PHOENIX — With the Suns trailing by two with three minutes left and the squads trading buckets left and right, Phoenix’s Sunday night game against the Houston Rockets seemed destined to go down to the final buzzer.
Then Steve Nash nailed a three. And then Channing Frye. And Jason Richardson. And Frye again.
Combined with some stops on the other end, the Suns’ four-possession flurry of consecutive treys resulted in a devastating run that turned a barnburner into an easy final ending of an eventual 116-106 victory.
“Everyone on the team stepped up,” Richardson said. “I think the most important thing was we got stops on the other end. That’s what got the victory tonight.”
Richardson added a pair of freebies to cap a 14-0 that was as surprising as it was swift, with all the damage coming in less than two minutes of crunch time. The three-point barrage was fitting on a night in which the 2009-10 Suns became just the fourth squad in franchise history to nail 700 long balls in a season.
Starting with some Amare Stoudemire dominance in the preceding minutes, the Suns followed a lackadaisical stretch of the second half with focused, determined play in which they truly refused to lose.
That was ultimately the difference against a Houston team that played hard but couldn’t find that extra gear in crunch time like a Suns team with everything to play for did with ease.
While the Suns’ long-range shooting put the game out of reach, Amare Stoudemire carried them most of the way with a game-high 35 points and 13 rebounds on 14-for-25 shooting. It marked Amare’s fifth 35-10 game of the season, including his second against Houston, and it was his 11th 30-point game since the break, second only to Kevin Durant.
It was a thing of beauty in that everybody in the building knew the Rockets’ small front line couldn’t stop STAT, and he just went to work with a combination of postups, pick and rolls and perimeter jumpers.
“I thought Amare had a monster game, but it’s not anything he hasn’t done the last two months really,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry.
Most impressively, in the fourth quarter with the game slipping away, Amare refused to let the Suns lose. He scored the Suns’ six previous points before the trey barrage, the last two coming after he hustled for a rebound going out of bounds and saved it to a teammate only to get it back later for a ferocious dunk. That’s a play that the Amare of old doesn’t make.
“I knew in the fourth quarter we had to ramp it up a notch,” Stoudemire said. “The game wasn’t quite going our way. In the fourth quarter I knew I had to bring intensity and dominate, and that was the plan going into the fourth quarter. It got our crowd and our team really amped up and ready to go. That was the turning point of the game.”
Added Nash, “Amare made a few plays tonight. Obviously he scored a bunch of points and was great as usual, but he made a couple hustle plays that were fantastic.”
With the win the Suns swept the season series against the Rockets for the first time since 2005-06, but like every game against Houston this season it wasn’t easy.
This contest featured a wild 36-33 Houston first quarter in which Aaron Brooks drilled a quartet of triples in the first six minutes. The game later saw Phoenix stretch its lead to 14 points in the second half only to see the Rockets come storming back to take a late lead.
“You can just look at the West and see that team is a real quality team, and they’re not going to make the playoffs,” Gentry said. “They’re hard to play, every game we played them this year it’s been like a rollercoaster. We beat a real good team tonight, and we had to play extremely well to do it. “
The Suns moved into a third-place tie with the victory, although they are technically fifth because of the tiebreaker situation.
The game ended a crazy day in the Western Conference that saw the Blazers upset the Lakers in Los Angeles and the Thunder stub their toe against the lowly Warriors. In the day’s aftermath, not only are the Suns tied with the Nuggets and Jazz for third, but the Thunder, Spurs and Blazers are all tied for sixth. Dallas is only one up on the No. 3 glut.
With every team having a pair of games left to go, the Suns are guaranteed of finishing no worse than fifth, which is where they would wind up with a pair of losses.
The Suns can finish second if they win out and Dallas loses at the Clippers and home against San Antonio. If they win out and Dallas wins a game, the Suns will be the No. 3 seed.
If the Suns split their next two games but still wind up in a three-way tie with Denver and Utah, they would likely be fifth, but since Denver hosts Memphis and Utah is at Golden State, they will both likely win their other game, which would make the Suns the No. 4 seed with a 1-1 stretch.
“The big thing for us, we’ve been talking about it since we made the playoffs, we’ve been talking about trying to get home court and being in a situation where we can still control our own destiny,” Gentry said. “Right now we’re still in a situation where if we take came of business on our end then we’ll have home court.”
- Stoudemire on one of the reasons home court is so important in the playoffs: “For one, we get a chance to bring some currency to the organization.”
- Gentry was in the mood for a little fun after this win. He started off his presser by exclaiming, “I thought Phil struck the ball well, played well and because of that he’s the Masters champion,” before pretending to walk off.
- Nash said he has felt good for the past few weeks, other than his cold, which he thinks is almost over. “I’m starting to get my endurance and strength back, and it’s a little easier,” Nash said. “Not every night is like running up a mountain, so it’s good.” Not coincidentally Nash has gone for 20-10 three times in his last seven games following tonight’s 23 and 11 effort after doing so only three times in his previous 34 games.
- The Suns have won seven in a row in US Airways Center, averaging almost 120 ppg in that span and scoring at least 110 in all but one of them. … That last home loss came March 12 against the Lakers. If Phoenix had won that game it would trail the Lakers in the Pacific by just two games. Who would have thunk it? … The Suns have won five in a row against Houston, the most consecutive wins for either team in this series since 1992-93. … Phoenix has won 12 of 14 overall and has not dropped consecutive games since January. … The Suns finished their Sunday home schedule 7-0 and are 11-2 overall on Sundays. … STAT became the third player in franchise history to attempt 4,000 free throws with Phoenix, joining KJ and Dick Van Arsdale in that department.