It took some bumps, some hiccups and some all-out effort, but the Suns finally found a way to beat the pesky Chicago Bulls and clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Having lost three straight to the Bulls, the Suns got an important win, 111-105, beating Chicago from deep and extending their season-high win streak to eight games.
With a very physical game going on in the paint, the Suns took to the perimeter, sinking 14-of-28 three-pointers.
“One of their keys out there is not allowing us to get to the paint,” Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said during a postgame interview.
With 43 seconds to play, Steve Nash sent a no-look pass to Channing Frye. Frye caught, shot and sank the deep ball dagger to put the Suns up 106-103 with 41.6 on the clock, and the Bulls never recovered.
The Bulls tried to get back in the game, but the gap was too great and a pair of Nash free throws sealed the win.
Jason Richardson led the deep-ball barrage, hitting 4-of-9 on his way to a 27-point performance. Frye came off the bench and hit 3-of-7 behind the line and added 12 in the game.
The key to stopping the Bulls in the fourth quarter and halting any comeback in the final minute was the Suns’ defense. The Bulls couldn’t find a good shot and had to put up desperation efforts — not a good way to get back in a game.
“We’re starting to get noticed as a better defensive team,” Stoudemire said. “We had to gut this one out defensively, and we got the win.”
Nash was finally able to break out against the Bulls. Entering the game, Nash was averaging 9.7 points and 7.3 assists. In the win Tuesday, Nash added 22 points and 10 assists, including seven points and two assists in the final two minutes. All that with a bad back, too. Don’t be surprised if Nash takes the night off tomorrow against New Jersey.
Amare Stoudemire joined Nash in double-double land, collecting 21 points and 11 rebounds. Stoudemire has averaged 27.4 points and 9 boards in the Suns’ recent 22-5 stretch, dating back to that turning-point game against the Mavericks on Jan. 28.
Stoudemire also embarrassed another rookie with a posterizing dunk over Bulls forward James Johnson in the first quarter. Check it out here, it’s a must-see.
While the Suns starters got the job done, it was the Bulls’ bench that did the heavy work for Chicago. The Bulls’ bench unit contributed 53 points, including 23 from Flip Murray and 12 apiece from Jannero Pargo and Joakim Noah. The Suns contained the Bulls bench in the fourth quarter, however, limiting them to eight points with lockdown defense.
Most impressive of the Suns’ defensive efforts was the fact that they did it without Robin Lopez, who is out for at least two weeks with a back injury. The Suns definitely missed Lopez’s presence in the paint with Noah and always-physical Brad Miller banging bodies down low. That, combined with Taj Gibson’s 14-point, 10-rebound effort, made it clear just how important Lopez has been since becoming a starter.
But again, the Suns got it done without him. The Suns simply refused to be beat just because they couldn’t get to the basket. That kind of persistence is exactly what the Suns needed and will need for the next eight games, as they are now in reach of the second spot in the Western Conference.
“We’ve got to keep playing and keep winning, and hopfully we can get there,” Stoudemire said of the high seeding.
Not only did the Suns win without Lopez, they also did it without containing Bulls point guard Derrick Rose — again. Rose netted 23 points to go with 10 assists, but it all went for nothing and the Suns crept up on the Jazz, sitting just a few percentage points back of third place.
Although this kind of play is what the Suns will likely need in the final stretch, it would be nice to avoid these kind of final-moments-of-the-game scenarios. Better defense earlier in the game and fewer turnovers (11 for 15 Bulls points Tuesday) will likely give the Suns more chance to rest the starters, particularly Nash, for the playoffs.
But this was more than a win. It was the exclamation point on a season many didn’t think was possible. Predicted to finish around .500 by most and to miss the playoffs by some, the Suns never accepted that fate and are now a playoff team once again — a top-four playoff team as of now. So tonight, be proud Suns fans. Your Suns are playoff-bound.
Just before the half, the Bulls got extra physical, sending in 6-9, 256-pound forward Chris Richard, who proceeded to clock Jarron Collins, who was driving to the basket. The hit earned Richard a flagrant foul and Collins hit both shots … Apparently arguing on Richard’s behalf, Noah earned himself a technical foul on the way to the locker room at the half. Nash sank the free shot to start the third quarter … Murray held the ball just before the half, before losing control and chasing it past the half court mark. Murray flipped a no-look hook shot toward the hoop as time expired and the shot went in, but upon review, it was no good. Still one of the craziest shots I’ve ever seen.