PHOENIX — Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard both came into the league as supremely talented and athletic high schoolers who could dominate games with their tools alone.
Howard has grown into a dominant presence on the boards and the defensive end, but he doesn’t have much of an offensive game to speak of outside the lane. Stoudemire features a diverse offensive repertoire, but his defensive and rebounding skills leave something to be desired on most nights.
On a evening in which the Suns bottled up Howard, limiting him to a single field-goal attempt by sending him to the line 17 times, it was Stoudemire who picked up the game-winning rebound in the final seconds to all but seal a 106-103 Suns victory. He then finished the play off with a follow slam to extend a one-point lead to three with 6.9 seconds left.
“He wanted that rebound more than anybody else, and he just went and got it,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “It was a great putback.”
A play after Amare fumbled away a pass from Nash that may have been a touch behind him, the Suns had planned to go back to Stoudemire trying to ice the game up by one. But Howard defended Hill and Nash decided to freestyle, finding Dudley in the corner for a three that Superman defended.
That left Amare alone in the paint without Howard around, and he ferociously grabbed Dudley’s carom and gave it a home, ripping it away from Rashard Lewis in the process.
“We definitely put an emphasis on getting the loose balls and rebounds in the last two minutes of the game,” said Stoudemire, who went for a game-high 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting to go with a team-high 10 boards. “I saw the ball go up, and I just went after it. Once I grabbed it I figured I might as well finish it.”
Added Nash, “It was nice for us to get a bounce like that at the end of the game.”
The play was the finishing blow of a strange final minute after Hill gave the Suns a lead they would never relinquish by hitting a 12-foot bank shot on Nash’s 18th assist, this one of the behind-the-back variety.
After Anthony Johnson — who torched Nash for 11 points in the fourth — just missed a three, Stoudemire fumbled away Nash’s pass to lead to an Orlando fast break that was thwarted when Johnson dribbled the ball off Mickael Pietrus’ leg, something that couldn’t happen to a team more than a couple times a year.
Following the Dudley miss and Stoudemire putback, Lewis missed a fadeaway corner three badly that I swear I saw him hit a few times in the playoffs, leading to the first of two jump balls between Amare and Pietrus with just a couple seconds left.
It looked like Amare tipped the first one out of bounds, but for some reason they decided to re-jump with only 0.6 taken off the clock and Amare swatted it all the way to the other end to polish off an important victory.
“It was a win we desperately needed with the schedule we have coming up,” Gentry said. “It is really important for us to try to keep this thing going at home.”
The Suns avoided their first three-game losing streak since March and maintained their perfect 8-0 home record, keeping them the only undefeated home team in the NBA. They haven’t lost a home game since March 12 (a span of 17 straight wins), and Gentry is 22-3 in the Purple Palace. The Suns have struggled of late, but all the damage has come away from the 602 area code.
Granted their home schedule to date had been about as easy as getting sunburned in Phoenix in the middle of July — Orlando is the only team the Suns have hosted that currently boasts a winning record — so it was important to get a statement win against a team that had previously not dropped consecutive games all season before doing so the last two nights. These were also the first two games the Magic had lost when hitting the century mark.
“All wins are great wins if you ask me, but playing against Orlando it can definitely be a confidence builder for us,” Amare said. “We know how good we can be, and if we play well and keep our focus we can beat a lot of these teams in the league. That confidence is going to carry over.”
Nash once again was phenomenal as well, but what else is new?
MVSteve went for 20 points, 18 assists and seven rebounds for good measure, giving him the team’s second-best total in the latter department. This was his league-high third game of 18 or more assists, and only one other NBA player has done it once this season. With Orlando dishing 18 assists as a team, Nash at least equaled the opposition’s assist total for the fifth time this year. And yes, it’s only Dec. 11.
“Steve Nash, best point guard I’ve ever played with, lots of wide open shots,” said Suns forward Jared Dudley.
OK, so of course Nash is better than anybody Dudley played with at Charlotte or BC, but I’m not sure if there’s any current or former Nash teammate who wouldn’t feel the same way.
Nash helped Dudley to a career night, as the man behind JMZ scored a season-high 19 points to match his previous career high set April 12, 2008, for Charlotte at Indiana. Dudley has already scored at least 17 points four times this season after previously only doing so three times in his career.
Jared also shipped in with five boards and a couple steals while hitting four long balls and playing 33 minutes, including crunch time. There’s a reason Gentry can’t keep him out of the lineup, and it’s because he’s addicted to big plays. Tonight he did it with his shooting, drilling a couple big shots during a 10-3 Phoenix run at the end of the first half and nailing a three at the 3:30 mark of the fourth to put the Suns up one.
Just the fact that Nash would give Dudley a shot in a clinching situation — the shot Amare rebounded — shows how much confidence the Suns have in Dudley even if the play wasn’t designed for him.
“It was big for me to hit shots in the fourth quarter to let my teammates know, ‘Hey, not only can I do it in the first half, I can do it in the second half,’” Dudley said.
- I know, huge surprise, but the Suns were at their best when they played fast. They built up a 19-point first-half lead, including a 17-0 run in the first quarter in which they held the mighty Magic scoreless for over six minutes, by pushing the tempo. They did so again during the 10-3 run at the end of the half, but the game lulled at times as well.
- Nash on winning a game that featured a 22-21 Orlando advantage in the fourth quarter, a quarter in which the Magic shot just 35.0 percent from the floor: “You’ve got to be able to win in different ways. It’s important to sometimes win it at the foul line, sometimes win it with the three-point line, sometimes you’ve got to win it defensively, sometimes you’ve got to win it on the boards, so you’ve got to be able to turn it up in different areas to try to win games, especially down the stretch.”
- Almost a year ago to this day the Suns beat the Magic in a one-point thriller in downtown Phoenix capped by a game-winning bucket by Grant Hill. Hill once again hit the game-winner in this one after doing so in the debut game of Jason Richardson and Dudley last season.
- Amare, laughing, on whether he took any of David Spade’s advice while taking a charge against an out-of-control Ryan Anderson in the fourth: “I try to make sure weakside I’m in the right position to take charges or block the shot, but David Spade, yeah, he definitely teaches you how to flop a little bit.”
- Dwight Howard has yet to win in Phoenix, going 0-6 in the Valley of the Sun(s). The Magic have not won in this city since Nov. 14, 2001. … The Magic were the only team not to have lost consecutive games before losing last night in Utah and tonight in Phoenix … The Suns are 11-0 in games they lead by double figures.