Phoenix Suns 104, New Orleans Hornets 102 -- Gortat keeps dominating

PHOENIX — After scoring a career-high 19 points Friday against Boston, Marcin Gortat said not to expect him to continue setting career highs, that he had just about reached his limit.

Turns out Gortat was wrong as he set a career high in the second half alone with 21 and scored 25 for the game as the Suns held on for a 104-102 win over the New Orleans Hornets.

“That’s what I said, but honestly I didn’t think I was going to come into the game and make another career high,” Gortat said. “Actually I was really tired and I think the last game took a lot of energy from my body and I was kind of tired this morning, I tried to push myself, I had a lack of focus the first couple minutes I came into the game and I was mad at myself that I screwed up, and I said, ‘All right, I’m just going to stay in the game,’ and I’m proud of myself that I handled that situation very well.”

He handled it very well indeed and took advantage of a New Orleans front line missing Emeka Okafor in the second half due to a left hip injury (after seven first-half offensive rebounds), as he went for 21 and eight in the second half alone without Okafor.

Gortat has now tied or set a career high five times this month, including the last three, as he became the first Suns reserve (if you can even call him a reserve) to go for 25 and 11 off the bench since 2001.

“I think he’s getting better every day,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “He and Steve are developing a chemistry that I think is working for us. He has done a good job on the boards. He has been a really physical rebounder for us, which we needed and he’s come up with some big plays for us at the end. I think he continues to get better and better. I thought in those 24 minutes he was great.”

Gortat has showcased a sweet little jumper that helped him shoot 9-for-10 in this game (and 23-for-33 during the homestand) to go with hitting all seven foul shots, and he’s also becoming a devastating finisher in the pick-and-roll game as he’s doing a much better job of fielding Nash’s passes.

In fact the chemistry between them is becoming so good that Gortat joked with Nash that he’s going to make him an MVP candidate once again and also the league leader in assists by finishing so many of his passes. It may not be a joke as Nash’s 15 assists in this one gave him an average of 12.1 per game in January, his best assist month since December 2007.

“Rajon Rondo is a great point guard, but he isn’t better than Steve,” Gortat said of the league’s current assist leader. “As many passes as he gave me today I think I had so many passes the entire season a couple years ago. It’s just a great feeling to play with him. I think we’re doing a tremendous job right now together.”

But all the good work that Gortat and the Suns did after leading by nine early, then falling behind by 10 in the second before managing a halftime tie and finally building a comfortable working margin throughout the fourth almost unraveled during a hideous final 29.1 seconds of basketball that started with the Suns leading by eight.

First Chris Paul hit a wide-open three after the Suns failed to rebound a Marcus Thornton miss. Then Trevor Ariza stole the ball as Grant Hill attempted to quickly inbound to Nash, and then Paul drew a foul on Channing Frye while shooting a three-pointer. Paul appeared to do a little acting job to get the call but Frye was close enough to make the whistle a possibility although he appeared to play it straight up.

After knocking down all three foul shots to make it a two-point game, Hill threw the ball to the opposite sideline, and Nash made an acrobatic save to Vince Carter, who stepped out of bounds for the turnover with 10.1 seconds left.

Next a driving David West found Thornton open for a layup underneath the hoop. Hill came over to get a piece of it and appeared to get it on the way down, as the Hornets angrily complained about after the game, but the refs called it a clean block rather than a goal tend.

But the fun wasn’t over as Paul chased down the rebound and attempted an off-balance, potential game-winning three with Dudley challenging in front of him and Nash behind him but missed badly, seemingly attempting to draw another foul.

“I thought we played great, for 47 minutes and 31 seconds,” Gentry said. “It’s a great win for us. That’s a really good basketball team. Obviously I wish we could have closed the game out in the end. We played great, but they made a couple of shots and we’ fouled them’ on a three-point shot. That got the game close. I don’t want to take anything away from them. It was a great win for us against a really good basketball team that’s been playing great.”

A game after limiting Boston to 34.2 percent shooting, the Suns held the Hornets to 42.1 percent marksmanship, including just 10 points in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter. The Suns also scored 104 against the NBA’s best scoring defense (91.4 ppg) and won their fourth straight game against a winning team (now if they could only beat the slightly below .500 East teams).

“I see chemistry building, I see people knowing their spots, I see the roles being defined. I think our rotation is solid,” Jared Dudley said, “I think people know what to expect from each other. I think Gortat is playing at a higher level. Now we’re at this point where we can’t use being together very long as an excuse.”

Added Hill, “It’s starting to come together.”

That’s what we thought when the Suns won five in a row only to drop their next three, but wins over the Celtics, who today spanked the Lakers in Staples and own the East’s best record, and the Hornets, who had won 10 in a row before losing in Sacramento on Saturday, certainly provide reasons for optimism.

Now two games under .500, the Suns’ goal is to reach that elusive .500 mark by the All-Star break after playing below it since the Orlando reinforcements arrived. With more performances like this (minus the very end), that could happen sooner rather than later.

And 1

The Suns have not lost a Sunday home game since Feb. 22, 2009, going 11-0 in that time. … The Suns have held five of their last seven opponents to 43.4 percent shooting or worse. … Gortat has scored in double figures in three straight games for the second time in the last 11 days, something he had never done previously.

Tags: Chris Paul Marcin Gortat Steve Nash

  • Maynard

    simply amazing! Polish Hammer!!! go Suns! good game guys

  • Derek

    saw it comin

  • steven

    Yea ok after goaltending the layup by thorton u mean. U know what u saw. N r u kidding a desperation 3 attempt while trying to draw a foul u mean taking a last second shot and being fouled and on top of the foul in front of paul what about nash’s old ass undercutting paul from behind. Look at. That last 30 secs again n if u still think ur right the way u called it, ure a (obscenity deleted) retarded piece of (obscenity deleted). Hornets were robbed as (obscenity deleted).

    • Michael Schwartz

      @Steven I just took a closer look. I agree that Hill goal tended (and that will be reflected in the full recap), but I disagree with you about the Paul foul. Dudley for sure didn’t foul and Nash didn’t seem to make much contact either, and there’s no question Paul was contorting his body trying to draw something just like he did with a very iffy call on Channing.

  • shazam

    @ steven r u goin t post here much?r u? well r u?

  • Mike L

    steven needs to take a chill pill! Makes me wonder what he’s going to do when he realizes there are 33 games left.

    Better learn to calm down a smidge, steven. I guarantee the Nornets aren’t going 33-0!

    (Shouldn’t there be a function on this site for flagging obsenity, btw?)

  • sun also rises

    Lol at this kid going off like Superfan Jr. It’s not often that this blog gets potty mouth chumps crying about the officials and how we cheated their team out of a victory, I take it as a sign that the Suns are doing work right now.

    Funny thing is, we whupped real teams like the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics, and none of their supporters went posting weak trash like this. I think Steve is just getting warmed up for when CP3 cuts out for a better team, and all the Hornets fans have left is their beers and their tears.

  • Dirk

    Wow! I can’t believe we had an 8 point lead with 18 seconds to go and still came within an eyelash of losing – in regulation no less.

    I’d have to think that would have been the worst last 20 second collapse in NBA history.

  • Jason

    I was seein shades of Reggie Miller at the end. No, no, NOOOOO!! Ok, it’s all good. Man my heart was pumping after we won. That finish was waaaay too exciting. Clamp down boys. Keep it goin…

  • KJ Loyalist

    If Gortat and Nash are building such a nice bench then I would bet a change in the starting lineup is coming.

    RoLo might be more of a monster off the bench even with Dragon’s talon in a sling. Z-D flung a few nice passes while in the game. Good to see him get a bit of run.

  • Artur Mascarenhas

    The most important thing is: why the hell, Pietrus – our BEST defender – was on the bench in the last minutes?

    If I recall properly, our final lineup was Nash, Carter, Hill, Dudley and Frye. Really? You want CARTER finishing a close game against Chris Paul?

    Gentry is really annoying me lately.

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  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    @ Artur – We did our fair share of Vincanity bashing the other day, but honestly the near-collapse at the end of this game wasn’t really his fault in any way.

    CP3 wasn’t his man on that made 3. His man was in the corner. He ALMOST left him, but stuck to him, as he should have in that situation.

    It wasn’t him that hurried an inbound pass that got intercepted, and he didn’t “foul” CP3 on a three-point attempt.

    He did everything he could to save a bad grant-hill-which-turned-into-a-bad-Nash-pass but couldn’t.

    Far as Pietrus being in late in the game, I suppose Gentry took the lesser of two evils in this one because they were both HOR-A-BULL.

    VC&P Combined: 5-16 FG 2-8 3PT 3 Rebounds 2 Assists.

    Not a lot of win-flavored ice cream there.

  • Phil

    Apologies to the Polish Hammer – after the Charlotte defeat I posted the Suns have 2 starter quality players, but Gortat is making that 3. The Suns must still make a trade though – either 2 or more swingmen (preferably including Carter) for a 4, or blow it up and trade Nash for future assets. The absolute ceiling for this squad in the 8th seed and a first round pasting, and what is the point in that?

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    I keep asking who this savior at the 4 is. Still, nobody can tell me.

  • Phil

    @Rich – I don’t know either, but I guess that’s why I’m not a GM (that hasn’t stopped Babby, but that’s another story). I think you are right and we won’t find the right guy, in which case I think trading Nash is a better option than treading water – we missed the guy we should heve gone after in the summer (Scola).

    The point is though, it doesn’t have to be (and won’t be) a superstar – Gortat was playing 10 mins a game. This is what GMs are paid for – there must be teams that could use guys like Childress on the wings (or haven’t noticed VC’s rotting corpse) and have a comparable quality big the Suns could use. I don’t buy the argument that the Suns must have a guy ‘who can create his own shot’. Unless you are talking about a top 10 player, this is usually code for “I am going to shoot less than 45% from the field”. Nash can create a shot for anyone, and can improve the offense of a young player if they have defensive and rebounding smarts.

    IF the Suns can find a rebounding 4, this squad starts to look like the 05/06 Suns but with a bit more size, and that squad reached the Conference finals

  • Drew

    @ Rich: I don’t have a dog in this fight, but you asked that a couple of posts ago and that one guy did answer you. He suggested Jeff Green, Carl Landry, and Zach Randolph. I think Adridge would be ideal, but there’s no way the Blazers are trading their ONLY shinning star left standing. Josh Smith would also be nice. Maybe Jason Thompson. But I thought Jeff Green was a good point. I don’t think OKC can keep everyone there.

  • AJ

    @rich, I don’t think you can say it enough, there really is no great 4 on the market that people here are craving (or at least none who we could acquire without losing Nash. And there is NO way that I see this team improving without MVSteve in the lineup.

  • AJ

    That being said, anything could happen in the offseason.

  • Mel.

    AJ, I’m beginning to think that the addition of Pietrus and Gortat are going to be major assets in lessening the “bite” of the inevitable post-Nash years.

    You can’t replace a guy like Two-Time, but you can lessen the punch by making sure that the players he leaves behind are committed to making the most of their roles; while anything can happen, players like JMZ, Dragic, THORTAT and Frye are what make the difference between being the 2011 Cavs, and being the 2011 Bucks.

  • Cam

    @rich: I know that others have posted this before but unless we get lightning in a bottle like we did when we drafted STAT we are not going to find a “savior” at the 4, through the draft or through trade. STAT’s offense can’t be replaced. Unless this team falls farther in the standings it’s going to be hard to be in a position to draft an explosive, immediate impact 4. Go Suns.

  • Cam

    I was looking at some clips of Dragic from last year, and then some from this year, and I think Phoenix, post Nash should try to get a hybrid PG/SG like a Tyreke Evans type. I think the Dragon would excell in a backcourt where there was another scoring threat/ball handler. He seems to play well on the floor with Nash when Gentry uses them together. Just an observation.

  • AJ

    Mel, well said.

    There is no way we can hope to come out unaffected when a) Steve retires, or b) we do trade him.

    However exactly as you put it having quality pieces around him will lessen the impact and hopefully avoid a debacle like (sorry for the football reference) the Cards after Warner retired.

    I really like what pietrus JMZ and Gragic are capable of (and have been doing) and Gortat is just exceeding all of my expectations).

    Idk, you never know what is going to happen in an offseason so my thoughts are that we wait for then and see if we can make some moves to improve the team’s immediate and long term outlook.

  • Elway

    A rebounding TRUE 4 is what we need and Rich knows what guys i mentioned to him. Nash runs the best pick and roll in the league and finding someone to complement his greatness won’t be difficult. The suns have a decent amount of trade bait in Childress, P and VC.

  • Polish Fan

    Marcin we are proud really ,I didnt belive that you can score 25 points and I think guys from Pxoenix I mean fans they should be proud as well.Last few years you played only 10-15minutes a game .i;m watching you every night in Poland.Good luck Pxoenix

  • AJ

    @Elway, who would trade Aldridge, or Josh Smith, or Randolph, or (every one else that has been mentioned) for Childress (who has fallen out of our rotations), Pietrus who has been in and out of the rotation, and VC who even we have been attacking for not being worth the money we pay him. I mean even for all three it seems like a long show.

    Now if some one is willing to trade any combination, or all 3 of those guys for the “TRUE 4″ I’m all for it. I just don’t see it happening. And I do NOT support trading Nash for the “TRUE 4″ like some have suggested, at least not in the middle of this season.

  • Mel.

    Problem is, trading Nash for this mystical “TRUE 4″ we all keep conjuring up is the ultimate Catch-22.

    Ostensibly, Steve’s the only guy who could land us a legitimate PF with the kind of upside that keeps the team competitive through 2011-2012; but if he goes, the entire chassis, engine, meat, potatoes, P’s n’ Q’s and all the trimmings of the Suns pick-and-roll offense goes with him.

    So we get the finisher, but no feeder. Nobody can say how good Dragic is at Nash’s passing and scoop-style penetration, or creating the outlet pass; I’d like to think that he’s got the potential, but like Cam noted, his strengths look to be more in the SG/PG hybrid game.

    Brass tacks, the identity of the current franchise would have to change… be it via a Nash trade, or time just doing what time does to all great athletes.

  • Michael

    maybe we can trade hakim warrick to the rockets for jordan hill and cash?

  • Albert

    Polish Hammer! Lovi’n it!

  • Cam

    @Michael: Sold. I like Jordan Hill’s grittiness. I like the fact that he’s a U of A alumni. I think guys try a little harder when they come back to a place where they played in college. I just don’t know if Phoenix would be willing to pay enough of Warricks contract to facilitate the trade.

  • AJ

    No comment on the U of A part, lol. But I do like J. Hill. Idk how we go about getting him though.

  • Michael

    or if we want to unload a wing… pietrus or jchill?

  • Andrew

    What is a realistic way we can acquire Josh Smith without giving up Nash? If we can somehow do that it would be great. I think you could give up anything and everything for him except Nash, Gortat and Dudley at this point

  • AJ

    I wouldn’t give up Dragic either. I am a little hesitant to give up RoLo as well since he is only 22 too.

  • Michael Schwartz

    Yeah, I love J Hill, too. I’ve been covering the guy since the Tucson Summer Pro League before his freshman season at UA. I just don’t know what on the Suns would entice Houston to make that move.

  • PJ

    i feel that the suns have the pieces to make a decent little run right now. Gortat at the 5 with Channing at the 4 is a decent front court that spreads the floor and still gives Steve a good Pick and Roll partner. And Gortat is simply a beast on the boards devouring a huge % of the available rebounds. Obviously we have a large supply of wing players that can be rotated in and out (get dudley more minutes) and Rlo is a solid backup at this point. Give this squad a bit of time to work things out and you’ll see some wins strung together.

    Now the main thing is if you keep this squad in tact we get a decent chunk of cap relief from VC’s bloated contract getting bought out that we can use to address some of our weaknesses. No one else has a large contract making this team very flexible in terms of testing the free agent market next season. Don’t expect a big time Melo type guy to come here, but a mid-level free agent could go a long way towards making us the plucky contender that phx seems to breed.

  • Auggie5000

    I agree with Artur. Why was Gortat not finishing the game?

  • elway

    By a TRUE 4 i mean someone who doesn’t pitch a tent behind the three point line like channing frye. Say Hakim Warrick for example, he’s good when hes at the pick in roll and can finish at the rim he just doesn’t have the stroke to spot up for a 10 footer.

  • Lloyd

    Gortat will be a top three center in the NBA.

    I don’t know if the Suns will make the playoffs or not, but if they can somehow get in, Gortat is a weapon that the Suns have never had; a big, active big man that can rebound.

  • Redi4show

    Marcin is a tough and hard working player.
    He used to be my teamate and I whish for him very best.
    It is fun to watch him dunk on people and to see his progress. Everybody in Poland believed he can get better and he finally got his minutes.

    Yo Pheonix funs give the support to our big man in good and bad times. I know he will pay you back with a lot of awesome action!!
    (not only warm up dunks between the legs :P)

    If he get used to 40 – full game playing time, you will have an new all star on a team!