PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have come to define inconsistency during the 2009-10 season, be it from November to December or from the Lakers-Boston stretch to the Memphis game.
In Wednesday’s win against Houston, the Suns strutted out their inconsistency all game long, turning a 16-point lead into a 16-point deficit in 14 minutes of game time only to come back again to pull out the victory, 118-110 over a tough Houston Rockets squad.
Even when the Suns used a 12-0 run that started at the end of the first half to tie the game up a minute and a half into the second half, Houston countered with an 8-0 run before Phoenix countered back with an 11-2 run of its own to regain the lead.
“It was such a seesaw game, I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved in a game where you’re up 16 then down 16, you’re up 10 and then you’re down five,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “It was such a crazy game, but we hung in there … and did a good job with coming up with plays when we had to.”
It’s not often that a team yields a 51-19 run in the first half yet still finds a way to win by eight, but with this Phoenix Suns team I’ve come to expect that.
Before the season, Suns VP of basketball operations David Griffin told me to expect this Suns team to run up huge leads and probably give a fair share of them up, and he really could not have been more prophetic as it comes to this game and really the season at large.
“I’ve never seen a game like this before,” Jason Richardson said. “It was a back-and-forth rollercoaster game. Both teams got spurts and went on runs and gave up runs. I’ve never been a part of something like this before.”
It was impressive for the Suns to pull out a wild game like this considering their track record in back-to-back games. They entered 1-6 in such contests overall, with four of them being blowouts and two of them being heartbreakers.
When Houston turned a 16-point deficit into a 16-point lead, I figured that the Suns’ legs and a 3 a.m.-ish arrival caught up with them.
Instead Phoenix tied its biggest comeback of the season. Coincidentally the other 16-point comeback was their other win on a back-to-back on Nov. 9 in Philly, and the Suns came back from 15 down to beat the Rockets in Houston on Nov. 17 as well.
In consecutive days the Suns have won a pair of hard-fought games that went down to the wire despite blowing big leads in both of them, ending their seven-game road losing streak on Tuesday and snapping their five-game second game of a back-to-back streak tonight.
“This is a big two days for us,” said Channing Frye. “I think you look at Sacramento and Houston, those are two just hard-nosed teams that are playing good as of late. For us it was definitely getting over the hump on the road and definitely just getting the gut check tonight and beating the hardest-working team in the NBA.”
Frye was a big part of it, scoring eight points in the initial 21-5 run and finishing the game with 22 points and nine defensive rebounds. Frye drilled 6-of-12 threes, missing a career-high seventh by a couple inches on a long first-quarter two.
He became the first player in the NBA to drill six three-pointers five times this year, and his 92 long balls push him past New York’s Danilo Gallinari for the NBA’s three-point lead.
Channing also joined a bench crew at the start of the fourth quarter that turned a one-point deficit into a six-point lead while taking seven minutes off the clock, allowing the rest of the starters precious time on the bench.
By comparison, the starters re-entered Tuesday’s game about three minutes into the quarter after Sacramento tied things up and Gentry felt the game slipping away.
After getting poor play from the bench during the past two games and with the bench being in for a good chunk of Houston’s 23-4 run to start the second quarter, it was very important for that unit to come up big in the fourth.
“I thought they had a lot more energy and a lot more pop, so for us it was a good thing,” Gentry said. “They’ve struggled a little bit, … but they have also been a unit that has gotten us leads. We still totally believe in our bench, and they’re going to be fine.”
Nash went for his usual 26 and 12 (you know you’ve reached lofty heights when 26 and 12 is ho-hum), and Amare put up an equally solid 25 and 11 line off 9-for-17 shooting. He’s now scored at least 20 points in five straight.
But that’s become expected.
What really helped the Suns was J-Rich going for 20 points for the second consecutive night. He scored on alley-oops past Aaron Brooks, three balls and even some drives to the hoop.
Richardson’s effectiveness meant the Suns featured four players scoring at least 20 points, as Amare-Nash-Frye-Richardson combined for almost 80 percent of Phoenix’s output.
“When (Richardson) plays well and he’s feeling it that gives us a lot of options and makes it really difficult for teams to defend us,” Nash said.
Added Richardson, “That frees up a lot for Steve and frees up a lot for Amare and definitely Channing. Teams can’t just play off me. It kind of opens it up for everybody.”
Richardson said he’s behind his December struggles — when he averaged 13.1 ppg on 41.1 percent shooting — in a month that saw his injured hand clearly affect him.
“I definitely feel a lot better,” Richardson said. “I’m just not worrying about it. I know my shot will come back eventually.
“It’s behind me. That’s just the NBA. Sometimes you just go through little slumps and stuff like that.”
It’s too early to say if Richardson is fully back, but a friend of mine sends me an angry Facebook wall post every time J-Rich flubs for his fantasy team, and I haven’t heard from him for at least a few days.
My takeaway from this one is that the Suns’ stars pulled them through a game in which fatigue was a certifiable factor, a game in which the Suns fell asleep at the wheel after a fast start due to weak defense only to flip that switch back on to finish off a victory.
“It’s not how we drew it up,” Nash said.
No it isn’t, and I doubt this game tape will be sent to the Hall of Fame, but the Suns found the resolve to come back on a gutty team and win a game they spent the middle part of the first half trying to give away.