When the San Antonio Spurs ran off 13 straight points in the second quarter, it would have been easy to think this just wasn’t going to be the shorthanded Suns’ night, but then Phoenix bounced back with a furious rally to go into the halftime break with a lead.
When the Spurs opened the second half with a 25-5 blitzkrieg to take a commanding 19-point lead, it would have been easy to call it a successful road trip and wait for reinforcements to join the team Wednesday at practice on the second game of a back-to-back against a 23-3 team that had won eight in a row.
But no, this undermanned Suns team battled back again, putting a scare into the Spurs as the Suns had the lead down to seven with the ball with five minutes left before ultimately falling, 118-110, in San Antonio.
The Suns’ determination in erasing deficits was impressive on a night few could have expected them to win, with everything stacked against them. At times this season they have gotten behind and then allowed those leads to balloon in tough road venues, but every time they took a punch they countered right back on Monday night.
“I was proud of the way we played, we didn’t quit and we battled back,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We got it to [seven] and just couldn’t come up with a couple of stops that we needed to stay in it, but they are a great team.”
Jared Dudley was a major part of that, as J-Dud made his case for rotation minutes once Carter and Pietrus arrive by pouring in a career-high 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting in 42 productive minutes that also included five boards, three assists, two steals and a block.
Dudley flashed the kind of offensive game he just didn’t possess last season. His offensive largely revolved around spot-up shooting last year, but tonight he showcased the ability to put the ball on the floor and he even made a couple herky-jerky shots in traffic.
Meanwhile, Josh Childress followed up his stellar night in Oklahoma City with a 15-point, five-rebound effort in 29 minutes, tying a season high in points in the process. Having sat out the Minnesota and Dallas games, Childress got nine days between appearances, and he’s been a different player the last two games, the player the Suns thought they were getting when they signed him this summer.
Combine that with another spectacular 19-point effort from Grant Hill and Alvin Gentry has some mighty tough decisions on his hands at the wings once Carter and Pietrus join the fold, and to make matters worse (or perhaps better) Goran Dragic is playing well enough to deserve some time next to Nash at the two.
You could argue that Dudley and Childress have really stepped up these last two games when there was no glut at the wings and they knew they would be relied upon for major minutes, but I doubt any coach will complain about having too many wings playing well.
The Suns shot 53.5 percent for the game despite Channing Frye’s 1-for-10 game (0-for-8 on threes), but they gave up a 40-point third quarter for the second straight game. This time they could not win in spite of that as Tim Duncan exploded for a 20-15-6 line and Gary Neal went for 22 points off the bench.
As ugly as it started with Steve Nash writhing on the floor in Dallas, this road trip must be seen as a success for Phoenix.
The Suns beat a very good team on the road shorthanded and then made a real nice effort tonight in an unenviable situation in San Antonio. The one win prevented them from falling more than two games under .500 by the end of this torturous stretch that ends Thursday when the Miami Heat visit and should make the Suns feel pretty good about themselves as their reinforcements arrive for Wednesday’s practice.
“I think we need to be optimistic,” Nash said. “A lot of guys are coming in that will provide us with depth and defense as we should be a better team. The biggest thing for us is going to be our energy and spirit.”
After turning over a quarter of their roster, we should wipe the slate clean for the new Phoenix Suns at this point. Of course their mediocrity from the first 27 games can’t be erased and there will be some growing pains as the players get acclimated, but you can already see these last two games that the spirit of the team has changed.
If this new team continues to display the kind of passion it has in its last two gutty efforts, we shouldn’t be talking about .500 much longer.