PHOENIX — Sacramento Kings head coach Paul Westphal can look to the Ring of Honor in US Airways Center and see his face, a tribute to his playing and coaching days with the Suns. But he didn’t have the kind of success against the Suns that he enjoyed when he was with organization as his Kings were unable to end their woes in Phoenix.
Amare Stoudemire had 21 rebounds, Steve Nash scored 32 points and the Suns pulled out a win in the fourth quarter, 114-107, Saturday night over the hard-hitting Kings, handing them their eighth straight loss in Phoenix.
“I guess you can just say it was a grind-it-out win,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We didn’t shoot the ball well but we found a way to grind it out.”
The Suns shot a mediocre 43.2 percent and couldn’t break away from the feisty Kings, but they surged in the final minutes to get a much-needed win.
Channing Frye hit three of the Suns’ five three-pointers in the last six minutes of play. The Kings only trailed 95-94 at that point, but a fake drive from Nash and a pass to a wide open Frye for three changed the tone, and the Suns took off from there.
“We just got to keep shooting,” Frye said. “They’re going to go in eventually.”
The Suns needed this win after losing consecutive games to the Knicks and Cavaliers earlier this week. Phoenix remained the NBA’s only undefeated team at home by taking its only home contest in a current-seven game stretch that concludes with roadies against the Lakers and Mavericks in the coming days.
The Suns took a 60-55 lead into the half, but the Kings came out after the break even more physical and a 10-4 run put them ahead 65-64. Even with Stoudemire’s season-high rebounding night, the Kings owned the paint and by the end of the night, most of the Suns had to be sore from a lot of hard fouls and loose ball scrums.
“Any time you play against (Andres) Nocioni, it’s going to be a physical game,” Stoudemire said. “They definitely did what they had to do out there. It was aggressive.”
Nocioni finished with 20 points for the Kings, and Tyreke Evans led the team with 21 points and seven assists. Kenny Thomas came off the bench for 18 rebounds.
Steve Nash reminded the Kings why he’s a two-time MVP, scoring 20 points in the second half. Shooting 11-of-23, Nash took more shots than he has all season.
The Kings are just the kind of team that can sneak up on the Suns, as they are underrated, physical and offensively capable. This game could have gone either way until late, and the Kings stayed in it without their leading scorer Kevin Martin, who is out with a fractured wrist.
Evans has been doing just fine though, earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for November. He doesn’t look like a rookie out there. His mature, developed game makes him look like he’s been around the league a while.
The Kings led 83-82 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Suns’ wouldn’t be beat at home, extending their home winning streak to 16 games by taking their sixth game when trailing after three. Although they were out-rebounded and didn’t force a lot of turnovers, the Suns’ defense looked better in this game than it did in the last two.
A large part of that had to do with the Suns playing to the Kings’ level of physicality and staying active on the boards. Their defensive energy was actually kind of surprising considering the Suns are playing tired right now, having played four straight games on the road.
“I’m not making excuses, this is just the facts,” Gentry said. “We are a little tired right now and not quite as energetic as we’ve been.”
This one could have been a totally different game if the Suns had shot the ball better. The offense just wasn’t clicking tonight and they were missing shots that this team usually makes. The odd thing was Steve was making crazy shots with hands in his face, though, the ones you don’t think have a chance of going in.
“We missed a lot of shots we normally make — we’re getting our confidence back up from the end of that road trip,” Nash said.
With the way the Suns are shooting the last few games, the ridiculous December schedule looks even scarier. Grant Hill was 4-of-15 against the Kings, Stoudemire was 5-of-13 and Frye 4-of-10. Gentry said before the game that he thinks the shooting woes aren’t going to continue. With only three sub-.500 opponents remaining in December, they’ll have to improve their shooting if they want to come out alive in the new year.
And the schedule gets immediately tougher as the Suns caught a plane after the game for LA where they’ll try to get avenge their last loss to the Lakers Sunday night.