PHOENIX — What a difference health makes.
A game after getting Steve Nash back, the Suns’ Channing Frye made his return to the court in a big way Friday night, helping Phoenix snap a four-game losing streak with a 108-97 win over Golden State.
The Suns were 1-4 with Frye out due to a separated shoulder.
Yes, two of those losses came without the services of Steve Nash, but the absence of Frye was felt even with the two-time MVP in the lineup.
“I just don’t like not playing,” Frye said. “And it’s not because of the standings, I’d still come out the same if we were first or last. I just don’t like missing games, it’s not me.”
Frye scored 17 points and added nine rebounds to help the Suns show flashes of the playoff-caliber team they were around the All-Star break.
“Finally, we started to play better defense and were more aggressive offensively,” Marcin Gortat said. “I’m just glad we won this game. My game is easier now because Channing is standing on the three-point line and opening more things for me.”
Gortat had 18 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes of play while Nash added 17 points and 10 assists.
Despite the much-needed victory, the Suns still played up and down and let the Warriors creep back into the game late before finally shutting them down.
“It’s a win; I thought we had some good moments, but once again that word consistency comes about,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “We just can’t seem to take it for the whole 48 minutes. I know there are going to be peaks and valleys, but we can’t have Death Valley.”
The biggest difference in the game was the remarkable play of Grant Hill. He held Monta Ellis, who entered the game averaging nearly 25 points, to just eight.
“I still say he should be on the All-Defensive team,” Gentry said. “Night in and night out, the guy he guards very seldom gets his average. He was great.”
Hill also added 17 points on the offensive end.
“My body feels good,” Hill said. “I just want to continue to work. Whatever Alvin and the coaching staff ask of me, I will try and go out and do it.”
The Suns came out of the gate hot, knowing their playoff hopes were slipping through their fingers.
Less than two minutes into the game, the usually even-keeled Nash received a technical foul for arguing a non-call too demonstratively.
The Warriors took the free points and went on a 7-0 run before Frye got his first points with a couple of free throws.
From there, the Suns caught a spark and answered back with a 17-2 run highlighted by back-to-back Frye and Nash threes.
The first quarter ended with a half-court heave from Ellis that hit the back of the rim and bounced off, preserving the Suns’ early 27-20 lead.
Friday was the first time since March 6 against the Thunder that Phoenix led after the opening 12 minutes.
The second quarter was a back and forth contest up until the Suns received a lift off the bench from their second unit. Hakim Warrick stopped a 6-0 Warriors run with four straight points followed by an Aaron Brooks three-pointer before the starters checked back in.
The first unit took advantage of the momentum and finished the half strong with a Gortat dunk from Nash.
The Warriors tried to respond at the buzzer, but a put-back dunk by Dorell Wright was waived off after time expired, leaving the Suns up 50-38 at the break.
Despite the halftime lead, Vince Carter struggled mightily from the field, missing all nine of his attempts including a wide-open dunk he tried to windmill down.
The third quarter saw a lot of interior work from the Suns. Gortat scored six straight points before Carter finally got on the board with a runner in the lane. The Polish Hammer added two more buckets for a total of 10 points in the quarter.
In all, Phoenix dropped 34 points in the third capped off by a Grant Hill And 1 play that led to a technical foul on Golden State head coach Keith Smart.
After the ensuing free throws and the remaining few seconds on the clock, the Suns had extended their lead to 19 heading into the final frame.
Phoenix tried to put it in cruise control the rest of the way but the Warriors cut the deficit to eight midway through the fourth, which prompted Gentry to put his first unit back in the game.
On the ensuing Suns possession, Frye hit a three to give the team a double-digit lead again.
Phoenix could never fully put away the Warriors and have a chance to rest its starters, but the team managed to pull out the victory and snap its losing streak anyway.
Robin Lopez, who started and played the game’s first eight minutes, sat the rest of the game in favor of Gortat or a small lineup.
Lopez played relatively well in his minimal court time, sinking 3-of-6 shots and hauling in four rebounds, but Gortat was a force all night.
No Suns player scored over 20 points, but five finished in double figures.
Phoenix outscored Golden State 50-34 in points in the paint, a stat that seldom ends in the Suns’ favor.
The team is still in 11th place in the West but now is just two games out of eighth.
“A win is what we needed more than anything,” Gentry said.
Former Sun and current Warrior Lou Amundson entered to his usual “Loooouuu” call from Phoenix fans early in the first quarter. Friday was the first time a healthy Amundson returned to US Airways Center to face his old team since signing with Golden State this offseason. … Friday also brought around 300 Polish fans to the stadium to watch Marcin Gortat accept an award from Poland’s ambassador to the United States, Robert Kupiecki. The Suns’ center was honored for his contributions both on and off the court in representing his native country.
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