Phoenix Suns 129, New York Knicks 121 — Ten-day transformation

Vince Carter eclipsed the 20,000-point mark in his best game as a Sun. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

What a difference 10 days can make.

The last time the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks squared off for Amare Stoudemire’s homecoming, Mike D’Antoni’s squad dominated the Suns in every facet of the game.

Raymond Felton notched his first career triple-double, the Knicks drilled 17 three-pointers and the Suns showed zero life offensively, failing to score 100 points for the fourth straight game in a 25-point defeat.

But after 10 days that included a handful of highs (back-to-back wins over the Nets and Trail Blazers) and lows (sneaking past the lowly Cavaliers and losing to the Nuggets by 34), Phoenix played its most complete game since the trade on its way to a 129-121 win in Madison Square Garden on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Suns looked like a totally different team than the one that the Knicks embarrassed 10 days ago, as they scored 32 or more points in three quarters, resulting in their highest scoring output in a victory all season.

Although Stoudemire exploded for 41, the Suns jelled offensively and showed flashes of what they can look like when everything is clicking on all cylinders.

Vince Carter was a huge reason why, as he played with energy and efficiency from the opening tip to the final buzzer, scoring a Suns-high 29 points while grabbing 12 boards and dishing out four assists. The double-double was Carter’s first since Feb. 2, 2010.

He drilled 5-of-8 triples, but also produced in the paint and moving to the basket, even mixing in a Vinsanity-esque dunk as he drove baseline and slammed it home.

“My shot was falling. I just wanted to be aggressive,” Carter told “They beat us pretty good last time. That was one of my first games there and I feel like I can give this team more. My aggressiveness has gone up because of it.”

Although he was aggressive, he played within himself and didn’t force bad shots as he shot 11-of-20 from the field, only committed one turnover and became the 37th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points. Carter is now the eighth active player with more than 20,000 career points.

Carter also proved he can be that go-to-guy late in the game, as he rattled off five straight points to turn a 109-106 lead into 114-108 advantage with 3:41 remaining. But it certainly wasn’t a one-man-show for the Suns.

Grant Hill went for 25 points (11-12 from the line) and a plus-24, Steve Nash turned in a classic Nash performance with 15 and 11 and a plus-24, Channing Frye scored 11 in the first quarter and 18 in the game, and even Robin Lopez showed signs of life with 12 points, two blocks and a monster jam over Wilson Chandler.

The bench mob of Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and Hakim Warrick (nine fourth-quarter points) also came through with 30 points and 18 rebounds as things finally came full cirtcle for the new-look Suns. They scored a season-high 39 first-quarter points, including a 15-2 run and a 39-30 lead after one. The Knicks fought back to start the second quarter, rattling off a 10-2 run to tie things up at 41. New York built a five-point lead with 2:31 left in the half and led 64-61 at the break.

But Carter and Hill came alive in the third quarter, combining for 17 of the Suns’ 36 points on the way to a 97-91 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

In typical Knicks fashion, New York went on a 10-4 run to take a 101-100 lead with 8:56 left in the game. The Knicks would never lead again, however. The Suns put the clamps on STAT, while Warrick scored six points in a row and Nash, Carter and Hill helped seal the deal, combining for 18 points over the final 4:45 to give Phoenix its third consecutive victory.

STAT had a great night and the Knicks still hit 11 threes and scored 121 points, but Amare was held scoreless for the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter and the Suns regained their identity. For the first time seemingly all season, roles were clearly defined and each and every Sun that played did what he was supposed to.

After losing the rebounding battle 59-34 the last time these two teams met, the Suns out-boarded the Knicks 48-38 as five Phoenix players coralled six or more rebounds. They also held the Knicks to 11-of-31 shooting from three-point land after yielding 50.0 percent marksmanship in their last meeting.

Phoenix made a complete transformation over the course of the last 10 days and has now strung together three impressive wins in a row to move into a tie for 9th place in the Western Conference — 2.0 games back of Portland for eighth place. The Suns are back offensively, scoring 120.3 points per game over their last three games.

Most importantly, the Suns defeated by far the toughest team they’ll face during their five-game road trip. Phoenix has Cleveland, Washington, Detroit and Philadelphia up next, and Charlotte at home after that. Those are five extremely winnable games that could get the Suns back into the thick of things in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Needless to say, aside from defeating Stoudemire in New York, this is a huge, big-picture type of win for the Suns that could truly help them build chemistry moving forward while eventually vaulting them into playoff relevancy.

And 1

Today’s game was the first time since joining the Suns that Carter has shot over 50 percent from the field. In his last three games (all Suns wins) he’s now averaging 23.0 points per game, while shooting exactly 50 percent from the field and 11-of-21 from distance. … There’s no hiding that Warrick needs to play well for the Suns to win, and he did just enough down the stretch to help the Suns past the Knicks. He scored all of his nine points in the fourth quarter and forced Stoudemire to miss three of his first four shots in the fourth quarter. … Although Gortat and Lopez were both serviceable, Gentry went mostly with Warrick and Frye down the stretch. That combination worked both defensively and offensively.

  • Mike L

    Who played the 5 down the stretch? Gortat or Lopez?

  • Navkarn

    i had to pinch myself periodcally throughout the game to make sure i wasnt dreaming! i really see these last 2 games as a sign of hope. everyone looked so comfortable and fluid, they geniunely were playing as a squad with good fun chemistry. we give warrick a hard time about his defense, but he did a sensational job on amare when it mattered forcing him to take tough shots. loved this game and i love my suns! lets keep this going!

  • Mike Schmitz

    @Mike L: No it was mostly Frye and Warrick, who both played really well. Dudley played a little four next to Frye at times also.

  • Nashty

    Nash (8) had more rebounds than Stoudemire (6). HA!!!

  • Freddy

    my 8 Year Old can out-rebound STAT.

  • Cam

    Keep scoring VC, we need you to look good until trade deadline. He keeps playing like this and we might turn him into a pretty good draft pick/young player.

  • Mike L

    Nashty – yeah Nash also had more rebounds than RoLo or Frye, though. In my opinion, a player can’t claim to be a 4 or 5 unless they average at least 7 rebounds a game. Frye gets a bit of a pass because he’s typically the one who is taking the shots. But RoLo freaking needs to rebound!

    I wish he’d get his attitude back … go smash some glass doors or something. Nothing better than having two ticked-off centers on our team. It would be great to see Gortat and RoLo assume the responsibility of embodying this team’s defensive personality!

  • Nashty

    Mike L- I completely agree. I was hoping that the Gortat acquisition would get Lopez more aggressive on the boards. I guess not.

  • Lloyd

    The Suns don’t really miss Richardson with the way that Carter is playing.

    I think that Carter is more consistant.

  • derek

    gortat had 7 rebounds in just 19 minutes so he did a good job and he sored 6 points also

  • Mike L

    Yeah, I saw Gortat’s line. Excellent production for being out there just a short time. I think all it takes is for 3 guys in that rotation to decide that the Suns can be a “we’ll kick out your teeth” kind of a ball club. Would love to see RoLo, Gortat and someone else start to create that vibe. Great to see this win today … hoping to see a trend come out of games like this.

  • Mel.

    Un-freakin’-believable. I admit, I didn’t give the Suns more than a puncher’s chance in this one, but at times they not only looked feisty, but downright cocky.

    Granted, a sensible fan shouldn’t be pining for their team to favor swagger over substance (I sat in on the DDL for the Clippers-Lakers beatdown on Sunday, and maaaan… talk about a faith-based exercise), but it’s exactly what Mike L said. I would rather see our cast of “nice guys” checking chests and chins from time to time than turning the other cheek.

  • Auggie5000

    I was amazed that Warrick did the best defensively on Amare than the rest of our team. I hope he keeps it up.

    Also… I did see Carter take the worst shot that I’ve seen any Sun shoot, in the second quarter. He brought the ball up, dribbled into the corner, and heaved a shot from behind his head that hit the side of the backboard. I was disgusted with him. But other than that he played really well.

  • Steve

    I had one objective. That was to dominate.

    Chump. Too bad your team sucks.

  • KJ Loyalist

    I think a lot of fair-weather fans pick on Warrick a bit more than they should.

    He has proven time and time again, (on any team he has been on), that when he is given a real opportunity to play that he makes his teams better.

    I’ve been screaming that he must be involved at the 4 in order for this team to have any sort of balance. He continues to show that – just wish he could show it more.

    The rebounding situation is what the Suns will have to do this entire season, (and at all times while this system is in place).

    GET OVER IT – That is for those of you who still want our big men to gobble up an insane number of rebounds. Our offensive and defensive philosophy doesn’t allow it. It’ll have to be a team effort like tonight.

    Any team gets up for a good opponent, especially one that beat them down in a previous match up.

    The real test to see if this team has really come as far as some of our bloggers say will come against these bottom feeder teams we face next.

    No mental lapses and we should be on a 7 or 8 game winning streak.

    Beware Boris Diaw – He went off for a trip-dub today.

  • KJ Loyalist

    They finally fixed RoLo’s pivot-to-the-rim after a PnR? No 2 extra steps turning? Needs to be a lot more of this.

    • Michael Schwartz

      Funny what can happen when he’s not taking those extra steps…..

  • Steve

    Rolo looked pretty solid in quite a few instances tonight on the offensive end. Very promising.

  • PHZ-Sicks

    I believe that J. Rich score line for most of our Suns wins was like 23.7 points. With VC, in the last three games, at the 23 point mark, he will fill that void easily.

  • Auggie5000

    @kj loyalist- Fair weather fans? Anybody that is commenting on this blog at this point in this season is NOT a fair weather fan. All of these guys have orange in their arteries and purple in their veins.

  • HankS

    Really, really enheartening.

    Vince played like he wanted the Suns’ fans to forget who J-Rich was. Only taking one idiotic three-pointer the whole night (noon), he seems to be getting comfortable with the system and the players.

    Good effort from all the bigs. The centers were productive in their short, mostly first-half time, Fry looks a bit like a rookie expanding his game and excited about what he’s finding, and Warrick brought in energy and even some decent defense on the unstoppable STAT.

    Perhaps the best moment came late in the game with Gortat mock-helping Nash off the court after just having run the length of it, to the grins of all around. That’s what the Suns need, a bit of goofing around, and you never know, the chemistry might just come back.

    Let’s not now spoil it by giving one to the likes of Charlotte or Philadelphia…

  • YeahThatWasFunny

  • Zak

    The best thing about this win is that the Suns have proven to me that THEY haven’t given up on this season.

  • KJ Loyalist

    Auggie5k – A true fan would not lack the alternate-black in their veins. I didn’t see it mentioned in that post of yours.

  • Mike L

    KJ Loyalist … I would hardly call 7 boards “gobbling up rebounds.” if I was calling for one of them to become Dennis Rodman then maybe that phrase would be warranted. Like many of you, I’ve been a fan long enough to have nightmares of Tim Kempton and Joe Kleine doing their best impression of a rebound by jumping … With their feet seemingly nailed to the floor. Literally! You’d see their bodies stretch and elevate a few inches … But their feet never left the floor!

    I’ll stop worrying when I see RoLo and Gortat fly to whatever rebounds are reasonably in closing distance rather than “stretching” and “reaching” for them. And when Nash is out rebounding the big guys? Please. Do we really need to debate that? I will say that I have seen this a bit with Gortat … More than RoLo. Clearly Gortat is trying to figure out how to fit in.

  • Steve

    Gortat’s effort certainly should not be questioned. His ability can be questioned, for sure, but I certainly don’t question either. I think the more time he gets in the system and the more time he gets with the guys, the better he’s going to play until he’s a top-half center (top-half of the league).

    He grabbed 7 boards in 19 minutes. Don’t sell him short by comparing him to Nash when Nash played considerably longer. If you want to sell him short, say that they were playing NY, who also treats rebounds like they’re toxic. When nobody wants the rebound, eventually someone is going to have to end up with it against their will.

  • KJ Loyalist

    “GET OVER IT – That is for those of you who still want our big men to gobble up an insane number of rebounds.”

    Meaning: No. In this type of system, our bigs will never consistently break double digits in rebounding and, (also because of the system), there will be nights where the guards have more boards than the bigs because of the team rebounding philosophy.

  • Steve

    “Team rebounding philosophy”

    Aka, “if it falls in my lap, I might decide to grab it… but probably not.”

  • Ace

    So Pietrus and Childress were benched…Does that mean that Pietrus might be on his way out?

  • Stefan

    Check out who is deserving of a spot in the All-Star game according to me

  • Mike L

    Pietrus and Childress are sitting because Gentry said he can’t make a 10-player rotation work. And I think he’s right. I think Childress will have to bide his time until next year when VC is gone. Same with Pietrus. But at least we have a couple of solid guys who can easily contribute if we have any injuries (knock on wood).

    KJ Loyalist you sound set on making sure your point is heard, which it is. I’m just saying that so many of our missed opportunities are tied directly to a missed rebound or two. I seem to remember a key KJ jumper back in ’93 and game 6 of the finals as a good example. :)

  • Cam

    I think it’s been posted in previous threads but I get the feeling, and I doubt I’m the only one, that Gentry is doing what he’s been asked to do to possibly make certain players more appealing to other teams. I would think that that would mean playing Pietrus more but maybe suns management thinks he fits in their future plans. Like mike L stated, Childress just needs to bide his time because I think he’s gonna get his opportunities when VC is traded.

  • Cam

    Does anyone else think that, even though Gortat has been pretty effective, RoLo is getting more time so he can inflate his stats for a possible trade. I think he has a chance to make the suns center position very strong if he can keep progressing but I don’t get the feelings the suns want to wait much longer for him to reach his possible potential.

  • Auggie5000

    @kj loyalist -ha! my skin turns alternate black when it bruises

  • Auggie5000

    The “talent showcase” sounds like a reasonable assumption. Can’t wait until the trigger is pulled, because this team is not playing up to potential.