Phoenix Suns 113, Oklahoma City Thunder 110 -- Not quite over the Hill

Grant Hill turned back the clock by exploding for his first 30-point game since 2005. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Grant Hill turned back the clock by exploding for his first 30-point game since 2005. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Who needs Jason Richardson or Vince Carter when you have Grant Hill?

The NBA’s third-oldest player made Phoenix Suns fans forget about the 19.3 points per game they’ll be missing with J-Rich in Orlando.

He momentarily erased the question of whether or not a 33-year-old Carter, who will play against the Heat on Thursday, can shoulder the load as the team’s No. 1 option for the rest of the season.

Hill’s 30-point, 11-rebound effort that willed a short-handed Suns team past the Oklahoma City Thunder, 113-110, on Sunday night made a statement to the Suns: “Why not me?”

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Hill played like a go-to-guy in his best performance in purple and orange ever and his first 30 and 10 game since April 2000.

He knocked down a handful of mid-range jumpers and attacked the basket with ease, leading to 14 free-throw attempts (12 makes) and his first 30-point game since Feb. 27, 2005.

Hill, along with tenacious fourth-quarter defense from Josh Childress, made Kevin Durant work for all 28 of his points as he was forced into 8-for-19 shooting from the field.

Durant led the Thunder back from a 13-point deficit to trail 106-103 with 2:08 remaining. But Hill wouldn’t let the Thunder get any closer, as he had his shot blocked, regained possession and finished an 8-footer to put the Suns up 108-103 with 1:48 left in the game.

The NBA’s top scorer answered back with an 11-footer to cut the Suns’ lead to three. But after a missed runner from Steve Nash, Childress — who was benched the last two games — made the biggest play of the game as he picked Durant’s pocket with 1:06 left, giving the Suns possession and an eventual victory.

Childress finally proved to be the slasher and perimeter defender the Suns had hoped for when they signed him to a lucrative contract in the offseason, as he scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting while collecting three steals in 28 minutes.

This was a game the Suns could have easily lost badly. They just surrendered Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark, and won’t have Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus until Thursday.

But thanks to Hill’s circa 1997 performance, Nash’s 20 and 10 on 7-of-9 from the field, Robin Lopez’s 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, 32 solid minutes from Goran Dragic (11 points, five assists) and Childress’ best all-around performance of the season, the Suns persevered.

They came out of the gates hot, drilling their first six shots of the game. Lopez knocked in his first three shots, Hill got off to a hot start and Childress brought energy off the bench. The Thunder, on the other hand, struggled from the field. They shot just 6-of-22 in the first quarter but only trailed 25-23 thanks to 13 free-throw attempts.

The Suns kept their foot on the gas into the second quarter, as Lopez made his first five shots, Nash and Dragic thrived in the backcourt together and Hill continued to dominate offensively, while Durant (2-for-11 in the first half) and the Thunder struggled with Phoenix’s zone defense.

The Suns’ starters shot 64 percent from the field in the first half, while the Thunder as a team shot an abysmal 27.9 percent and trailed 54-45 at the half. But the third quarter was an entirely different story for the Suns.

They did make their first six shots just like they did to start the game, but then the turnovers set in. The Suns held a 73-62 lead with 5:54 remaining in the third, but OKC began to hit stride as the Suns faltered, turning the ball over seven times in the quarter.

The Thunder ended the quarter on a 23-9 run, as the Suns didn’t make a shot in the final 3:23, while committing four turnovers during that stretch. Because of Phoenix’s sloppy play and Oklahoma City’s newfound rhythm, the Thunder took an 85-82 lead into the fourth quarter.

But the Suns grabbed hold of the lead early in the fourth, fighting off Durant and the Thunder thanks to 10 fourth-quarter points from Hill, and crucial rebounding (the Suns won the battle of the boards 37-32) and defense down the stretch.

The Suns played far from a perfect game, committing 20 turnovers that led to 21 Thunder points, while only knocking down four three-pointers. They also sent Oklahoma City to the line 48 times, which isn’t ideal against a team on pace to set the NBA’s single-season free-throw percentage record.

But behind Hill’s monster double-double the short-handed Suns fought through the adversity and beat one of the NBA’s more talented teams in a fairly hostile environment.

Hill proved he can shoulder the scoring load from time to time as he went for 20-plus for the eighth time this season (he did it five times last season), Childress showed he isn’t worthless, Lopez was extremely efficient in his second game back and Nash showed no lingering effects from the stinger he suffered against the Mavericks.

The Suns take on the first-place Spurs Monday night, and yet again undergo a makeover when Carter, Gortat and Pietrus suit up on Thursday against the Heat. What the future holds remains to be seen, but Hill and the Suns took care of business against the Thunder.

And 1

Lopez looked better than he had all season, with terrific activity and a great shooting stroke. He knocked down three 17-foot jumpers and took Thunder center Serge Ibaka, who averaged 10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds heading into the contest, completely out of the game as he played only 11 minutes, scoring zero points and grabbing no rebounds. Lopez also collected the game’s highest +/- with a plus-23. … Despite five turnovers, Nash was extremely efficient and knocked down two three-pointers for the first time since Nov. 14. … Jared Dudley played solid defense, but didn’t do much as a starter, going 0-for-2 and scoring two points in 29 minutes. … Other than Hill and Lopez, Childress was the story of the game. He looked confident and had a couple of incredible finishes that the Suns hoped they would see a long time ago. Gentry was forced to play Childress with a short bench, but it will be interesting to see how his playing time compares to that of Pietrus.

Tags: Grant Hill

  • Finley

    This win surprised me, hopefully collective play like this lasts, especially with some added pieces of use.

  • david

    Maybe Gentry can platoon Nash/Dragic with Carter/Childress? That way Nash and Carter aren’t competing for the ball-handling duties. And, these pairings are a change-of-pace that most teams won’t be able to handle. I’d also like to see Gortat play at the 5. he might be Nash’s new pick and roll partner. Pairing Lopez and Gortat together gives us a formidable, twin-tower lineup that even the Lakers would have difficulty with. Agree?

  • Drew

    I agree that this was a great game for Childress. One defining play to me when I watched him (I even rewound it and pointed it out to my wife) was in the last minute. Durant wanted a 3. Had the ball on the right side perimeter and took a hard dribble to the basket, stepped back so well most nba defenders would’ve been stuck at about 12 feet out. But when Durant rose up for that step back 3 pointer, Childress’s long arms were 100% contesting that shot. In mid-air he got the ball to Green who drove to the basket and Nash fouled him. I really loved seeing the little things Childress does to make things harder for his opponents (especially all-star players). That doesn’t make it on the stat sheet, but shows his value.

    I’m really excited for this team to gel with the new guys. I think we’ll be able to defend the wings well between Hill, Pietris, Dudley and Childress. Don’t expect us to shut down the Heat, but given some time, we’ll be a good playoff team.

    Great game Grant Hill!

  • Zak

    I was shocked! But I suppose I shouldn’t have been. Perhaps some of the problems this season to date was trying to force Turkoglu into the rotation and relying too much on Richardson for scoring. Everyone (except for Dudley) stepped up for this game and brought home a W. And maybe the idea of some real competition for his starting job prompted Lopez to step it up a notch too?

  • jane

    I watched the game and it was surprised to see the short-handed Suns won the game. I felt like 8~9 men quality rotation is better than 10-men rotation.

    But again, it is going to be difficult for Gentry to juggle with his 5 wing–players. Especially Childress playing with this level, there is no reason for Gentry to sit him. After new guys join, Childress is going to be the 10th or 11th man on the roster and that’s bad for him.

    Warrick had no defense last night, and I think he will see his minute and role decreasing after Gortat joins. Also if the Suns play against the small lineup like yesterday, or they want to play small lineup, I want to see more Childress playing because he is quick and better on-ball defender than Warrick.

    Robin looks fine after returning from his injuries, which I am very happy with.

    Tonight, against Spurs, no matter you are short-handed or not, it’s must-win game. No excuses. Go Suns!!!!!!!!

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  • Ryan

    Great win for the Suns. I find myself excited for the new players and the new look to this team.

    JChill played awesome last night and I hope Alvin notices how important he is to this team and what he can do for this team and doesn’t put him so far down the rotation in the future. Once that finger is 100% he is gonna be a 6th man!

  • Steve

    Gortat is the only guy from the Magic deal I actually care about keeping. I’ve seen Gortat do some pretty great things in the Association, and if he and Lopez can work well together, we might have a shot of holding our ground against the likes of LA down low.

    Carter and Pietrus need to go, if at all possible. Carter is the biggest baby in the league, and even though I really like Pietrus, I think Childress and Hill are better players all-around, and Dudley is a better guy for the team.

    Great win over OKC. Let’s start racking em up now.

  • Steve

    Plus, Childress would be a heck of a lot harder to move than Pietrus because of their contracts.

  • Brian

    Gentry talked about the roster moves bringing simplification to to the game plan. It looks like this has already started. Maybe this really is a case of less is more and maybe in the end Amare is better off without the Suns and we can end up better off without him (wishful thinking?).