PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have always been more dangerous when Steve Nash gets his entire team involved, and Friday’s 123-101 victory over the Warriors was just one more piece of evidence toward that argument.
Nash dished out 20 assists, four more than the Warriors as a team, and every Suns starter scored at least 18 points.
It was vintage Suns basketball, with an added wrinkle of their center bombing threes, and it also started with the man they call Two Time, who recorded just the sixth 20-assist game of his illustrious career and added six boards and the 72nd block of his career for good measure.
“I never talk about Steve,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s kind of understood. You look down and he has 18 and 20, and you’re like, ‘That’s what he’s supposed to do.’ I think we take him for granted, but he had a terrific game. Every time we needed something good to happen he seems to make a play. He’s the whole engine that runs the car.”
It was an interesting contrast watching Steve Nash ply his craft against a team that seemed intent on jacking it up whenever they touched the ball.
You look down the roster at Golden State and there are some very talented basketball players, but they all seem to be playing for themselves instead of for each other.
When the ball comes to them they jack it up, whereas with the Suns, Channing Frye said he did not care that he only took four shots in the first half because the ball didn’t find him so he knew it wasn’t his shot.
The second half was a completely different story for the former Wildcat. Nash found him time and time again, and by the time the carnage was over Frye had scored 22 points, including six three-pointers, never hesitating on a single shot. And yes, he is the starting center.
“He shot the ball great tonight,” Nash said. “Down the stretch it was fun to watch him get hot. He adds a new dimension to our team.
“We have a center that’s shooting threes whereas in the past we had Amare at center and a smaller four. We don’t have the same thrust or rhythm that we used to have, but we’re scoring in different ways. It’s exciting. We’ve got some things to work toward.”
This is certainly a different offensive basketball team than the one featuring Amare at the five and a guy like Matrix at the four, but it’s every bit as tantalizing offensively.
Gentry gave much of the credit for Frye’s big game to Stoudemire, saying he deserves some sort of hockey assist for the way he takes guys with him when he rolls to the basket, freeing up the perimeter for Frye, who knew what to do with that space.
As Gentry said of Frye, “That’s why we signed him.”
Frye also added eight boards, tying Lou Amundson for the team lead, and for the second straight game Phoenix outrebounded its opponent, this time 47-38.
The Suns will not be a rebounding juggernaut of course, but if they can just be mediocre and not terrible, this will be a good team. Even when the big guys were not getting the boards, they did a decent enough job of sealing off their guys to allow Hill to corral another six, Nash six and Dudley five.
Phoenix also held the Warriors to 42.4 percent shooting, and all in all they played about as well as you could expect them to without one of their best players (J-Rich) and considering they are still trying to find their rhythm as a team. The only blemish was their 23 turnovers, but Gentry said that kind of thing will just happen in a game as up-tempo as this one was.
Amare Stoudemire scored 20 points and grabbed only five boards, and all in all I was very impressed with the strides he’s making on the defensive side of things.
Before the game, Gentry pointed out that Amare had taken eight charges in Phoenix’s first nine games counting preseason, and then Amare went out and took two more charges in the first quarter.
I don’t remember Amare ever taking two charges in a season.
This coming on the heels of making a great switch and essentially the game-winning defensive play on Wednesday, I think Gentry is right to gush about the strides he’s starting to make.
“It’s been amazing the transformation that he’s had as far the alertness and weakside helping and rotations,” Gentry said. “He continues to get better in that area. His offense is going to come as he gets himself in better condition. His timing and everything has got to come back. For a guy that’s struggling, 20 and five and a blocked shot is not that bad, but I think that kind of tells you that standard that he’s set for himself, which is pretty high.”
During the summer when Amare could not physically work on his game, he worked on the mental side, watching film and studying his game. He’s certainly not there yet, but it’s such an encouraging sign to see Amare drawing multiple charges and diving on the floor for a loose ball like he did on Wednesday night.
“My defense is definitely picking up, and guys are starting to notice,” Amare said, “and if we just continue to play a team defensive game, we’re going to be OK.”
It’s wise to note that all this came against the Golden State Warriors. The Suns definitely looked better than they are, and much of that can likely be attributed to how bad Golden State is.
But any win is a good win, and if the Suns play this way against good teams then this season could be pretty interesting.
“You know it’s a win at home, and the thing that we talked about today is that we got to do a really good job of protecting our home court,” Gentry said. “I thought for the most part this was a good win, and we played pretty consistently throughout the game.”