PHOENIX — It took the Phoenix Suns four attempts, 23 games and 51 days, but they are no longer among the NBA’s losing ranks.
In a deja vu performance highlighted by another Steve Nash gem, the Suns crushed the Golden State Warriors 112-88 Thursday night, completing a back-to-back sweep.
“Well, we’re at .500,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after the game. “I don’t know what the heck it means, but we’re .500. We’d like to be at about .650, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Suns handled the Warriors with ease in Oakland on Monday, but had home court advantage Thursday and made it look even easier.
Nash powered the Suns’ offense with 18 points and 11 assists, but a combination of Suns defense and a tired Warriors squad (they arrived early Thursday after a Wednesday game at home) doomed Golden State early.
“We were a tired team on the floor and we didn’t have what we needed,” Warriors coach Keith Smart said. “We didn’t have the energy we needed to have against this team.”
The Warriors, who entered the night as the NBA’s best three-point shooting team, were again stifled from deep, hitting just 6 of 20 three-pointers for 30 percent shooting.
“I keep telling you guys that Grant Hill should be on the all-defensive team, but the only reason I guess people aren’t talking about him is because of where we are record-wise,” Gentry said.
Hill highlighted the Suns’ defensive efforts against Golden State, limiting guard Monta Ellis to just eight points on 4-of-13 shooting. Forward Ekpe Udoh led the Warriors with 16 points off the bench.
Trailing in total for less than two minutes (at the start of the game), the Suns had the game pretty much sealed up by halftime, taking a 65-42 lead into the break. Starting with a 14-0 run to end the first half, the Suns scored 20 unanswered points to go up 71-42, their largest lead of the season until they went up 33 later in the game.
Golden State forward David Lee may have summed up the game brutalization best in a postgame remark, his answer to when the game got away.
“What time did the game start tonight?” Lee began. “It was bad from the start, similar to the last game we played them. I feel like we got outplayed at all five positions from the start of the game to the end of the game.”
Though the Suns were outscored in the fourth quarter (27-25) for the fifth straight game, this time there was no late-game swoon to allow their opponent any sliver of a chance.
“I think in our case we’ve got to be able to stay focused and finish the job so our starters can sit (on the bench) and rest,” Gentry said.
The starters got so much rest that reserve point guard Zabian Dowdell clocked 21 minutes and a career-high 10 points to g0 with six assists and five rebounds. Every active player on the Suns’ roster played in the game, which marked the team’s greatest margin of victory this season.
The Suns may have avoided repeating their recent late-game struggles, but Gentry was unhappy with the consistency of the game through four quarters.
“We came out in the third quarter and …we didn’t keep the pace of the game where I want it,” Gentry said. “But we did such a good job defensively of not letting them get out and establish any kind of pace.”
The win may be noteworthy in that it moves the Suns back to .500, but it’s more an indicator of growing momentum and confidence in a team that has struggled to remain consistent.
“I see a run coming together,” Suns forward Channing Frye said. “I think we just needed to trust each other and understand what works and what doesn’t. Guys are stepping up.”
The way the Suns took care of business against an opponent on the second half of a back-to-back also continues their recent trend of beating the teams they need to beat, a certain must if they want to return to the postseason.
“We knew that they played last night,” Hill said. “Alvin [Gentry] emphasized coming out with the same approach. … I thought we did that. It feels good to get this win.”
Nash and the Suns’ defense were both great Thursday night, but in the players’ minds the highlight of the game was forward Jared Dudley’s first slam dunk of the season.
“Let me just say that Jared Dudley’s dunk was probably the best dunk I’ve ever seen him do,” Hill said before taking questions. “Honestly I thought it was Vince Carter streaking to the basket. If I’d known it was Jared I probably wouldn’t have passed it to him.”
Hill wasn’t the only player with a joke to make about Dudley’s first quarter jam that came off a long pass from Nash to Hill.
“I wanted to check outside and see if there were pigs flying,” Frye said. “He actually got up. He was up high and dunked it.”
Dudley though had plenty of good things to say about his monster dunk.
“That was a momentum-changer right here,” Dudley said. “Head above the rim and all, throwing it — it was good for my confidence.”
Told of Frye’s remark, Dudley had a jab of his own.
“Pigs flying?” Dudley asked. “You know what? Channing missed his dunk and he wants to blame someone. I don’t really mess with people like that.”