Channing Frye’s the type of shooter who always feels like the next trey will splash through the hoop, but a handful of times a year he gets hot enough that he knows for certain the next shot is going in.
Friday in Washington was one of those nights, as Frye drilled four long balls in the third quarter alone and seven in the game as the Suns routed the Wizards 109-91 behind Channing’s team-high 25 points and eight boards.
Frye had steam emanating from his head during his lethal third quarter in which he nailed 4-of-6 threes to help the Suns turn a one-point halftime deficit into a commanding 12-point lead that they would never relinquish. He hit three within a span of a minute and a half in practically the same spot as a spaced floor left him open for jumper after jumper.
Channing hitting shots has become a common theme during the Suns’ five-game winning streak, as he’s averaging 18.8 points and shooting 51.5 percent from distance (17-for-33) during the Suns’ run.
“It’s just part of the system,” Frye said on the Suns’ postgame show. “It’s just about balancing, just getting up there and kind of mentally feeling like you deserve to make that shot. They kept leaving me open, and as you know that hoop keeps getting bigger and bigger, and I’ve got to be aggressive and shoot that shot. Marcin’s doing a great job of screening and rolling, and when they collapse in I’ve got to shoot it.”
Added head coach Alvin Gentry: “When Channing shoots the ball like that we are really tough, it allows us to have an open avenue for drives. It also allows the help to come and we become a really unselfish team. We are able to find an open guy and for whatever reason they left him open. He played a very good game defensively, too; he had a good overall game and was able to give us separation.”
Frye’s heroics highlighted a superb final three quarters for the Suns after a weak effort in the first left them trailing 33-22. But the Suns outscored Washington 87-58 the rest of the way, and it all started with a 14-4 run to start the period courtesy of Goran Dragic and the reserves to bring Phoenix back.
Then the Suns exploded for a 23-7 run after Washington scored the first bucket in the third, and the rout was on from there with Steve Nash going for 17 and 14 to support Frye’s super game.
Hill applauded the Suns for keeping their composure despite a bad first quarter as the team felt it had new life in a one-point game at the half.
“At halftime, we were down one and were talking amongst ourselves as players and said, ‘Hey we’re down one, we’re back in the game and we played terrible. Let’s just come out and take care of business,’” Hill said. “We had a good third and just finished them out there in the second half.”
Despite Frye’s lethal shooting, perhaps the most valuable Sun on this day albeit in a much less flashy manner was Marcin Gortat. The Polish Hammer might really be starting to get Phoenix’s system as he followed up Wednesday’s 16 and 12 effort in which he was a plus-24 in 27 minutes by going for 13 points and 14 boards while finishing with a plus-19 in 30 minutes.
Gortat corralled double-digit rebounds in the first half alone, helping the Suns stay even on the boards for the game. He was practically the only Phoenix Sun out there rebounding during the team’s 30-20 second quarter as he grabbed nine rebounds and the rest of the team just three in that period.
We knew the rebounding would eventually come for Marcin, and he’s been looking much more comfortable on offense the past few games as well, doing a much better job of handling Nash’s passes and finishing when he has those opportunities.
The Suns have now won five in a row, and while they haven’t exactly played the NBA’s best, taking care of business against the bottom of the league is more than the Suns were doing a month ago.
Along the way they finally seem to be developing that chemistry and camaraderie be it through the newcomers’ obvious increase in comfort on the floor or the whole team whooping it up when Garret Siler entered for a minute of garbage time and scored a pair of buckets.
Nothing builds camaraderie like a winning road trip, and now not only are the Suns getting back in the playoff picture with these victories over bad teams, they’re developing the kind of chemistry that could make them a legitimate playoff team.
“I think the thing about this team is we’re really starting to gel right now,” Frye said. “We’re really starting to gel on the defensive end. We have our mistakes, but people don’t get their head down anymore, we’re not like depressed, like ‘Hey, this is what we messed up on.’ We’ve got to adjust it and Coach does a great job of that, and people are really starting to get a flow. We’re just playing good ball. It’s about us this trip, just getting better.”
The five wins are pretty important, but to me the Suns getting their mojo back is even more critical. Beating the bad teams won’t convince anybody that the Suns are back, and they won’t get a chance to win a game that could raise eyebrows until the Boston Celtics invade the Valley next Friday.
But this team has always been talented enough to make the playoffs, and perhaps this stretch can help the Suns gel like they did last year around this time and make a run.