Phoenix Suns 108, Los Angeles Clippers 99 -- Bench save

Zabian Dowdell sparked the Suns during their fourth-quarter rally. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Zabian Dowdell sparked the Suns during their fourth-quarter rally. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nursing a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, I wondered how long Alvin Gentry would wait to re-insert Steve Nash into a game his team couldn’t lose as it clings to playoff hopes that took a major hit during last week’s four-game losing streak.

But the only tough decision Gentry ended up facing this fourth quarter was whether to leave his bench in longer than usual after the unit stymied the Clippers with a 10-2 run during the first five-plus minutes of the period to allow the Suns to take a commanding lead they would never relinquish in their 108-99 victory in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon.

The bench forced eight straight misses to begin the final period before Eric Gordon finally made a layup almost five minutes into the quarter and the Clippers never got closer than three possessions from there on out.

The crucial sequence started when a Mickael Pietrus block led to a fast-break follow from Jared Dudley off a Zabian Dowdell miss. But that duo wasn’t done as Dowdell made a steal in the backcourt and Dudley dished it right back for another layup before JMZ hustled back to his bench for the ensuing timeout to a greeting from a mob of giddy teammates.

It was the kind of hustle sequence that epitomized the spirit of last year’s bench, something that has occurred far too seldom this season as the bench did what it did so often last season by turning a ballgame in doubt into a Suns victory this afternoon.

With Aaron Brooks suspended for throwing a ball at an official Friday against Golden State, Dowdell played his second straight superb game after being a critical part of the Houston rally on Monday with 11 points, five dimes and four steals. This time he finished with eight points (six in six minutes of the fourth) and a pair of assists but it was his energy and scrappiness that lit a fire under the second unit in this one.

Dudley served as a co-catalyst, Hakim Warrick chipped in with six points and Marcin Gortat nearly outrebounded the Clippers in the final quarter with eight of the Suns’ 13 rebounds, while Phoenix’s defense held Los Angeles to 36.8 percent shooting in the fourth.

For the game the Suns got 47.2 percent of their scoring from the bench with three guys in double figures, and Gortat (+12) and Dudley (+11) were the plus/minus leaders for the team.

The Suns surely didn’t miss Brooks in this one and the bench even seemed to play more cohesively with the high-energy Dowdell running the point.

The bench made the final push, but Steve Nash put them in that position with another game that proved he’s got to be feeling a bit better. Nash finished with 23 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds while shooting 8-for-13 from the field and 3-for-3 from deep a game after tossing up a 17-10-6 line in his second game back Friday after missing a pair of games with pelvic instability.

Two Time went for 15-7-7 in the first half alone and showed few ill effects of the injury that hampered him so much before his rest.

Gentry said before he sat out the two games that Nash had been either missing or failing to take shots that he’s been hitting his whole career, and Nash’s health can often be seen in his shot attempts, particularly from deep. Nash has now attempted three three-pointers in each of his three games since returning after combining for five in his previous four games before sitting out, and he’s hit 6-of-7 in the last two.

Perhaps some of Nash’s mastery in this one could be attributed to a porous Clippers defense that neglected to rotate time and time again on the pick-and-roll (the biggest no-no there is when defending Nash), but he looked like a different player than the guy we saw a week ago against Denver.

Along with Nash, Channing Frye’s shoulder sure looked healthy after a rusty first half in which he missed all four of his shot attempts (all threes). Frye exploded for all 19 of his points in the second half on 6-for-10 shooting with five long balls in the bunch, including a pair in the final three minutes to thwart any potential Clippers comeback attempt.

Today marked two weeks since Frye separated his shoulder in Oklahoma City and when he returned early I wondered if the aftereffects of the injury might alter his shot or lead him into one of the prolonged slumps he’s been known to be prone to. Those fears were exacerbated by clanking some open shots Friday and then missing his first five shots today, so perhaps his hot second half will prevent any kind of cold streak.

With so many tough games coming up against winning squads, the Suns could not afford a loss to the Clippers. The Hollinger Playoff Odds gave Phoenix just an 8.6 percent chance of reaching postseason play before this win that moves the team within two games of Memphis for the No. 8 spot, and they will need to beat many better teams as well in the coming weeks to have a shot.

The odds are certainly less than favorable with Houston and Utah in the hunt as well, but with a healthy Nash and Frye and a bench stepping up to win a few games in the fourth it’s not exactly time to start thinking lottery quite yet.

And 1

Nash took a trip to Vancouver on Saturday for the inaugural game of the Vancouver Whitecaps, the MLS expansion team Nash is a part-owner of. According to The Associated Press, Nash “banged a drum in the Empire Field stands while wearing a Whitecaps scarf and a No. 13 jersey.” … The battle of the boards was even, 38-38. … Blake Griffin fouled out on a monster posterization of Marcin Gortat, in which Gortat stepped over to take the charge with the Suns up 13 with just over four minutes remaining. Said Gentry, “That was one hell of a dunk. I don’t care if it was a charge. That might be as impressive of a dunk as I have seen in the NBA in 23 years. I think that was the best dunk he’s had since he was in the league.” … The Suns kept Griffin in check all game, holding him to 17 points on 6-for-18 shooting to go with a career-low two rebounds. Eric Gordon scored only 10 on 4-for-11 marksmanship against Grant Hill’s defense.

Tags: Channing Frye Jared Dudley Steve Nash Zabian Dowdell

  • AJ

    Is it just me? Or is Dowdell better for the suns than Brooks? I mean he even can hold his own defensively.

  • phil

    The most encouraging thing about the past two games is. Nash’s 6 for 7 from deep. That says he is healthy and that means we have a shot at the playoffs

  • Jason

    You watch, if anyone makes a decent offer for Brooks the Suns will let him go. To be honest it may not be a bad thing unless we really think Dragic was our point guard of the future (maybe). With the trade (plus pick) and subsequent release of Brooks, the Suns will save about $4 million off the payroll next year. Maybe that will be the final move that allows us to get a good free agent? Maybe I am smoking crack?

  • Ash

    Brooks is a starter in the NBA, that is why they traded for him, we saw what he could do against Orlando when he ran the offence and could be aggressive, which he can’t do as much of the bench.
    And if Nash keeps playing like this, the playoffs are realistic so Nash can have one more run with the suns, before we trade him draft day which seems more likely by the day, and if we buy out VC and trade warrick or chilly we will have cap space for a guy like nick young or Jeff green if we don’t overpay brooks

  • Steve

    You left something out of your comment, Ash.

    “Brooks a starter” …. for a bad team …. “in the NBA.”

    No harm done. We all make typos here and there.

  • Steve

    By the way, 8/3/2. Whose line is that anyway?

  • Zak

    Dowdell may not have as much raw talent as Brooks but he gives it all every time he steps on to the court and plays with passion AND intelligence. Maybe having Dowdell on the team made management feel comfortable enough to gamble on Brooks?

  • PHX Suns Fan In LA

    Dowdell fits in our system…brooks not so much lol

  • PHX Suns Fan In LA

    Don’t get me wrong brooks is a talented player but he is more of a score first pass later type of guy….kind of like vc??

  • AJ

    @PHX suns fan in LA. I think you’re absolutely right. Brooks is a good player but just in the wrong system.
    @Zak. That makes dowdell a lot like Dudley. Not quite as gifted athletically others but an excellent basketball player because he uses what’s on his shoulders.

  • Ash

    Steve, so Houston were a bad team? 42-40 last year, I bet the suns will be happy to go 42-40 for a few years when Nash is gone, whats the alternative to brooks? Rodney stuckey? Sebastian telfair? Well that’s all that is available this summer. Brooks is a solid young player and if the suns are able to sign him on a similar contract to Kyle Lowry I say sign him.

  • Steve

    Yes, Houston is a bad team. In the past ten years, they have always been ranked highly by experts, with many expecting them to make deep runs in the playoffs in many of those years. They have made ZERO dent in the West in the regular season or the playoffs for the past decade. The only reason they’re relevant is because they are in a big market and they have the second most popular player in the world (despite how bad he is, this is true).

    “Bad” might be harsh, but I would say “irrelevant” certainly isn’t.

    And the players you listed are the only ones available in free agency. For one, I’m thinking we’re going to miss games once the CBA is up. The NBA isn’t really all that profitable, and a big reason for that is that role players can make upwards of $10M per year (Hedo Turkoglu, or even more in Rashard Lewis). NBA salaries are the most inflated in any league in the world, and if I were an NBA owner, I would want to crack down hard for the new CBA and get things back under control.

    Why would the Suns’ ownership want to sign Brooks for $5M-$8M annualy when the new CBA is probably going to favor the owners over the players? We have to hope that someone else is stupid enough to offer him more than he’s promised so we can get him off of our payroll. He’s not worth what he is going to demand.

    Either way, we’re still going to get at least one good year out of Nash (if we don’t trade him), and PG isn’t the position that is going to win us any ships. We need a dominant 2 and another solid 5 before we can even start to think about contending again.

  • Zak

    I mostly agree, Steve… maybe more than just “mostly” if you agree that Lopez is an expendable trade chip. Then we really will need another solid 5. We need either a dominant 2 or 4 and a really solid player at the other spot first.

    I’m NOT saying that we need someone to replace Frye because he’s done an exceptional job this year but we need at least a better backup for him than Warrick. Frye has his strengths and weaknesses and Warrick has his. Frye’s greatest weakness is inside defense against strong PFs. Warrick has the same weakness. Frye compensates by pulling those strong PF outside to try and guard him. Warrick doesn’t. Warrick’s a good player but he’s too light to guard strong PFs and not strong enough to overpower them inside either… and he doesn’t have the outside shot to make those strong PFs come out and try to guard him. They can sag in and make things more difficult for Gortat & Lopez because of that.

    And both Nash and Hill will be gone in 1-2 years which will create even more problems for the Suns. If there’s a lockout next year I wouldn’t doubt both of them retire. Hill might retire this year regardless of whether there is a lockout or not. If that happens, we’ll be glad we have both Dudley and Pietrus

    And I think almost everyone would be shocked if VC is back in a Suns uniform next year. Personally, I like VC but he’s just not the player he once was and not worth the salary he’s getting now.

    What will the Suns look like next year?

    I have no idea but I think it will be a very different team than this one. I hope Steve will be back. I’m certain Gortat will be back. Frye should be back. Every thing else is up in the air at this point as far as I can see.

  • Zak

    And as an “Oh by the way” statement, Houston isn’t really a bad team. They’ve been pretty mediocre over the past 10 years but not really “bad”. Without Yao’s injuries you have to wonder what they could have done? Same goes for Portland, without Oden’s injuries, what could have they done? With a healthy Yao, Houston could have been a real force in the NBA. Same goes for Portland with a healthy Oden.

  • Steve

    I apologize for the scatter-brained comment earlier. That was pretty bad.

    What I was trying to get out is that I don’t think Brooks is even going to be here next year. And if he is here, I think we’ll all be unhappy about it because I’m expecting the CBA to bump player salaries down a bit. If we pay Brooks what he wants, he’s going to become Hedo 2.0.

    And yes, “bad” was too harsh for Houston. But I don’t think “irrelevant” is. Even with a healthy Yao, I don’t think they ever could have challenged the Spurs or the Lakers.

  • Iceman

    If the Suns make the playoffs as an 8 seed, they’ll face Spurs, OKC, then Lakers in the West. If the Mavs keep slipping like they have been, then OKC may pass them and it will be Spurs, DAL, LAL in that order to get to the finals which will most likely be Boston.

    Is a Cinderella run a possibility? 35 years after the 42-40 Suns made a run for the history books? I hope so.

  • Kyle

    The Suns’ highest draft priority has got to be either a starting-caliber PG or a big PF. What do you guys think?

    Now that we have a big (Gortat- who should be starting)- we can start Frye at PF. So maybe our biggest priority is a PG to replace Nash?

  • Steve

    I’ve been saying this for a while, and I’ll keep saying it, I really don’t think the 1 and the 4 are all that important for winning championships. Add one number to each of those and you’ve got your formula for success.

    In THIS particular draft, I don’t think there is a player who could become a transcendent 2, so I think we should look for a 5 who can be passable. Lopez is either hurt or he stinks. Hopefully he’s just hurt, and he can actually be a part of our future, and we can focus on getting a 2 who can bring us to the top.

  • GOsuns

    Well I kinda disagree steve on terms of which position # determines a champ caliber team, cause at the end of the day if you dont have strong starters and decent backups at every position youre not a champ caliber team anyway, I think you have to model around your teams focus and for us that is building around nash and the pick and roll offense if we decide to keep him which I hope we do we need to develop his backup (maybe dowdell) and develop dudley channing works great in our system but we need a solid pf backup and I really donr know what to do about rolo I say we get a defensive minded vet center

  • Jason

    We need Iggy.