PHOENIX — There were minimal smiles and zero cheers of celebration in the Phoenix Suns locker room after their 108-100 win over the Cavaliers on Sunday night.
But for a team with a 21.2 win percentage in its last 14 games heading into tonight, even sneaking past the NBA’s worst team to snap a three-game losing streak is a step in the right direction.
“Well, I’ve been in the league a long time and there are no bad wins,” said head coach Alvin Gentry after the game. “I haven’t had a bad win in 22 years so for us, we just needed a win in any kind of way. We played well enough to win the game and that’s what we have to try and do.”
Although the Suns left US Airways Center victorious, it sure wasn’t pretty. They trailed for the entire first half and didn’t lead until Vince Carter hit a three with 11:49 left in the third quarter.
Phoenix allowed rookie guard Manny Harris, who reached double-digits scoring only twice this season prior to the game, to go off for 27 points on 7-of-13 shooting; his previous high was 16.
The Suns also turned the ball over 20 times to a team that ranks last in the league in forced turnovers, while giving up 18 offensive rebounds to an Anderson Varejao-less Cleveland squad that has now lost 10 in a row.
The fact that it took 36.8 percent shooting from the Cavs, and 13 three-pointers from the Suns to down the NBA’s bottom-feeder is a bad sign, to say the least. But as Gentry said, a win is a win, especially when you’re struggling to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
“We just needed to get a win. I don’t care who it was against, Lakers, Clippers, we’ll take this win,” said Jared Dudley, who scored a team-high 21 points in the absence of Grant Hill, who left with a sprained knee with 7:53 left in the first quarter.
Added Steve Nash, who finished with 20 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds: “We just needed to find a way to win a game. It was hard for us. I don’t know if we played our best, we played hard and we found a way to scrap and win and sometimes that’s what you got to do. I think our team at times was not confident, we dropped our heads and tonight we just fought through it.”
It was looking grim for the Suns throughout the 24 minutes, despite a first-half double-double from Channing Frye (13 points and 10 rebounds) and inspired play from Robin Lopez, who finished with 15 points (7-of-10), six rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes.
Harris was tearing apart the Suns’ defense, while Phoenix allowed a host of second-chance points to a J.J. Hickson-Antawn Jamison frontline. The Suns trailed 52-51 at half, but put together their first 30-point quarter since December in the third, thanks to 10 third-quarter points from Dudley and some ramped up interior defense and rebounding from the Suns’ bigs.
“I just tried to step up with Grant getting out early,” said Dudley, who made five threes and grabbed seven rebounds in a game-high 43 minutes.
Dudley did exactly that, and the Suns built an 80-73 lead with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter. But the Cavs ended the period on a 8-1 run to tie things up at 81 heading into the fourth.
It was a see-saw battle early on in the fourthquarter and the score was tied up at 90 with 6:59 remaining. Nash put the team on his back, however, scoring nine of his 20 points in the last 6:45 to hold off the Cavs and give the Suns something (something very, very small) to build on moving forward.
“Like I said we’ll take the win,” Gentry said. “They only put them on the left side or the right side so anything we can get on the left side we’ll take.”
The Suns needed a win worse than ever, and falling to a team that would struggle to win in the D-League would have been rock bottom for Phoenix. Gentry’s squad persevered, however, and there were a few positive individual efforts to boot.
Frye collected his first double-double since Dec. 2 (his only other one of the season) as he finished with 16 points and 12 boards, while blocking three shots. He played big and spaced the floor for a Suns team that failed to reach the century mark in the three games prior.
Lopez also finally showed signs of life, playing tough on the glass while hitting turnaround jumpers and finishing inside. Gentry met with Lopez about a week ago and told him he needed more out of him, and it paid dividends tonight as he helped the Suns win the rebounding battle 52-49 for the first time since Dec. 19, when they edged the Thunder 37-32.
“I just think he was more aggressive. I had a talk with him and just thought that he needed to be more aggressive and a little bit more aggressive offensively,” Gentry said of Lopez. “I thought he took some chances offensively and did some things. I thought he did a good job of blocking some shots and being a presence. Obviously that’s what we need from him.”
Lopez and Frye stepped up, Nash did his thing, Dudley hit big shots in Hill’s absence, and the Suns notched one more in the victory column, but there’s no hiding this is a difficult time for Phoenix Suns basketball — just ask Nash.
“Frustration has been mounting for about three months,” Nash said. “It’s hard. This is very difficult, just trying to fight through it and stay positive. Every day is a challenge. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back and gain a perspective, but when you get back out there, the fire burns and the frustration is there.”
Hill collided with Harris under the basket and suffered a mild knee sprain, according to a Suns release. Gentry said they didn’t know how serious it was and Hill will be re-evaluated in the morning. … Vince Carter played within himself Sunday night, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven boards. He still has yet to finish a game shooting 50 percent or above from the field and is clearly a defensive liability, however. … Gentry inserted Hakim Warrick into the lineup with 3:38 left and he picked up four points, a rebound and a block during that stretch. Gentry said Warrick plays well in their wins so he wants to get him back into the rotation. … Garret Siler was recalled from the Iowa Energy after playing four games and averaging 4.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 16.3 minutes. … Zabian Dowdell suited up for the Suns tonight for the first time but did not play.