When the Suns got hot during the second half last season, they were practically invincible when they won the rebounding battle.
You could say the same thing about this year’s Suns, but the sample size is so small it hardly qualifies as a trend.
Still when you consider Phoenix’s offensive prowess and its ineptness on the boards, any game the Suns win the rebounding battle in figures to go their way, and thanks to some quality crunch time execution while Golden State faded that board work led the Suns to a quality 107-101 victory over the Warriors on a night you may have been watching the LeBron circus or the missed extra point disaster in Tucson.
“It was a great game for us,” Jason Richardson told TNT. “We came out and did the things we’re supposed to. This is a step forward in the right direction.”
Phoenix won the rebounding battle 37-31, marking only the second time all season that was the case, with the other being their come-from-behind win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 5 when Zach Randolph tired.
Channing Frye led the way with 10 boards, making this only the second time all year he reached double digits (the other was the aforementioned Memphis game), while Hedo Turkoglu chipped in with seven off the bench and Jared Dudley five.
Beating the Warriors on the boards isn’t necessarily a huge accomplishment since last year they were the only team in the league worse than the Suns in this department and even with the addition of noted boarder David Lee they are still in the bottom sixth of the league. But for this Suns squad it’s noteworthy any time they outrebound the opponent.
In the end, though, the Suns won this game just by being a veteran club that out-executed the Warriors down the stretch and then nailed all their free throws at the very end to prevent a comeback. Free throw shooting was superb all game with the Suns knocking down 21-of-22 (Frye had the only miss).
Trailing by five after Steve Nash missed a jumper, Monta Ellis got called for a double dribble trying to pass to Lee, who wasn’t expecting one, leading Ellis to catch his own pass.
Jason Richardson answered with a jumper in Ellis’ grill with a second on the shot clock to push the lead to seven, and after a couple Lee free throws, Grant Hill was fouled by Dorell Wright with a second left after the Suns had nearly lost the ball. When he knocked down both to push the lead to seven with 40 seconds left, Phoenix’s free-throw shooting iced the game.
Leading by three entering the fourth, the bench opened the quarter on an 18-7 run to push the Suns’ lead up to 14. It’s worth noting that the bench gave up seven of those points before exiting midway through the quarter, but during that push they resembled the unit of last year that’s been missing much of this season.
Goran Dragic sparked the run with seven points and Jared Dudley did Jared Dudley things to score another seven points during the spurt.
Shoring up the rebounding is certainly a key, but if the Suns want to reach their potential they need this second unit to develop into one of the best benches in the NBA. There’s no question it has that talent for that, and as Frye said last week perhaps one day the unit will mesh and we’ll all wonder where it came from.
Stretching a lead during the fourth quarter in a hostile environment while an opponent like Monta Ellis is going bonkers has got to make you believe that day will be sooner than later.
The Suns’ newest starting lineup also enjoyed a solid outing in this one. Richardson played another fine game in his former home by pouring in 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting, including that dagger in crunch time. Grant Hill’s sprained foot seemed just fine as he scored 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and Nash dished a season-high-tying 16 assists (an outright season high in games he didn’t play 49 minutes in).
Then Frye had his big game on the boards and new starter Earl Barron put up a team-high-tying plus 10 in 25 minutes of action. I do wonder why Hakim Warrick played just nine minutes, perhaps to give Barron a longer look, but in any case Warrick’s porous season away from US Airways Center continued. Hedo Turkoglu went for nine and six and once again looked very comfortable with the bench unit.
Aside from Monta Ellis’ 38-point explosion and Lee’s 25 and eight, the Suns limited the rest of the Warriors with Wright being the next leading scorer with 10.
You could tell that the Suns’ practice time this week as well as the opinions Alvin Gentry likely shared in the aftermath of the defensive massacre in Denver made a difference for this basketball team. Although the Warriors hit half their shots, this was not the shootout most Suns-Warriors games are as Phoenix sent Golden State to its ninth loss in 11 games after a 6-2 start.
The win also improves the Suns to .500, and if they can start to produce more rebounding efforts like this one that’s a mark they should far surpass in no time.