In today’s NBA world a last-second shot often calls for an isolation for that team’s best player, a lower-percentage play than actually running an offense and getting off the kind of shot a team usually looks for.
I’m always surprised that a team will settle for a bad fadeaway that would not be tolerated in the middle of the second quarter during the most crucial moments of the games, and that’s why teams often score less efficiently in crunch time than during the rest of the game.
But on Sunday afternoon when the Suns needed one shot to knock off the Pacers instead of calling an iso for a red-hot Grant Hill or something of that ilk, they ran a play for Channing Frye, and the Arizona product splashed home a jumper as the clock expired to set off a Phoenix celebration as the Suns raced off the court with a 110-108 overtime victory.
The Suns had possession with just under 24 seconds left and after Steve Nash took the clock down to about five seconds, he dished it off to Hill, who was instructed to either find an open Frye or call timeout if it was well-defended. Frye could not shake Josh McRoberts around double screens from Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat so he called the timeout with 3.5 left so the Suns could set things up again.
Alvin Gentry chose to go to Frye once again. This time Dudley set a screen on McRoberts but his man Brandon Rush switched out onto Frye. The Suns big man is often chided for not shooting well when he doesn’t catch the ball in rhythm, but this time he pump faked and lofted a perfect swish to end the game.
“There was enough room to get it off and it went in,” Frye told reporters. “I was tired. I was like, ‘You know God if you can just let me make this shot,’ I’ve never asked for anything like that before and what do you know, he gives me a game winner.”
Added Hill, “He’s a guy that once he sees the ball go in the basket he can get rolling. He got the ball and had to make a great play, a pump fake with the guy running at him, knocked it in.”
My favorite part about this sequence is that it was an actual play (and that it didn’t lead to a shot clock violation as a potential game-winning situation in regulation did when the Suns held the ball too long before initiating the offense). They ran actual offense to get a hot player a look (Frye had knocked down a pair of shots earlier in overtime), and they used all of the 23 seconds left in the game to make sure this was a walk-off job.
Then I really loved what happened next. The entire team mobbed Frye, starting with Nash and Dudley (they were closest to him) and then Mickael Pietrus mobbing and hugging him before putting an arm around Frye as they walked off the court. Sure, every team will be excited to celebrate a game-winner, but you could see that camaraderie starting to come together after the kind of win that breeds chemistry.
“We’re in a good place,” Hill said. “We’re starting to get a real sense of chemistry on and off the court. We’re really as a unit starting to be together as one. We didn’t quit, we kind of grinded it out, we’re having fun and learning each other.”
The Suns once again jumped out to an early lead in this one thanks to a season-best game from Grant Hill. The small forward scored 20 points in the first half alone for the first time since 2005 and finished with 34 on 14-for-26 shooting to go with nine boards and four assists.
Hill said he has been focusing on his defense more than anything lately but after a talk with his dad he decided he wanted to come out more aggressive offensively in this one. With 14 first-quarter points he did exactly that, providing the kind of scoring punch he used to exhibit all the time during his prime. He also hit the biggest shot of the game before Frye’s dagger, drilling a game-tying three in the corner with 44 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
The Suns controlled this game for the better part of three quarters, taking a 15-point lead with three minutes left in the third before the Pacers came roaring back. They finished the period with five unanswered and then the Suns’ reserves failed to hold a lead once again.
The Pacers reeled off a 9-2 run early in the period and when A.J. Price hit a three to cut the lead to three with eight minutes left Gentry brought back Nash, Hill and Frye a bit early with the bench unable to be trusted once again.
That’s the area of the ballgame the Suns acquired Aaron Brooks for after Goran Dragic led the bench to so many losing quarters. Brooks missed a shot and committed a turnover during the fourth quarter and overall finished his lackluster Suns debut with three points, a rebound and an assist on 1-for-2 shooting in 10 minutes off the bench.
That means Nash played 43 minutes as the game eventually went to overtime, as Brooks played just the six minutes Nash sat in the first half before being ineffective to cause Nash to come back early in the fourth.
Brooks wasn’t the gunner he has been his whole career, perhaps because he was just trying to fit in with his new teammates. He moved the ball around capably and had a couple assists blown when teammates missed shots, but he failed to prevent the Suns early fourth-quarter malaise that has plagued the bench so much this season and he needs more minutes to make the kind of impact the Suns traded for him to make.
But with Hill turning back the clock, Gortat going for 17 and 11 (giving him the single season double-double record for a Suns reserve in a matter of months), and Frye knocking down the dagger the Suns still won their third in a row to move three games over .500 for the first time all season.
The Suns have won three in a row on three separate occasions in the last month after winning five in a row just before that.