Phoenix Suns 102, Milwaukee Bucks 88 -- Third-quarter turnaround

Mickael Pietrus exploded for 20 in Vince Carter's absence and lifted the Suns with 17 second-half points. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

That’s why they play all 48 minutes.

For the first half of play in Milwaukee, the Phoenix Suns clearly looked like a team playing its fifth road game in eight nights.

Steve Nash committed seven first-half turnovers, and everyone not named Channing Frye (who scored 14 in the first half and 20 in the game) combined for 38.7 percent shooting and 31 points.

Brandon Jennings and the NBA’s lowest-scoring team drove to the hoop at will, and also scored nine points off of Suns turnovers and 11 in transition to lead 48-45 by halftime.

But the Suns eventually woke up as they came out scorching in the third quarter, shooting 11-for-18 from the field and ripping off a 19-0 run to eventually put away the lesser Bucks, 102-88, and move to 4-1 on their six-game road trip.

Mickael Pietrus, who started in place of a concussed Vince Carter, racked up 17 second-half points after scoring only three in the first half. The sharpshooting swingman also corralled eight boards and provided constant energy for a once-lethargic Suns team.

Nash also regained traction after one of the worst halves of basketball he’s played in recent memory. He dished out eight assists in the second half, while committing zero turnovers to finish the game with eight points, 13 assists, seven turnovers and a game-high +26.

As Nash improved, the Suns improved (go figure) and went on a monster 31-6 run that changed the game from a 53-45 Bucks lead with 10:52 left in the third quarter, to a 76-59 Phoenix lead with 2:35 left in the quarter.

During that stretch the Suns made 11-of-15 shots (73.3 percent) while connecting on all five of their three-point attempts. The Bucks, on the other hand, were shut down by Phoenix’s newfound defense. Milwaukee went 2-for-10 from the field and committed four turnovers as the Suns closed off the driving lanes that were so open in the first half.

After their colossal quarter, the rejuvenated Suns led 76-63 heading into the fourth quarter. The Bucks wouldn’t get much closer, as the lowest they cut the deficit to was nine, and Garret Siler and Zabian Dowdell got a couple minutes of action in game that looked like it might be a nail-biter after the first half.

Phoenix finished the game shooting 50.0 percent from the field while drilling 11 of 24 triples — eight of which came from Frye (five) and Pietrus (three). While Nash’s ramped up play and Pietrus’ scoring binge were a huge reason for the second-half push, the bench did a great job keeping things close before turning it back to the starters in the third.

The bench mob of Brooks (seven points, three assists, two steals), Marcin Gortat (13 points, six rebounds), Jared Dudley (six points, four rebounds), Hakim Warrick (nine points, two rebounds) and Josh Childress (two points) combined for 37 points two nights after bringing the Suns back against the Celtics.

Although Frye set the tone with his sharp shooting and Nash and Pietrus sealed the deal, this was the epitome of a team win. A victory over a lowly, injury depleted Bucks team is definitely nothing to gloat about, but this is a game the Suns would have mailed in earlier in the season.

Nash looked exhausted after only seven minutes of play, and the Suns looked lifeless early on. But their depth, three-point shooting ability and second-half defense carried them over the hump as they’re now 12-4 in their last 16 games.

Phoenix is finally beating the teams its supposed to, which is usually the difference between a playoff team and a squad that’s on the outside looking in. The Suns now sit only a half game back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and they are only 1 1/2 games back of Portland for the seventh seed.

Even if the Suns fall in Oklahoma City on Sunday night, a 4-2 road trip is certainly something to build off of, especially when Phoenix handled lesser teams like the Bucks.

And 1

Frye set the tone for the Suns, scoring Phoenix’s first nine points — all three-pointers. He also grabbed eight boards. … Pietrus has now hit double figures scoring in eight of his last nine games after doing so once in the seven games prior. This is the first game he’s gotten to the 20-point plateau since he dropped 25 on the Clippers in his second game with the Suns. … Childress’ left-handed layup was only his second bucket in the last 10 games. … The up and down Warrick is back on track, finding a way to contribute for the Suns. He’s averaging 7.6 points per game over his last six games. … Brooks did a nice job coming in early for Nash. He took a few questionable shots but ran the offense nicely and probed through the lane and kicked it out for threes on several occasions; many of the threes didn’t drop, however.

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