The Suns beat the Blazers on Sunday by shutting Portland down in the fourth quarter with a zone defense in a game played at a deliberate pace in a serious playoff atmosphere.
But don’t think Phoenix has forgotten its roots.
With Monday’s opponent being the blazing fast Warriors, the Suns won the kind of shootout we’re most accustomed to them being in, just barely out-gunning Golden State in a wild 133-131 victory over the hosts from the Bay Area.
“It’s a typical Warriors-Suns game that we played tonight,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “They are really talented offensively. You have to do everything to try to stop them and we were able to pull it off in the end. We could never get away from them. We never got into a situation where we could go on a run because we were always taking the ball out on their made baskets.”
My biggest takeaway from the last two days is how impressive it is for the Suns to win two completely different kind of games against two completely different teams.
The Suns just went from playing the league’s slowest team on Sunday night to the league’s fastest team tonight. Golden State averages about 12 more possessions a game than Portland does.
Whereas the Portland game was a physical, grind-it-out affair in which neither team shot particularly well (both in the 30s) in what really was a battle of attrition to the end, both teams shot in the 50s tonight in one of the faster-paced games you’ll see all season.
You can say, duh, we’re talking aboutand the Phoenix Suns, of course they can win an up-tempo game like this. Still, looking at the two games together shows how dangerous this Phoenix team can be.
The San Antonio Spurs won four championships because although they favored a slower pace, they could run with teams like the Suns for stretches and then make just enough stops to win in the end. In the past the Suns’ only tempos were fast, faster and fastest, but in these last two days they’ve shown the versatility to win at any pace and in any style of game.
Since the Suns certainly don’t run like Golden State on an average night, you could say that the opposition set the tempo the last two games, yet the Suns were able to play at their opponent’s tempo and still come away with the victory.
This game was as neck and neck as a high-scoring affair could be. Normally you would expect dramatic runs both ways, but Golden State never led by more than six and the Suns five. That’s partially because neither team could stop the opposition. Things were so even that both teams scored 30 points in every quarter, which has not happened in the NBA since Jan. 3, 2007, when the Grizzlies and these same Warriors (shocking, I know) decided not to play any defense (hat tip ESPN Stats and Information).
Suns coaches have forever been saying it’s OK if the other team scores so long as the Suns can shut them down when it counts, and that’s exactly what happened tonight. The first signs of defense came after Reggie Williams hit a long three to put the Warriors up three with 3:10 left. Golden State did not score again until just 37 seconds remained and the Suns had scored eight unanswered points to seemingly put the game away.
That was the difference between the Suns and the Warriors tonight. Nobody played any semblance of defense until crunch time in the fourth quarter when the Suns took care of business on that end to pull out a road victory. Are we sure this is the same Suns team from a couple months ago?
The run started on a fast break when Amare absolutely blew up Anthony Tolliver on a dunk a la what STAT did to the Kandi Man a number of years back. The dunk was so vicious that Tolliver is already on posters around the Valley, and it’s a shame that on a night he went for 25 points, 12 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks all anybody will remember Tolliver for tonight will be the posterization.
That And 1 started a 7-0 Amare run in which he put the Suns on his back and carried them to victory, franchise-player style. While the Suns stiffened up on defense, Stoudemire would not let the Suns lose on the offensive end, blitzing the Warriors in all out “F You” mode.
“J-Rich carried us in the first half, and it was my turn to help in the second half,” Stoudemire said. “We took advantage of the size differential. We knew they were already short staffed and we knew they weren’t that big, so we pounded the ball every chance we got in the second half and more specifically in the fourth quarter.”
In all Amare torched Golden State for 37 points on 12-for-15 shooting and 13-for-15 foul shooting. This comes only a couple days after he dominated Utah to the tune of 44 points on 14-for-16 from the field and 16-for-18 from the stripe. To say the man defines efficiency is a total understatement.
On the flip side, Monta Ellis needed 27 shots (making nine of them) just to go for 30 points.
Amare had some help from, as J-Rich scored a season-high-tying 34 points on also efficient 12-for-20 shooting. Playing in his former home building, Richardson carried the Suns early with 15 first-quarter points.
The game got a bit hairy at the end whenuncharacteristically missed four free throws in a row, and Steve Nash even missed a couple. At the other end we saw Monta Ellis making a free throw he was trying to miss after the Suns chose to foul up three in the closing seconds, and this one wasn’t sealed before a defended Ellis’ heave around midcourt harmlessly wasn’t even close.
“We were able to sneak a win from them tonight,” Richardson said. “We were a little tired at the end and you could see it when Grant and Steve missed those free throws.”
That’s no surprise considering the Suns’ 2-8 road record on second games of a back to back and what happened in their Dec. 26 loss in Oakland when they just didn’t have enough ammo in a shootout down the stretch.
With the win the Suns continued to distance themselves from the bottom of the West playoff pack and inch closer to the top seeds.
With Oklahoma City losing to San Antonio, the Suns moved two games ahead of the Thunder and Spurs (tied for sixth) and three ahead of Portland. On the flip side, the Suns remained a game behind Utah, who beat Boston, and now trail No. 3 Dallas (who lost to New Orleans) by a mere game and a half. Yes, the Suns are now closer to third than sixth.
The Suns have won five in a row and 19 of 24, and thinking about a top-three playoff seed isn’t even out of the question with five straight games against losing teams coming up.
With the Suns proving they can win playing both fast and slow, there’s no reason to think their current standing in the West is a mirage.
After avenging their only loss to a bad Western Conference team (Clippers, Sacramento, Golden State, Minnesota) all season, that Dec. 26 shootout in Oakland, the Suns are 14-1 against the dregs of the West this year. …hasn’t seen any time with the Suns since returning from his D-League stint before Sunday’s game. He averaged 20.7 and 9.0 on 50.0 percent shooting in three games with Iowa.