PHOENIX — You might not know it by his results, but Channing Frye does not believe in the hot hand theory.
Whether he’s shooting 1-for-7 and 2-for-11 as he has in the past few weeks or 12-for-16 as he did in Tuesday’s 102-101 win over the Utah Jazz, Frye always tries to shoot the same shots with the same balance and the same focus on the rim.
But after Suns assistant Igor Kokoskov challenged Frye about his shooting before Tuesday’s game, the UA product could not miss during a 7-for-7 first quarter that included five threes and resulted in 19 points, a total he had not surpassed in a game since going off for 25 on Jan. 21 in Washington.
“He was like, ‘We pay you to make some shots, so you better go out there and make some,’” Frye said of Kokoskov. “So, I was like, ‘All right.’ I just went out there and shot and just had confidence in shooting them. My teammates kept putting me in situations to succeed.”
Frye went on to score a career-high 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds for his first career 30-10 game and his fourth career 30-point game overall as well as his first as a Sun. The Suns are now 6-0 when Frye scores 20 this year and 5-0 when he puts up a double-double.
You could see Frye was locked in from the tip as his monster first helped the Suns overcome an eight-turnover opening period, and his hot shooting continued into the second half. He even scored on consecutive post-ups early in the second half when Utah switched a smaller defender onto him.
But tonight was all about the long ball for Channing, who finished with six on the game and most certainly reached “He’s on fire” status.
“He was in a great zone,” said Mickael Pietrus. “I’ve been through that before, and it’s pretty fun.”
What I liked most about his performance is he didn’t start forcing heat check jumpers. Gentry even chided his team for not getting Channing the ball more as he attempted one less shot than he did during back-to-back 6-for-17 and 5-for-17 appearances to start the month.
To me it’s a very good thing that Frye scored his 31 points on 75 percent shooting in the flow of the offense, choosing not to force anything. As Frye said afterward, he was happy to shoot when he was open, but if it’s not it’s nothing personal, he will make the right read and move the ball.
When players think they’re hot they often tend to start jacking up bad shots that ultimately cost their team, but Frye stayed within his means tonight and that led to a narrow victory.
Channing’s monster night was a welcome sign for a player whose shooting touch has left him all too often this season. He’s shooting 41.5 percent from the field (108th among qualified players and worst on the Suns) and 38.0 percent from three (55th after ranking sixth at 43.9 percent last season).
His PER is down to 11.81 from 15.09 last season, his Wins Produced numbers show him as a below average player and his adjusted plus/minus numbers have dropped from last year as well.
I recently surveyed some advanced stats writers from the Wages of Wins Network on Channing, and they basically told me those numbers don’t lie despite Gentry playing Frye 36 minutes a game since Jan. 9. Gentry likes how his ability to space the floor opens up the game for the rest of the Suns, so I’m still hesitant to accept that Frye’s playing as bad as the advanced analytics say he is.
But there’s no debating one thing about Frye, and it’s that when he gets rolling he can carry a team to victory as he did tonight.
The Suns still needed to rip off an 11-0 run after trailing by eight with seven minutes left, and once again it was Frye providing a dagger from long range to tie things up before Pietrus gave the Suns the lead for good with a triple to put them up three with 3:35 remaining.
The Suns nearly coughed up that advantage after suffering a shot-clock violation for their 19th turnover with 16.5 remaining during a possession that involved lots of standing around and not much else while the Suns nursed a one-point lead.
But Grant Hill forced a Deron Williams miss, Frye made one of two free throws, and then Marcin Gortat rotated over to defend Paul Millsap cutting to the basket for a potential game-tying layup before Millsap fumbled the ball away for a game-clinching turnover.
With the win the Suns swept the season series with the Jazz for the first time since 1982-83. That, of course, means they own the tiebreaker against Utah, who leads Phoenix by 2 1/2 games for the No. 8 seed in the West but is ahead by just one game in the loss column. The Suns are also one game out in the loss column behind Denver and two back of New Orleans and Portland.
After dropping Sunday’s heartbreaker to the lowly Kings, the Suns continued their stellar run of late, winning their seventh game in nine tries and their sixth out of seven against winning teams.
Despite how well this team is playing, the Suns have also learned during this stretch about the size of their margin for error these days, according to their captain.
“We’re the type of team that the minute we think we’ve arrived we’re going to get socked in the mouth, so we’ve got to come out every day with everything to prove and try to be the underdog,” Steve Nash said. “We’re a team that’s got to go out there and feel like we have to prove ourselves every night and earn it. If you take one little bit off the gas we get pretty mediocre pretty fast.”
With Frye drilling shots every time he touched the ball, the Suns looked far better than mediocre against Utah.
Vince Carter did not log a second in the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game, scoring 10 points in 25 minutes of the first three.
Pietrus played the entire fourth in his place and did a fantastic job in that period, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking a whopping three shots while playing aggressive defense.
“Pietrus made some huge plays — rebounds, blocked shots, things like that,” Gentry said. “He was really good there.”
Added Nash, “It’s great when he makes shots, but what I love is him blocking shots, grabbing big rebounds. Tonight he was so active, you see this athleticism you don’t see every night that’s pretty impressive. He really was huge for us tonight.”
Since they both play better defense and can provide similar outside shooting to Carter, I wouldn’t mind seeing Pietrus or Jared Dudley continue to close out games.
After playing Goran Dragic for five minutes in the second quarter in his first action since missing seven games with a toe injury, Gentry went with Zabian Dowdell for five minutes in the second half.
The Suns lost eight points under Dragic’s watch and nine with Dowdell, making Nash’s plus/minus look real nice at plus 18.
Dragic scored two points and got a rebound and an assist but he turned it over twice and failed to control the game.
“It’s Goran’s first game back and I thought he was a little rusty,” Gentry said. “That’s why we have Zabian on the team, to be able to stick him in there. He’s played the last couple of games and been pretty good, so we just thought in that situation Zabian would probably be a little more stable.”
Dragic agreed with the rusty assessment and added his legs were “a little heavy,” but he had no problem with Gentry making him earn his backup point guard role back.
Nash passed Gary Payton for seventh on the NBA’s all-time assist list, just missing another 20-15 game with 20 points and 14 assists. “He was always good to me,” Nash said of Payton. “I remember my junior year in college him inviting me to work out in his backyard in Oakland, pretty cool. It was amazing to know where I was then and to pass him was like beyond my wildest dreams, and I love the guy.” … The Suns held their fifth straight opponent under 46 percent shooting, their longest such streak since Jan. 5-15, 2010. Eight of their last nine opponents have shot under 46 percent. … Frye’s 19 points in the first tied Hakim Warrick (second quarter Nov. 24 vs. Chicago) for the Suns’ individual high quarter. … The Suns grabbed just three offensive rebounds, none of which came from a big.