PHOENIX — The streak is over.
The Suns finally won a game on TNT after losing 18 straight on the network. But much more important than breaking the streak was the Suns breaking their two-game losing streak (two is significant when you’ve gone 3-7 in your last 10), handing the Dallas Mavericks a 112-106 loss Thursday night.
“It feels great,” Suns guard Steve Nash said after the game. “We’ve had a tough road lately, especially on TNT, so it’s nice to have that behind us.”
There’s little doubt that the Suns breathed a big sigh of relief after this game, as they’ve stumbled lately and sat just five games over .500 entering the night. But one breath is about all the Suns get. The win was crucial, as it was the start of a grueling stretch that now takes the Suns on the road (where they are 9-15) to Houston, New Orleans, Denver and Sacramento.
The Suns have been on another planet lately, but it appears that they returned to Planet Orange Thursday if only for one night.
“It was a win that reminded me of November,” said Nash, who finished with 19 points and 11 assists. “We had a real balanced effort and a real spirit and energy about us.”
The Suns trailed until tying the game at 62 two and a half minutes into the third quarter. From there, the Suns kept it close, but the Mavericks kept pulling away, building small leads of four, six or eight. But come crunch time, the Suns really turned it on.
The Suns entered the fourth quarter down 90-84. After a Goran Dragic three-pointer and Earl Clark’s first career three ball, the Suns made it 92-90. As it seemed they had been doing all game, the Mavericks pulled ahead again with a small lead, but the Suns didn’t quit.
“We had grittiness and just refused to lose,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we played really well the way we did the first month of the season.”
With just over six minutes left, the Mavericks were up 98-97, but a Josh Howard jumper clanged off the rim and hit the top of the backboard, giving the Suns a crucial possession. And they made sure to capitalize, taking a 99-98 lead on a Louis Amundson dunk. After that, it was all Suns.
It was only fitting that what seemed to be the dagger in the Mavs’ heart was a Nash drive past former teammate Dirk Nowitzki for a layup to make it 109-104 with about 30 seconds to go as the masses in US Airways Center roared with approval.
“Their second group was a lot better than the guys that were on the floor,” Mavericks guard Jason Kidd said. “They got those guys in the game and got the lead, and their starters come back in and go from there. They gave them energy and life.”
Kidd wasn’t the only one complimenting the Suns’ bench, which contributed 43 points, including 13 from Amundson and 12 from Dragic. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the Suns’ “bench was the difference.”
Phoenix’s second unit prowess is a trend, as it has averaged 41.8 points per game since Channing Frye and Jason Richardson were removed from the starting lineup Jan. 18 at Memphis (J-Rich subsequently returned three games later with LB out).
“I thought it was probably the best total team effort we had all year from the standpoint of guys stepping in the game and doing something positive for us and just playing good, hard basketball,” Gentry said.
The bench was most crucial in the fourth quarter, as Amundson, Jared Dudley and Dragic shut down the Mavericks’ three-guard lineup. Nowitzki, who finished the game with 19 points, did not make a shot in the fourth quarter.
“You cannot ask anyone to do a better job than Jared and Grant did on Dirk,” Gentry said. “He’s such a tough matchup, and they made him work for every single thing he got.”
The most amazing thing about this win was the resiliency the Suns showed on defense. This uncharacteristic showing of defensive prowess was no doubt the X-factor in a game that saw the Suns cough up 15 turnovers for 20 points. The Suns of late have not shown this kind of late game efficiency and refusal to let their opponents get easy baskets.
“We made the people shoot the shots they didn’t want to shoot,” Dudley said. “We switched on Terry and Nowitzki to make it hard for them.”
Terry was particularly pesky all night, finishing with 21 points after scoring 12 in the first six minutes of the game. Every Dallas starter scored in double figures, including some former Suns. Shawn Marion netted 15 points and Kidd dropped 13 points and six assists.
Before the game, Gentry said the Suns could not put Nowitzki on the free-throw line because he would make his shots, and nine of Dirk’s 19 points did come at the charity stripe. But the fourth quarter saw the Suns foul just three times — one of many key adjustments that led to the win, the most crucial being first half to second half turnovers (10 in the first, five in the second).
The Suns looked like the team of old when it came to shooting three-pointers as well, hitting 9-of-15 (60 percent). Probably more crucial, though, was the Suns’ efforts in the paint despite being somewhat overmatched size-wise. The Suns outscored Dallas 50-36 down low.
The story of this game was the Mavericks bringing it, but the Suns bringing it just a little bit harder when it really counted. Both teams shot very well in this game, with the Suns notching 54.8 percent shooting on a 40-of-73 effort and the Mavericks shooting 50.0 percent (41-of-82). But again most important was the Suns bringing it on the defensive end against a potent offensive team.
“I think we showed what we’re capable of doing defensively for the most part,” Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said. “We played well and got after it defensively.”
If only the Suns would do that every night, we’d be debating how high of a playoff seed they deserve instead of whether or not they will make the playoffs at all.
- After contributing 22 points and a lone rebound (off his own miss no less) in a quiet effort through three quarters, Amare Stoudmire sat on the Suns’ bench for the entire fourth quarter. But after the game, Gentry said that there was nothing to it, he just felt that Amundson was matching up really well against Dallas on defense. Stoudemire said it was the first time he’s sat out an entire fourth quarter in his career. “It’s all good,” Stoudemire said. “It’s just a matter of the guys doing a great job and we got the win, which is most important.” Stoudemire admitted to TNT’s Cheryl Miller before the game that he has been distracted the past few games because of trade talks. “The previous few games it did [distract me] a little bit, but I got over it, and I’ve just got to keep playing and put that aside. [The talk] doesn’t hurt me at all. It’s the nature of the beast.”
- The win snapped the Suns’ three-game losing streak against the Mavericks. Their last win came in January of 2009. The Suns are now 11-2 against Western Conference teams at home.
- Robin Lopez had his worst game as a starter, scoring only four points to go with six rebounds.