No one said it would be easy, but the Suns captured their first road win since Nov. 29 tonight as they gutted out a win in Sacramento, holding off the Kings, 113-109.
Prior to tonight, the Suns had lost consecutive road games to the Knicks, Cavs, Lakers, Mavs, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Warriors.
The seven-game road losing streak that lasted a painful 37 days finally ended in suspenseful fashion.
The Suns jumped out of the gates early, scoring 34 first-quarter points. The Kings battled back early in the second until Amare Stoudemire and company decided not to miss, resulting in a 17-1 Suns run that put them up 20.
Jared Dudley sparked the run, hopping off the pine and scoring nine points in just over two and a half minutes. There was a series in which he dove out of bounds to save a loose ball to Jason Richardson, who finished with a layup.
The next play Dudley stole a pass from the top of the key and finished with an And 1 on the other end.
The Suns looked like they were going to cruise to their first road victory in over a month, but one thing I have learned from watching this team is that halftime leads mean nothing. That held true tonight, as Tyreke Evans and the Kings stormed out of the locker room, outscoring the Suns 32-25 in the third and eventually erasing what was a Suns 20-point lead.
“We have to cut that out,” Stoudemire told The Associated Press. “We have to find a way to maintain the lead. Once you get a great lead like we did tonight, we have to win that way.”
Added head coach Alvin Gentry, “I was a little bit disappointed because we had a couple of possessions that weren’t really good that allowed them to get back into the game.”
As has been the case numerous times this season, the Suns’ offense stalled early in the fourth quarter. They went over five minutes without scoring and didn’t end the drought until Channing Frye tipped in a Jason Richardson miss that broke an 88-88 tie with 8:26 on the clock.
The Suns added five more unanswered points to surge ahead, but the Kings answered back with 7-0 run of their own to tie things up again. They forced the Suns into four straight bad possessions in the halfcourt, an area in which Phoenix has struggled late in games.
But behind some big defensive stops and the scoring duo of STAT and Nash, the Suns scored 16 points in the final four minutes to nail down a game that they never trailed. STAT and Nash were huge down the stretch, scoring the Suns’ final 14 points.
Nash finished the game with 30 points and 12 assists, while nailing all 13 of his free-throw attempts. The NBA’s leading dime dropper (11.2 assists per game) is now averaging a shade over 30 points in his last four games against the Kings.
Nash’s partner in crime, Stoudemire, finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. He was tuned in defensively and came up with a huge rejection with 3:25 left that led to two Nash free throws.
While Amare and Nash’s combined 54 points were key, that production is almost expected out of the soon-to-be All-Star duo. The difference in the game was the Suns’ added scoring punch from Frye and Richardson.
Frye played big with 17 points, seven rebounds and four steals in a team-high 40 minutes of action. He bounced back from the 2-of-13 performance against the Grizzlies and made 7-of-11 from the field and 2-of-3 from distance.
But more importantly, Jason Richardson was active offensively, defensively and on the glass. J-Rich snatched a team-high nine rebounds and was flying around the court defensively. The Suns are now 14-3 when Richardson scores 16 points or more; he had 20 on 8-of-17 shooting.
Phoenix needs at least one or two guys not named Steve or Amare to step up on a nightly basis in order to win, and tonight it was Channing and J-Rich.
The Suns hurt themselves with turnovers (18, including 11 in the first half) and spotty perimeter defense, but this Kings team is a far cry from the squad that went 17-65 a season ago.
They have, in my opinion, this year’s Rookie of the Year in Evans, and a pretty solid Israeli rookie to go along with him in Omri Casspi. Evans did his thing against a helpless Nash — 27 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists — and Casspi played more like a four-year pro than a 21-year-old rookie, scoring a career-high 24 points in a game-high 44 minutes.
Tonight’s 20-plus scoring output was Casspi’s fourth consecutive game scoring 20 or more points. He has also reached double figures in nine of the last 10 games.
But despite the efforts of the rookie tandem, the Suns hung on and captured a much-needed victory. They made the necessary stops to win the game. Like last time out against the Kings, it wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win.
“At the end of the day it’s a win, it’s a road win for us,” Gentry said. “We’ll take it any way we can get it.”
- Nash’s 30 points and 12 assists gave him his 15th career 30-10 game, but his first of the 2009-2010 season. He now has four games with 30 or more points through 35 games; he had only two 30-plus games all of last season.
- As I mentioned before, the Suns are 14-3 when J-Rich scores 16 or more. He needs to be that third option for the Suns, because it obviously pays dividends.
- The Suns have defeated the Kings in 14 of their last 16 matchups.
- As many expected, Grant Hill’s production has severely tailed off. He hasn’t scored in double figures in five straight games and has only done so in two of the last nine. The Suns didn’t need him tonight, but when he is fresh and active, this team is tough to beat.
- Leandro Barbosa is still coming back to full strength. He may be 100 percent health-wise, but he looks a little uncomfortable out there, rushing things at times and turning the ball over at a high rate (five in 24 minutes of his last two games). During that times he’s only hit 2 of 11 shots, but if there’s one player I don’t worry about offensively, it’s LB.