PHOENIX — When Alvin Gentry called his first timeout just 5:49 into the game, the Suns trailed 18-10, were getting pounded on the glass 14-2 and seemed content to make this a very merry Christmas for the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.
We probably cannot print whatever words Gentry used in that huddle, but whatever he said worked in a big way.
The Suns outscored the Clippers 114-75 from there on out and maybe even more impressively crushed them on the boards from that point on, 43-26, on their way to a 124-93 blowout victory.
“I think from that timeout we played pretty good ball for the most part,” said forward Grant Hill. “The thing we did a poor job against Oklahoma City is really just coming out lethargic. It’s kind of, ‘Hey guys, this is what we talked about, this is what got us in trouble. If we don’t change, we’re going to lose this game.’ The tone (of Gentry’s lashing) was a little different than that, but he was right. Really it just kind of got us going.”
From there the Suns rolled, scoring 10 unanswered points and running all the way to their most lopsided victory of the season.
The game clearly changed after the first half of the first quarter through the Suns’ commitment to hitting the glass.
Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman seemed to be playing volleyball to start the game, but Camby left after the first with a sore knee and Kaman only grabbed three rebounds the rest of the way after outrebounding the Suns 7-2 by himself during the first 5:49.
“I was just disappointed because it’s just one of those things that we know that that is an Achilles’ heel of ours, and we’ve just got to do a better job, and we’ve just got to be more focused on not giving up second shots,” Gentry said. “The thing that’s so bothersome is our initial defense has been really good. … If you give a team three chances, the chances of stopping them three straight times is not very good.
“I think for us it’s just really important for us to complete the defensive possession, and the only way to do that is to come up with the rebound.”
Lou Amundson came off the bench to grab a team-high 10 boards in 21 minutes. Amare went for nine (along with a game-high 26 points) and Jason Richardson grabbed eight offensive boards from the guard spot. The Suns have talked about guard rebounding a lot recently in practice, and it’s something the former Michigan State Spartan takes pride in.
Overall J-Rich played a solid all-around game by recording 18 points, including a trio of triples, to go with four assists. He collected a bunch of easy layups off nice cuts as well.
Three-point shooting also contributed to the win, as the Suns hit 12-of-24 long balls. They are 15-3 when hitting at least nine long balls, something they have already done more times this year than they did all of last season. The Suns were 11-of-44 (25 percent) from distance in their last two losses.
The bench made solid contributions on a night in which a trio of reserves scored in double figures, led by Jared Dudley’s 18. Nine of Dudley’s 14 career 15-point games have come with the Suns as well as five of his eight career 17-point games. He tallied 12 crucial points in the Suns’ 37-point second quarter.
It should come as no surprise that the bench played well on the night that Leandro Barbosa returned to the lineup after missing the past 12 games with a sprained left ankle.
Forgetting about his individual contribution for a second, LB allows Gentry to play a rotation he’s most comfortable with without overextending any of his reserves. It’s also no surprise that Dudley had a little more room to operate during that second quarter with the defense having to key in on Barbosa.
LB scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting and dished four assists. Afterward he said there’s a bit of normal swelling and that he feels just “a little bit” of pain that he expects to have “for a while.”
“I just try to forget about the pain and just play and have fun with my teammates,” Barbosa said.
Gentry really likes how Barbosa provides the Suns with a different dimension off the bench, a unit that has really missed its go-to scorer.
“He just changes the pace of the game and obviously still has a ways to go before he’s all the way back, but you can just see some of the spots tonight where he just made plays we don’t have anyone else on our team capable of making,” Gentry said. “It’s just good to get him back, and hopefully we can keep him healthy, and as he gets healthy I think you’ll see him be more of a factor for us.”
Added Dudley, “He puts a lot of pressure on people. He makes defenses not just focus on one person. We need him out there. We’re a lot more explosive.”
If that’s not enough consider the Suns just suffered through a 4-8 stretch without Barbosa. Sure, it also coincided with a considerable stiffening of the schedule, but it’s obvious they missed LB considerably. Phoenix is now 13-2 when Barbosa plays, and one of those losses was at the Lakers.
With the win the Suns also snapped a four-game Christmas Day losing streak, winning on Dec. 25 for the first time since 1993, and they defeated the Clippers for the sixth straight time, winning three of their last four against Los Angeles by an average of 31.3 points per victory.
“It was a good win, it was a win that we needed,” Gentry said. “We just needed to have a good win to try to restore a little bit of our confidence or whatever. Overall I thought that we did a pretty good job after the first five minutes. We’ve been struggling a little bit lately, so it was just a much-needed win.”
NBA players often look silly throwing up heaves from behind halfcourt that never have a prayer.
When Grant Hill hurled up a 70-something-footer as the Suns headed into intermission, his wife had already started to make her way up to the concession stands, according to LB at least, she was so sure nothing exciting was going on.
But a Christmas miracle occurred as Hill’s prayer was answered when the shot banked in, and the Suns charged into intermission with all the momentum thanks to a Hail Mary that capped a 37-point quarter.
“Never a doubt,” Hill deadpanned when asked about the shot. “I was mad at Jared, he kind of looked me off at first to throw it to Steve. I was wide open, but he won’t look me off again.”
Hill later joked that it was just a top 20 shot in his life, as he had a lot of fun with the media about a shot that was tabbed as the day’s best on “SportsCenter’s Top Plays.” …
With the game long decided, Barbosa took exception to a Sebastian Telfair steal and took matters into his own hands by flashing his speed to come from nowhere to emphatically swat away a breakaway layup that at first glance seemed to be a Goran Dragic block because LB started so far out of the picture.
“I was happy that I got the block,” Barbosa said. “It was a good block. I got mad that he stole the ball and he thought he was the man, so I told Goran, ‘Let him go,’ and then he stayed down and I got it.” …
Speaking of Dragic, after a scoreless first three quarters the Dragon exploded in the fourth with 13 of Phoenix’s 23 points. He hit 4-of-6 shots and 3-of-4 threes in the quarter, showing no aversion to nailing shots with a hand in his face.
He combined with Barbosa for 19 of the 23 points in the quarter and flashed a confident game that has certainly improved during LB’s absence.
So that’s one silver lining to Barbosa’s injury.