PHOENIX — It’s hard to believe that the New York Knicks team that played in Phoenix tonight was the same squad that torched the Suns by a season-high 27 points earlier this season in the Big Apple.
After getting throttled in that affair, the Suns scored 30 points every quarter for the second straight game, shot 55.6 percent, held the Knicks to 38.3 percent shooting and dominated the backboards 56-38 in a convincing 132-96 victory.
Phoenix won the final three quarters by double digits while playing one of its most complete games of the year to win its sixth contest in a row.
“I thought we played well throughout really from the start to the finish,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we were just really efficient in what we were trying to get done.”
For those of you scoring at home, that’s a 63-point differential between the two games, but I suppose that has something to do with the opponent being that the Knicks experienced an 84-point turnaround between a blowout home loss and a road rout in their season series against Dallas.
It was a true team effort with no Sun scoring more than 18 (Amare and LB) while six players went for double figures and 10 scored at least eight points. The bench exploded for 66 points on its own, so it must have surprised Knicks boss Mike D’Antoni that the Suns actually do have a bench these days, a unit that even tossed up another 30-point quarter when the game had long been decided.
“I thought everybody came in and played well,” Gentry said. “I just thought it was a really good win. I thought we did a good job defensively, once again the team shot under 40 percent. This was a team that we got annihilated by, so it’s a satisfying win.”
The Knicks just ran into a buzz saw tonight, as the Suns are rolling on both ends of the floor.
Their offense has scored at least 30 points in eight straight quarters for the first time since a 10-quarter streak from March 14-21 of last season. The Suns have reached 120 in four of six games during this winning streak and they have hit 130 in consecutive games for the first time since the games immediately after Gentry took over last All-Star break.
This win not surprisingly improved the Suns to 17-0 when holding the opponent under the century mark, which has happened seven times in 19 games since the break after Phoenix did so in just 10 of its first 53 games.
The Knicks, who knocked down almost half their shots in the last meeting, only hit 38.3 percent of them this time around. Combined with the Suns’ offensive prowess, that’s the recipe for a blowout.
“I do think we’re in rhythm,” Gentry said. “The only team that really kind of gave us problems was Portland, and I think they’re one of the best defensive teams really. When we can get in the open court and run and when we can rebound the basketball we do a good job of executing.”
The thing is, stingy defense is just as much of a trend for the Suns as explosive offense of late. The Suns have held their opponent under 40 percent shooting in three of four games (with the Warriors game obviously being the fourth), and they have done so six times in 19 games since the break after holding just five teams in 53 games to such low numbers before All-Star Weekend.
“Our defense is dictating our offense,” said, who went for 17 points, including 10 in the first quarter.
All that is great. It’s great that the Suns played one of their most complete games of the year and absolutely decimated an opponent.
But what was most encouraging going forward was the play of Leandro Barbosa during a meaningless fourth quarter in which he scored 10 of his 18 points on 4-for-6 shooting. He showed off the LB quickness we all know and he even ran down Toney Douglas for a shot block.
Afterward LB said he’s feeling “great” with no pain at all, so now it’s just a matter of getting comfortable on the court again for the Blur.
And that’s what was so great about the blowout. Before the game, Gentry said he wanted to find minutes for Barbosa, but that he’s got to do so within the framework of a rotation that’s been winning basketball games for him.
“That made me feel a lot more comfortable than I was for the next couple games,” LB said of playing the entire fourth quarter, and playing well. “I’m getting my rhythm back.”
It’s been a slow go for Barbosa since coming back from wrist surgery. His 18 points was more scoring than he had done in his previous four games combined, and he only scored two in each of the last two games. The 22 minutes he played is also the most burn he’s gotten since coming back, with Gentry struggling to fit him into a rotation that’s really clicking.
But everybody agrees that an LB at full strength could take the Suns’ bench from very good to lethal, so finding a way to fit him in is an investment that’s worth making.
“We got to play Leandro some extended minutes where he was out there and got in a pretty good groove,” Gentry said. “You could see that when he’s right he could really help our team. Those weren’t just mop-up minutes. For us he can make those shots against anybody, we just wanted to get him back in rhythm and see if he can do that.”
Added Stoudemire, “He was quick, he was knocking down his shots, his confidence was coming back. It’s going to be great having him going into this last stretch full throttle and confident, so it’s great to have him back.”
With the win, the Suns pulled to within a half game of No. 4 Utah, who is even with Phoenix in the loss column. The Suns trail No. 2 Denver by 1 1/2 games and No. 3 Dallas by one game.
The race for seeding could not be more intense, and finally stringing some victories together has moved the Suns up, whereas earlier in their 20-5 stretch they were winning right alongside everybody else.
After thoroughly dominating the Knicks in all facets, the Suns should certainly feel good about their place in the standings as well as how good they’re playing.
“We played focused, we played determined, and we’re on our way,” Amare said.
The Suns have now won six in a row for the first time all season, and they boast the longest active winning streak in the NBA. … The Suns are 14-3 (.824) in the last two Marchs under Gentry. … Phoenix boasts an undefeated 12-0 mark since the All-Star break in games carried by FS Arizona. Don’t think Gary Bender has anything to do with this since FSAZ typically carries home games and just happened not to get the Lakers game because of the Pac-10 Tournament and the Utah game since it was on TNT. … The Suns improved to a season-high 20 games over .500 for the first time since the end of 2007-08. … Phoenix’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is three. … Phoenix’s 46 wins matches the victory total it recorded last season. … Amare Stoudemire entered the game averaging 29.8 points per game in March, which would be the highest-scoring month of his career if he keeps up the pace. He scored “just” 18 points tonight but needed only six shots to get there, hitting 12-of-15 free throws with the Knicks determined not to let him beat them from the field. … In the last three seasons there have been 10 instances of a player scoring 37 or more points on 16 or fewer shot attempts. Four are from STAT and no other player has more than one. Stoudemire did it twice last week. … Amare has scored 18 points in both of Phoenix’s recent games wearing “Los Suns” jerseys (tonight and Portland), but he’s averaged 31.1 ppg in the nine other games this month. In the last 25 games in which Phoenix is 20-5, these two 18-pointers are the only games in which STAT hasn’t gone for at least 19. …went for 10 points and five boards in the first quarter against the undersized Knicks. … D’Antoni on the Suns: “These guys are playing as well as anybody in the league.”