenix has put up an average of 108.0 points per game in the first three quarters of its last three games after averaging 104.4 points per game overall during the 51 games before the break. The team has won its past three games by a margin of 28.3 points per contest.