PHOENIX — Hours after a shot that will likely be remembered among the likes of Paxson’s three and Duncan’s dagger, all that needs to be said about the mental state of the Phoenix Suns is that Grant Hill, Goran Dragic and at least one other teammate locked arms and danced a little square dance-style jig at the conclusion of practice.
“The mood’s still the same,” Jason Richardson said. “It’s still the same as it was in Game 1. We didn’t lose any of our confidence. We’re not getting down on each other, we’re not pointing fingers, everybody’s still excited. We’re at home in front of our home fans in a Game 6 to force a Game 7. The mood is still great here.”
At Friday’s practice, the Suns spoke of putting this loss behind them and focusing on the monumental opportunity they have still just two games away from their third NBA Finals berth in franchise history.
Hill just wanted to focus on the positives, but reporters ensured that J-Rich could not do that at least until his media responsibilities had ended. Richardson, of course, was at the center of all the late Game 5 drama, banking a long three-pointer with about three seconds left to cap Phoenix’s comeback from 18 down only to fail to box out Ron Artest on his game-winning rebound and put-back.
“I’ll take all the blame,” Richardson said. “I should have boxed out. I boxed out the entire game except for that one play, so I’ll take the blame for us losing.”
But Channing Frye would have none of that.
“From my point of view I feel like I could have helped him, I could have left Gasol and tried to get it when I saw it was going to be short,” he said. “I was going to let it bounce or just try to whack it the other way if I saw it hit the ground, but stuff like that happens, stuff like this is just going to make him a better player, especially tomorrow. He’s going to be great tomorrow, I’m telling you that right now.
“It happens, it’s just one of those freak things, and J-Rich, you know, poor guy, or not poor guy, but it sucks. He hits that game-winner for us, and then 30 seconds later that happens to him.”
J-Rich summed up his whole reaction to the sequence by saying, “You’ve got the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. Come back 18 down to tie the game up, hitting the big three and to see your man put a layup in it’s just like, ‘Man, this can’t be happening,’ but in the locker room it was like, ‘What just happened?’ I didn’t remember anything that just happened. It was in a blink. That’s basketball.”
An encouraging defeat?
The Suns got throttled in Games 1 and 2 by a combined 33 points, yielding the kind of defensive numbers more befitting of a video game than the Western Conference Finals.
But after battling back from a late 18-point deficit in Game 5, Hill was encouraged by what he saw from his team.
“I just think that we feel better about ourselves, and I think knowing that we can play well and give a better performance in their building, it’s a lot better after that loss than it was after Game 2,” Hill said. “Game 2 was probably the lowest point we’ve had in the last three or four months, but we responded. We came out, we played great.
“Like I said, we responded all year. Just some really good things that we did last night, some things to build on. The main thing is the confidence is there. We can beat this team. Obviously we’ve done it twice, and we’ve got to try and do it twice more.”
Gentry unhappy with C-Webb’s remarks
If you want to get under Alvin Gentry’s skin, there’s one easy way to do so: insult his team’s defense.
Gentry took offense to ESPN analyst Jon Barry calling out Steve Nash’s defense on Andre Miller in Game 1 against Portland — even though it was J-Rich who defended Miller.
Now the Suns’ coach is unhappy with Webber, the former Kings star and current TNT and NBA TV analyst. Gentry told Paul Coro that Webber said on a recent broadcast that the Suns are “a terrible defensive team. When you’re a bad defensive team, you’re a bad defensive team.”
“Teams don’t shoot 58 percent against us, that’s not who we are, contrary to what Chris Webber thinks, OK?” Gentry said after Friday’s practice. “Yeah, I’m throwing that out there, too, that they don’t. He should check his stats, also. Like I said, I’m a factual guy. His definition of a horrible defensive team is not the same as mine.
“That’s my hit for the day. I don’t mind him talking about the coaching, he can talk about the coaching, but to say that these guys are a terrible defensive team is not fair. It’s unfair to these guys because they work hard to get better in that area right there.”
On not playing in the final seconds of Game 5: “That definitely didn’t feel good. I thrive on being in there, getting that last rebound or getting that last blocked shot, so it didn’t work out that way.”
On his excitement for Game 6: “Crowd’s going to be phenomenal, I’ll tell you that right now. We’re going to be ready to go from the start. I can’t wait. The only reason I’m not on the basketball court is because you guys are talking to me.”
On the possibility of playing his last game in Phoenix: “If we don’t win, it’s possible.”
On his health: “I can play 82 more games the way I feel. I feel great.”
On the Phoenix crowd and Band-Aids: “If I can get the crowd to wear a Band-Aid on their forehead like I will be tomorrow night that would be even better. I’m expecting a Band-Aid forehead crowd that’s going to be rowdy and ready to go.”
Contrary to popular belief and TNT’s Craig Sager’s original report, Alvin Gentry threw up on the sidelines during Game 5 not because of a fried avocado but because of a fried artichoke that he ate for lunch. Gentry didn’t know you can even deep fry an avocado.
Gentry was in good spirits Friday and showed no effects of the illness.
“I was trying to not let it get back up, but it beat me to the punch,” he said.
ValleyoftheSuns on ESPN’s NBA Today podcast
I discuss Game 5 and the rest of the Western Conference Finals with ESPN’s Ryen Russillo in this edition of the ESPN NBA Today podcast.