First off, all I can say is I don’t think my heart will be able to handle 81 more games like the contest we saw tonight, a 109-107 Suns victory over the Clippers.
Although it’s going to be a while before we know just what kind of heart the Phoenix Suns possess, this is the kind of game that good teams win.
Trailing most of the game on the road against a team with some obvious mismatches on their end, the Suns kept battling and in the end made just one more shot than the Clippers.
It may be tempting to say this a lot in the coming months, but I really feel like this is the kind of game that the 2008-09 Suns would have lost.
I know, I know, it’s just the Clippers, but it’s not just the Clippers. The Clippers WILL be a decent basketball team and maybe even a good basketball team. I don’t even think it’s ridiculous to say the Suns now lead the Clips by a game and a half with an edge on the tiebreaker; it really could come down to these two squads for the final playoff spot.
The Suns won this game for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that Steve Nash took over the fourth quarter. After scoring just nine points through the first three, Nash exploded for 15 on perfect shooting in the fourth, including 13 in the final 5:22.
That prompted my dad and I to debate whether Nash just wants to get everybody involved early or if he’s saving energy. I think it’s more the former; Nash is so unselfish he doesn’t want to get into ball hog mode, although who knows how many points he would score if he took his fourth quarter mentality to the opening three quarters.
“He is a warrior and one of the leaders of our team,” head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “That’s why we worked so hard to keep him signed because he is an intricate part of our team.”
First, Nash hit an utterly tough pull-up triple with a man in his face to tie things up with 1:40 left after the Suns had trailed for the majority of the game. About a minute later he initiated a possession in which just about every Sun touched the ball before the rock was rotated over to Barbosa in the corner for a clutch three ball to put the Suns up three with 23 seconds left.
Game over, right? Wrong, these aren’t the same old Clippers.
Rasual Butler calmly answered with a triple of his own with Amare in his face to tie things up with 11 seconds left.
At this point, I’m thinking, “Just take the final shot and either make it or OT,” but Nash went left and didn’t find any help with the Clips so wary of his passing ability, so he laid it up with his left hand with five seconds left.
At this point, I was sure the Clippers would answer, but Amare switched onto Eric Gordon and forced him into a tough three that he missed badly as he was trying to draw a foul.
Game over, and the Suns’ dream of an undefeated season is still alive.
“Tonight was definitely a gut check,” Amare told Suns.com. “We gained momentum in the fourth quarter and that helped push us for the win.”
It’s amazing that the Suns pulled this one out because the Clips enjoyed a pair of monster mismatches down the stretch, and wouldn’t you know they were Nash and Amare’s men.
The Suns defended Baron Davis with either Dudley or Grant Hill and left Nash to guard Eric Gordon, and Gordon punished him a few times for hoops.
Amare had some trouble with Chris Kaman, as the Los Angeles center scored all six Clippers points from the four-minute mark on before Butler’s big three.
Grant Hill was another huge positive, contributing 19 points and 13 boards, including 10 on the defensive side of things, in 33 minutes. That means Hill pulled down more defensive boards than Amare and Channing combined for at both ends (nine) in 66 minutes of action.
Still, all in all rebounding was not an issue at all, as the Suns outrebounded the bigger Clippers, 36-35, and held Los Angeles to just seven offensive boards.
Hell, it was opposite night or something as the Clippers ran out to 16 fast-break points to Phoenix’s two.
As for Amare, the big man only took six field goals, but he got to the line 10 times to score his 16 points. He’s certainly not back to being Amare, but it’s a positive sign that he was able to get through 40 minutes and still be able to play great defense on the switch on the final play, whereas a younger Amare probably fouls the shooter in that situation. As Amare works himself into better game shape, I think the real Amare will resurface.
Another huge key to the win was the bench, which I think is definitely going to be better than people think.
The trend in this game was for the starters to fall behind only for the bench to bring them back. Jared Dudley led the Suns with a plus 12 in 23 minutes, while putting up six points and seven boards, and Earl Clark was a plus 11 in 20 minutes with six and five. I didn’t expect Clark to get that much burn in the opener, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
Goran Dragic was also solid running the team with Nash out, and Lou did his normal hustle thing.
One more encouraging sign from the first game of the season: the bench was totally into the game at the end, running out to greet the starters after every big play.
They were completely engaged in the game, with Dudley even tweeting, “I felt like I was a fan watching at the end of the game.”
It was only Game 1 of 82, but that camaraderie is something that winning teams just have, and it’s a closeness the Suns paid lip service to that we are now seeing before our very eyes.
The Suns now can be satisfied with this victory as they return home for a winnable two-game homestand that they really need to sweep to start 3-0 before heading off on that brutal Eastern road trip that’s sure to blemish their record.
“It’s a good win for us and a good start,” Gentry said. “It is still going to be a long season, and we have a lot of work to do.”