PHOENIX –- It’s amazing how one shot can make such a difference in how a game is perceived.
Case in point tonight, when the Suns were a Hedo Turkoglu rimmed out shot from bumming about a two-game losing streak.
“If Turkoglu hits that shot we’re in here thinking they stole one,” Jared Dudley said.
Instead the Suns prevailed, 101-100, and they can celebrate being the first NBA team to nine wins with their scorching-hot status and league-best record still intact even after Thursday’s debacle in Los Angeles.
It’s a shame a game as exciting as this one had to come down to one play, but that’s what happened, and who have thought a game between the Suns and Raptors would be won on the defensive end.
The Suns knew the final play would come down to the clutch Turkoglu, so head coach Alvin Gentry subbed Grant Hill in for Amare (Dudley had been playing small forward) so the Suns would be better suited to switch on the screen. After an initial switch put Hill on Turkoglu, the Raptors — correctly figuring the Suns would switch everything — picked Hill with Andrea Bargnani to put Frye on Hedo for the final shot.
Turkoglu, who had previously drilled a pair of clutch buckets in the final minutes, lost the ball momentarily to give Frye a split second extra to get up on him; he then just clanked a step-back jumper from 20 feet out. If you watch the replay, you can see an irate Gentry screaming at the official about a double dribble call, but in the end it didn’t matter with the Suns walking off victorious.
“Bargnani was going to go to the corner to space out and let Hedo do what Hedo does, and then I think he saw I was the biggest guy on the court,” Frye said. “Smart move, so you get me out, get us to switch and take your chances. He probably was like, biggest guy on the court, me, go out there and play some D.
“Last year I would have never seen the court at the end of the game and this year I made the game-winning stop, so hey, you never know what’s going to happen.”
The resilient Suns locked up the Raptors earlier in the quarter to put themselves in position for the victory, holding Toronto to 39.1 percent shooting in the fourth and running out to a 14-2 spurt after the Raptors went up seven early in the period.
It was a real nail-biting finish when Turkoglu hit a pair of jumpers to put Toronto up two, only to see Nash take what the defense gave him on a pick-and-roll by driving in and hitting a left-handed layup and drawing a foul for his eighth career game-winning shot and second this season.
“It was the way it had to be tonight,” said Nash, who went for 23 and nine. “We had to grind it out. We struggled a little bit offensively tonight, so we had to find a different way to win, and I think a big part of our start has been that we’ve won a number of games at the defensive end.
“I just tried to be aggressive (on the winning possession), and I found a seam. … We just weren’t flying offensively tonight, and luckily we had that toughness to find the stops down the stretch.”
Frye continued his red hot start at US Airways Center, drilling another six three-pointers in this one, including a critical one to put Phoenix up three with just over two minutes left. He has now hit six three-pointers in three of his first four Suns home games, and he’s hit more triples in his first four games at home than he had knocked down in his first four seasons as a pro.
He’s the only NBA player to hit six big shots three times thus far, and only New York’s Danilo Gallinari and J-Rich have done it twice. In all there have only been 13 such performances in the early going.
What’s even crazier is Frye’s home-road splits. He’s hit 65.6 percent of his threes at home (21-for-32) but just 30.6 percent on the road (11-for-36) in seven contests away from Phoenix.
“It feels good to be home,” said Frye, who scored 20 points and took eight of his nine shots from distance. “I made junk on the road. I was just calm out there, just remembered to get some legs into it and just breathed out and enjoyed myself. I was having fun out there, (and) it was a good situation. Go figure.”
The Suns also got a big game from Amare Stoudemire a day before his 27th birthday. A game after his career-worst shooting performance in Los Angeles, Amare pounded the Raptors for a season-high 30 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field and 10-for-11 shooting from the line to go with eight boards (four offensive).
His output largely had to do with the way Toronto played the Suns. Pretty much any time the Suns ran a pick-and-roll (which was a lot), the Raptors would switch. This meant a big was covering Nash and a small Amare.
The Raptors tried to swarm Amare in the paint to recover, but as can be seen from his stat line, more often than not Stoudemire was able to convert or draw a shooting foul.
“We took advantage of the smaller guys in the paint,” Amare said. “I think the guys played phenomenal basketball out there seeing the mismatch.”
However, Amare largely dodged the question of whether he needed a bounce back game like this after his 2-for-15 stinker in Los Angeles, instead saying the team needed a bounce back performance.
After a 33-31 first quarter led by the Raptors in which the Suns shot 61.9 percent and Toronto 57.7 percent, the shooting percentages dipped quite a bit for these mirror image teams, and anybody who bet the under on this one went home with a wad of cash.
In the end though the Suns showed the mental toughness to get the final two stops and subsequently their 11th straight win over the Raptors.
“I like our toughness, our grittiness,” Nash said. “Not physically but mentally we find a way to hang in there and we scrap and find a way to win close games.”
I just wonder what Nash and his mates would be saying if Turkoglu’s shot rolled in.
- Jared Dudley, what can you say about him. Again his line won’t do him justice, but there’s a reason Gentry could not take him out in the fourth quarter, first leaving him in for Frye to play the four against Bosh and then Hill. “I’ll say it again. You look at his line, he’s 1-for-4, he has five rebounds, but you just can’t read anything into what Jared Dudley means for our team and what he does. You guys have watched him, you know how important he is for us. He’s instrumental in everything we do here.”
- With the win, the Suns took over sole possession of first place in the NBA. They also became just the sixth team in Suns history to open a season 9-2 — the 2004-05 and 2007-08 squads did so as well — and they ran their home winning streak to 13 games dating back to March 12. They have now also scored at least 100 points in 30 straight home games dating back to last year and every game home or away this season.
- Frye on what made the Raptors so tough to handle at the defensive end: “Playing our type of basketball, being unselfish, hitting the open guy, they were hitting threes, spreading us out. I know, right? Just doing the things we’re used to doing.”
- Goran Dragic did not play in the second half and logged a season-low five minutes in his first scoreless game of the year. Dragic didn’t record a rebound or assist either but turned the ball over twice and picked up a foul. Sounds like a Dragic line from last season, not this year.
- Jason Richardson scored just eight points but grabbed 10 rebounds (nine defensive).
- The bench scored just 14 points in this one and for once the Suns’ scoring wasn’t balanced, with Amare, Nash and Channing combining for 73 of their 101 points (72.3 percent) and nobody else scoring in double figures.