PHOENIX — In Mathletics, former Mavericks stats guru Wayne Winston found that playing on the second game of a back-to-back makes an NBA team play two points worse than average.
If only Winston could come up with a formula that would determine how much worse a team would be expected to play when its best players log 57, 53 and 49 minutes the night before in a crushing triple overtime loss to their rivals and then their two best perimeter defenders can’t make it through the first half. Then we would know what the Suns were up against Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors.
In a game the Suns absolutely had to win to keep pace with the Memphis Grizzlies, who won in Boston to stay three games up for the final playoff spot, Phoenix required a total team effort to earn what Alvin Gentry called the squad’s best win of the season, 114-106 over the Toronto Raptors.
On the surface it may be a surprise for Gentry to say that about a game Phoenix didn’t play all that well in against a team that’s now 31 games below .500.
But he made the statement because the Suns used all 12 active players while the game was still in doubt and everybody from Aaron Brooks to Zabian Dowdell to Josh Childress made a contribution when called upon.
“Everybody always says it’s a team effort, but today it really was,” Jared Dudley said. “It was a team effort, and we did enough to win basically.”
Added Gentry, “That was a total team effort right there. I thought everybody that came in did a little something to help the team and that’s what was really good about it. After last night and the emotional drain, then coming away with nothing really tangible to show for the effort that we gave, I just thought it was great to come back and put in that kind of effort and be able to win the game.”
Nothing about this game was quite typical, starting with Nash’s exit midway through the first quarter that resulted in Two Time sitting for the rest of the half. Hill took a rest then as well and was later sent home he was so exhausted, and two minutes into his stint Pietrus sprained his knee and walked off the court onto the baseline while an open Raptor scored a layup. He did not return.
Midway through the second half Gentry teamed Nash with Brooks in the backcourt, as the Suns went to a matchup zone to hide their lack of size at the guard spots. Brooks (team-high plus 21 in 34 minutes) remained in for the rest of the game as Vince Carter (-11 in 20 minutes) sat and the Suns went with a Brooks-Dowdell backcourt for almost nine crucial minutes of a second half the team had to win.
The Suns trailed 84-71 with 3:21 left in the third, but they reeled off a 15-2 run to end the period capped by a Brooks layup at the buzzer to head into the fourth quarter tied.
Things seemed lost once again when the Suns trailed by six with 4:25 remaining, but Phoenix raced out to a 17-3 advantage the rest of the way, hitting 6-of-8 shots while holding Toronto to 1-of-9 shooting.
Brooks was the catalyst, scoring 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting while dishing eight assists. He created plays, he attacked for his own offense, and he spotted up for threes when playing with Nash, including a dagger of a trey to put the Suns up five with 54.9 left.
“Obviously that was his best game as a Sun,” Gentry said of Brooks. “I thought he was just so aggressive and really feeling a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Gentry told Brooks to attack more and that he would likely play a bigger role in this one after Nash played 49 minutes the night before, but Brooks didn’t expect to enter so early in a game Nash played just 21:30 of.
This game typified why the Suns swapped backup point guards. On nights Nash can’t carry the load throughout a ballgame, Brooks is in the bullpen waiting to do some damage.
“This was a must-win game. We knew the importance of this game,” Brooks said. “We came in and we did our job. [The starters] carried the torch in the Lakers game for an hour, and it was our turn to come in there and do our jobs. We knew we had to keep it close for the end of the game, get Nash back in there to close it out, so that’s what we did.”
Gentry joked that Frye and Gortat are about to kill him after Frye played nearly 100 minutes on consecutive days (40 tonight) and Gortat added 33 minutes to his 53 a night before.
Dudley was the ironman of the night with 42 minutes of action for a Suns team that suddenly needed all that depth at the wing spot when Hill and Pietrus left early.
It was an unenviable task both physically and certainly mentally to move past a game in which so much emotional energy was invested to grind out a win against a bad team they just had to beat, and while it wasn’t always easy that’s exactly what the Suns did.
“Man, let me tell you, it was no joke,” Frye said. “Grant leaving, now our rotation got even shorter. I felt that Coach did a good job of just making sure guys were getting rotated in. For us it just shows guys are ready to play and they want to win.
“I guess that’s why you run all them lines in training camp, and I think this was one of our better wins. It’s just a good win for us, guys stepped up.”
A Sweet 16 wager
Hill likes to say he doesn’t pay attention to Duke basketball until April, but apparently he’s taking notice a week earlier this year.
Hill and the former Wildcat Frye will take in Thursday’s Sweet 16 showdown from the residence of owner Robert Sarver, another Wildcat alum, along with the rest of the team.
Frye and Hill have a friendly wager on the game that involves the player from the losing school having to wear gear from the winning school.
Frye made the same bet with Josh Childress before the UA-Stanford football this season and found himself in a Cardinal Snuggie when all was said and done.
A St. Mary’s love tap
Jerryd Bayless received a flagrant foul for shoving Frye and both received technicals for the mini-altercation. Frye and Bayless know each other well since both players went to the same high school (Phoenix St. Mary’s) and college (Arizona), and Frye actually played high school ball with Bayless’ older brother.
Frye set some vicious screens on Bayless in the playoffs last season when Jerryd was a Blazer, so there’s certainly a bit of a rivalry between these two Knights/Wildcats.
Frye did not want to comment after the game.
This contest marked the return of Leandro Barbosa to the desert. LB went for 14 on 6-for-11 shooting in 22 minutes of action. … The Suns have won 14 in a row against Toronto, the club’s longest active winning streak. They have thus swept the series seven years running, ever since Nash returned to town. … The Suns are 6-2 after overtime games this season. Phoenix has won four games in a row that have followed triple overtime contests. They became the first squad since the Heat and Jazz on March 15, 2009, to win after playing in triple OT. … The Suns’ 12 threes are their most on the second game of a back-to-back this season. … Phoenix scored 114.2 points per 100 possessions Tuesday against the Lakers, far and away Los Angeles’ worst defensive performance since the break. Only their Miami loss (110.6) was particularly close to that mark.