Suns 126, 76ers 116 – Vets turn back the clock

Hill, Nash and Co. could smile for once at the end of a game against a playoff team. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Hill, Nash and Co. could smile for once at the end of a game against a playoff team. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX – Alvin Gentry’s offensive juggernaut continued to set records in Wednesday’s 126-116 victory over the 76ers after four Suns hit the 20-point mark for the second straight regulation game for the first time in team history.

Overall the team scored 120 for the seventh time in Gentry’s 17 games after hitting that mark just three times in 51 games under Terry Porter, which really makes you wonder why Kerr and Co. ever tried to make this not a running team.

Phoenix has also now scored at least 30 points in nine consecutive quarters after hitting a balanced 31, 32, 30 and 33 tonight, but what stood out most to me about Gentry’s press conference is a comment he made about a Suns defense that yielded 116 points on 54.9 percent shooting.

“I thought we played good defense,” Gentry said. “You guys are going to be mad at me for saying that, I mean they got 116, but I did, I thought we did a good job defensively for the most part, and it’s hard to guard those guys.”

Just don’t try to get Andre Miller to buy that, as the Sixers guard said, “There wasn’t any defense out there today by either team.”

If the Suns had given up 116 points with Porter at the helm then first off the head coach would likely be the first person to agree with Miller and second off the Suns would not have won the game.

But now we live in a world where you can give up 116 points on 55 percent shooting and call it a good night.

That’s because the Suns did what they didn’t do during the six-game losing streak and got stops down the stretch when they needed them.

With the way their offense is scoring at a historic rate, the Suns don’t need to hold teams to 90 points or 42 percent shooting. If they yield something like 50 points on 48.8 percent shooting every half like they did in the second half then victories will come.

As simple as it sounds, Phoenix won this game by getting three consecutive stops to take a three-point game to nine. Louis Williams hit a triple next time down to cut it to six, but from here on out the teams essentially traded baskets and the Sixers never got closer than seven.

Remind anyone else of the Suns’ recent road trip, just in reverse?

This game was a stark contrast to the previous game against Philadelphia for a number of reasons, chief among them the Suns had their running legs this time around.

Philly still managed to outscore the Suns on the break, but after a poor first half of transition defense Phoenix stiffened up. Grant Hill said he could feel it out on the court that the Suns were in better shape and more accustomed to getting up and down as opposed to last time when the Sixers’ crazy athleticism was even more of an advantage.

As opposed to last time when Hill, Nash and Shaq combined for 15 points and didn’t play after being benched midway through the third, the trio combined for 71 points and logged heavy minutes as part of a starting unit that all played between 38-39 minutes.

That other game was the second game of a back-to-back, whereas this time around Gentry likely felt OK playing his starters heavy minutes because this contest will be Phoenix’s only game in a five-day stretch in another weird quirk of the schedule.

Maybe the most significant difference between the two games can be seen in the turnover department. The Suns committed 18 last time in the final days of Porter’s turnover-plagued regime, but coughed it up just eight times in this one.

“We just haven’t been a high-turnover team here in the past, and it’s been because if you’re getting up a lot of shots – you know, we got up 92 shots – if you get up 92 shots there’s not a whole lot of turnovers to be had,” Gentry said. “So the pace that you play at you’re going to have some turnovers, but for the most part I think that we’ll get shots up.”

Added Hill, “It’s been the story all year, if we limit our turnovers and get shots at the basket we’ll make more than we miss. We’ve done that as of late, and we’ve just got to continue to do it.”

The Suns, as usual, shot the ball well – at a 57.6 percent clip – and they even outrebounded a solid boarding team in Philly by a 44-31 margin.

And then there was Steve Nash, who posted his sixth 20-10 game in 14 contests since the break after finishing with just four in his first 51 games.

Nash also remains Phoenix’s go-to guy for honestly evaluating the effort his team played with.

After being particularly vocal about the Suns’ lethargy in what was only the game of the season last week against Dallas, Nash actually came away pleased with the energy Phoenix played with tonight to win its third straight game for the sixth time this season.

“We played with a lot of energy,” he said. “They’re a difficult team to beat. I thought we had some struggles throughout the game, but we always overcame them with energy and our commitment tonight, so I feel pleased with our performance.”

The victory kept the Suns four games behind Dallas and five games behind Utah in the playoff chase, with the Mavs playing a very losable game on Thursday in Atlanta, where the Hawks are 26-7. For one day at least, all will be forgiven for Suns fans concerning Joe Johnson.

On the Suns’ end, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a home win over the Sixers to make anybody believe they can really make a run, but for at least another couple days Phoenix fans can maintain hope that such a streak is possible.

“We’re still alive,” Nash said. “We still feel like we can do it.”

And 1

Shaq dominated with 26 points and 11 boards (impressively six offensive) to rack up his 14th 20-10 game this season after doing it just six times all of last year.

Combined with Nash’s 24 and 10, that’s not bad for a couple of old men.

“I think that’s what makes our team kind of special in that we have Steve Nash, who can push the ball and get us into anything in the open court, and then when we don’t have that I feel like we have the most dominant player that ever played in the low post, so we can throw it into him, and then they’re forced to do something,” Gentry said. …

The Sixers used the Hack-a-Shaq philosophy twice in the fourth quarter, with the Shaqtus making 1-of-4. …

After a two-point first half, Jason Richardson turned it on in the second half with 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting while playing all but 3:33 with LB injured.

“(Gentry) wanted me to step up, and that’s exactly what I did,” J-Rich said. “I was going out there and trying to be aggressive. I had a rough first half, but I wanted to go out there and give the team something better than I had in the first half.” …

Gentry lauded Hill’s defensive on freaky athletic forward Andre Iguodala, who scored 11 points in 41 minutes, seven below his season average. Hill also scored 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting and grabbed six boards.

“I just think Grant’s had a fantastic season,” Nash said. “His health has been great, he’s been really athletic. He’s done a bit of everything for us. Any given night he could lead us in scoring, in rebounding, assists, defensively. He’s just been outstanding all season long in many different ways.” …

Matt Barnes was a game-high plus 19 in 39 minutes despite scoring just five points on 2-for-9 shooting. Barnes still managed a nice all-around game with nine boards and five assists.

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