PHOENIX — There are so many unwritten rules in sports that if they were actually written out they might rival Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball in length.
Tonight in US Airways Center we saw two of them play out: take matters into your own hands when somebody takes a cheap shot at you and always have your teammates’ backs.
When Earl Watson shoved Channing Frye’s hands away once, it was OK with the Suns’ center. But when he proceeded to hit Frye a second time, Channing had to take matters into his own hands.
What ensued was a mini-fracas — with Frye getting two techs and an ejection, and Jason Richardson, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert also picking up T’s — that colored a 113-105 Suns victory.
“That’s what happens when tempers flare,” Richardson said. “No matter where you’re at stuff like that happens. It’s no bad blood, it’s no good rivalry, things like that. It’s just something that happens in basketball, and it’s over with, it’s done with. It’s something you’re going to forget probably in two days.”
That’s what was so strange about this. If this happened between Kobe and anybody on the Suns next Friday night, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. There’s history there.
But we’re talking about the Suns and the Pacers, two teams that play each other twice a year, never meet in the playoffs and never have had any kind of extracurricular issues like this.
This was about Frye taking matters into his own hands, sticking up for himself and not letting a point guard take cheap shots at him.
“At a certain point you have to protect yourself and you just can’t allow a play like that,” Frye said. “I know the ref called it, but at that point I kind of took things in my own hands, which wasn’t the right play, and I don’t think that’s a good reflection on myself or the team, but at the same time I felt like it was just inappropriate and anybody in the league wouldn’t have kind of held up with that.”
The second unwritten rule came with players on both sides backing up their teammates, particularly Richardson, Granger and Hibbert, the men who got technicals.
Again, there is no bad blood between any of these players. Frye spoke of this being uncharacteristic of those Pacers, and this is so uncharacteristic of Frye that he said he’s always the guy breaking up altercations, not starting them.
But teammates have to have each other’s backs.
“His teammates are going to have his back, and he did the right thing,” Richardson said of Frye. “Unfortunately it escalated to more than what it was and it shouldn’t have got that far,”
Added Hibbert, “We just had each other’s back out there no matter what.”
And Granger, “We were together,” adding that the Suns were “playing dirty” and taking “cheap shots,” and aside from Raja Bell when have you ever heard that being said about this Phoenix basketball team?
When I covered the 2008 Dodgers, Phillies pitcher Brett Myers threw behind Manny Ramirez and nearly hit Russell Martin in Game 2 of the NLCS, and Chad Billingsley was vilified by his teammates for not retaliating.
Then when Hiroki Kuroda threw a fastball over Shane Victorino’s head in Game 3, the Phillies outfielder yelled at him to hit him in the ribs but not the head, as if to say, “Such retaliation is to be expected, just don’t seriously hurt me.”
Billingsley lost his teammates that day, while Kuroda became a hero in that clubhouse the next game for reasons that didn’t show in the box score. It’s little things like that that matter so much in sports.
While Frye explained to reporters that he shouldn’t have “mushed” Watson (apparently the name Frye gave for whatever he did that certainly wasn’t a punch in his eyes), J-Rich started to butt in from his locker and with a disgusted look told Frye he will talk to him later about this subject. I would assume J-Rich wanted to tell him that he did the right thing and not to feel bad about it.
Asked later about the old “soft” label in this locker room, Richardson said, “There’s nothing soft about us. Guys go really to be assertive about that, and we’ve never been soft, I’ll tell you that much.”
OK, we know thaaaat’s not true, but what started as a boring Saturday night against a terrible team turned into a statement for the rest of the league that the Phoenix Suns won’t be pushed around.
The altercation woke up US Airways Center, prompting Jared Dudley to observe, “It felt like kind of a playoff atmosphere even though I’ve never been in the playoffs.”
I couldn’t agree more, even though I’ve never covered playoff basketball either.
A ho-hum game against the worst team in the East outside of New Jersey turned into an electric atmosphere with fans booing Danny Granger every time he caught the ball and Granger responding by “shhing” the crowd when he made a big basket. Suns owner Robert Sarver shot back with his own “shhing” when the Suns did something big.
“When you can get an entire auditorium chanting ‘you suck,’ that’s pretty nice I think,” Granger said.
Added Dudley, “It kind of woke us up and got us ready to go, and I thought from there we kind of pushed forward and got the game pretty much in control.”
The Suns ended up winning by holding Indiana to just 37.6 percent shooting, making this the fourth time in their last 18 games they have held an opponent under 40 percent after doing so just four times in their first 47 contests.
Also, Amare Stoudemire scored 30 points for the third straight game, the first time he has done that since March 2008, and Richardson went for 20 points for the third game in a row and seventh time in nine games while chipping in with 10 boards. Grant Hill added a 22-8-5 line in 35 minutes, some of which he spent playing backup point guard.
But what really mattered most on this night was a supposedly soft player on a supposedly soft team following the unwritten rules of sports and making a close Suns team even closer.
- Dudley, who grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds, on the crowd after the fight: “We should get in a scuffle every game if the crowd’s going to be like that. The crowd was on Granger, I thought it took him out of his game a little bit. I thought they missed some shots they normally make.”
- Gentry on the game: “I thought it was a hard-fought game, figuratively and literally I guess, but I thought our guys did a really good job of just hanging in and grinding it out and finding a way to come up with plays. It was a good win for us.”
- Nash on the game: “The game was ugly, and we didn’t have our ‘A’ game, but we fought and scrapped, and that’s what you’ve got to do when you’re struggling a little bit out there, and tonight wasn’t pretty.”
- The Suns won the rebounding battle by a whopping 58-44 margin. Seven players grabbed at least five boards.