When watching the Phoenix Suns against a halfway decent team, every game seems like the next.
Run up a huge lead looking like world beaters. Blow it in the time it takes to get a cold one from the fridge. Stay close down the stretch only to fail to execute late in another crushing loss.
We’ve seen that script replayed so often in the last month and a half or so that’s it’s almost painful to watch. Every game you think might be the one in which the Suns break through, and every game you’re left disappointed.
Finally, on Sunday night against the Houston Rockets, the Suns finished off a game that looked all too familiar with a resounding victory, 115-111 in overtime.
And the biggest reason this was the case was Amare Stoudemire. Games like this make you wonder if he was even trying in the last four games in which he averaged 16.3 ppg and 4.0 rpg. Hell, he had two more rebounds in this first half than he did in any of the previous four games as a whole … and of course he finished with 11 times as many boards as he grabbed on Thursday.
I don’t know if he’s finally come to terms with the likelihood of being traded, if he’s playing for his trade value, or if Gentry’s fourth quarter benching really did light a fire under him. But I do know that he scored a season-high 36 points, the most he’s scored since putting up 42 against the Clippers in his last game before eye surgery on Feb. 18, and 11 rebounds, making this his first double-digit board game since Jan. 15 and only his fifth in the past 20 games (the other four came in a five-game span).
This was a game that could have gone either way for sure, but so have so many others during the Suns’ 1-12 run on the road. In those games they did just enough to lose; tonight they did just enough to win.
Leading by three with a minute left, the Suns played one of the best defensive possessions I’ve ever seen them play, Nash in particular. They basically overplayed everybody, with Nash not allowing Aaron Brooks to get the ball, eventually leading Houston to throw it away for a backcourt violation.
After Channing Frye missed a three that would have iced it, the Suns were in the exact same situation they found themselves in Tuesday night: one stop means victory. But just like Tuesday, when Stephen Jackson drilled a three in the face of Lou Amundson, Trevor Ariza knocked down a triple in the corner to tie things up. This time J-Rich stayed right in his grill and forced Ariza to hit a tough shot.
Just like Tuesday, the Suns had the final shot in regulation, and once again it was no thing of beauty. Nash dribbled around for a while before taking an awkward off-balanced shot that didn’t have a chance.
If the Suns had lost, I would be lamenting the Suns not running an actual play. Would Nash ever consider running around with the ball and then taking a selfish off-balanced shot in the teeth of the defense at any other juncture of the game? Of course not. So why is it OK to do that during the most important possession of the game? I understand MJ and Kobe can win games like that, but a team like the Suns would be much better off running an actual play in this situation.
Again on Tuesday, the Suns turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions in overtime, but this time around they traded blows with Houston from the start, including two clutch hoops from Jason Richardson, validating an otherwise poor offensive showing of just eight points (although it was complemented by eight boards).
The Suns almost lost again on a couple of weird plays. Nash was called for a foul on Aaron Brooks with 49 seconds left before the ball was even inbounded to let Brooks shoot a free throw to cut the lead to three. It was then one after a Luis Scola bucket.
After J-Rich missed a tough shot with 18 ticks remaining, Houston had the ball with a chance to go up, but Brooks somehow missed the kind of runner at the tin that he hit over Shaq last year to beat the Suns and that he also nailed to beat U of A in McKale a few years back as a member of the Oregon Ducks.
However, the Rockets weren’t done even after a pair of Jared Dudley free throws. With five seconds left, the Suns smartly fouled to prevent another game-tying three, and after Brooks hit the first he perfectly threw the second one off the rim and into his waiting hands. The only problem was he entered the lane before the ball drew iron, and that was that.
Imagine that. Brooks had the ball in his hands ready to tie it, but for once after all these kooky things going wrong down the stretch for the Suns, Phoenix finally caught a break.
Nash certainly didn’t play like a player battling an abdominal strain that made him questionable to even suit up after sitting out the last couple days of practice. MVSteve flirted with a triple double and poured in 11 points, 16 dimes and eight boards in 41 minutes without committing a turnover (his first game of the season without one), along with an icy clutch three with just over a minute left in regulation that put the Suns up three after he was called for a tech arguing a no-call push-off on Brooks.
As can be seen from Stoudemire’s season high, the Suns did a nice job pounding Houston inside with Amare and then Frye a bit after Stoudemire fouled out. The Rockets just did not have answer for Phoenix’s inside game.
Speaking of Stoudemire, for those of you who think this is all about effort, Amare does seem to go through rebounding spurts. He pulled down 11, 14, 7 and 12 during a four-game stretch in early November and besides that did not record double-digit boards until December.
He then averaged 11.5 during a 10-game stretch in December and then went six games without double-digit boards before his one good aforementioned rebounding stretch in January, which was followed by eight straight single-digit games entering tonight. Does that mean he actually boards with effort during his big boarding streaks but not otherwise?
Also, as much as the Suns needed him in this one, I don’t blame him for fouling out. He picked up foul No. 5 with 6:26 remaining when “tough guy” Carl Landry pretended to get hit by an Amare elbow when he was just clearing space as bigs do on seemingly every rebound. After that terrible call, he stayed on the floor until the 3:08 mark of overtime when Luis Scola got him in the air on a pump fake after the Rockets tried to flop for his sixth numerous times.
Overall the Suns did a lot of things right in this one, outshooting Houston 48.2 percent to 37.7 percent and outrebounding the Rockets 55-46. Phoenix even survived a night it hit just 3-of-14 threes (21.4 percent).
The win propels Phoenix into a sixth-place tie in the West and guarantees the Suns the season series against the Rockets, which could be important for tiebreaker purposes. With New Orleans losing Chris Paul for some time, the Suns’ outlook looks much brighter than it did a week ago.
Then again, if the Suns could always muster up the grittiness they showed Sunday night, they would not have to worry about the rest of the West when it comes to earning a playoff spot.
Frye invited to Three-Point Shootout
Channing Frye will represent the Suns in the Three-Point Shootout, according to The Arizona Republic. He will be the first center since Sam Perkins in 1997 and could be the first center to ever win it.
Not bad for a guy who had only hit 26 three-pointers in his last eight years of collegiate and professional basketball. Frye has hit 114 long balls (third in the NBA) on 44.0 percent shooting (eighth).