PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns won a game without Steve Nash in convincing fashion, and no, that’s not an April Fools joke.
Sure, it was just the Los Angeles Clippers, a squad the Suns have now beaten in 11 of their last 12 meetings, but Phoenix’s sound 111-98 victory represented the first time the Suns have shown a pulse offensively without Nash this season.
In the Suns’ previous four games without Two Time, all losses, they mustered offensive efficiencies of 100.0 at Orlando, 106.1 at Charlotte (in a game the defense collapsed), 90.7 vs. Orlando and then 96.9 at Houston. Only the Rockets game was even close as the Suns seemed utterly lost without their floor general.
But tonight Aaron Brooks and Zabian Dowdell combined for 26 points and 11 assists and Grant Hill and Jared Dudley played strong games as well as the Suns led by as many as 25 in a game that was never close in the second half.
Along the way they recorded an offensive efficiency of 113.3 and earned just their fourth double-digit victory of the 31 games Nash has missed since 2004.
“I thought we played well from start to finish,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “Aaron stepped in and did a good job. I thought between he and Zabian we did a pretty good job — obviously you’re not going to replace Steve, but I thought they did a pretty good job running the team and being aggressive offensively, and then making plays.”
Added Brooks, “We just moved the ball and played as a team.”
After the Suns took a 25-23 lead after one, the game turned during the second period when Dowdell sparked Phoenix with 10 points, three assists and effusive energy. The Suns shot 61.9 percent in the quarter and seemed to develop the kind of rhythm and flow they have often lacked without Nash, who missed tonight’s game with the flu.
Dowdell was itching to make an impression after his two-minute stint Wednesday against the Thunder was interrupted by his incident with Ken Mauer in which the official “disrespected” him and then tossed him from the game.
Dowdell answered the bell by scoring a career-high 14 points to go with five assists in 24 minutes as Gentry played his point guards in shifts, with Brooks taking the first and third and Dowdell the second and fourth. The one downside was his five turnovers, but Zabian was a difference maker in the Suns’ game-changing second quarter with his energy.
“That’s something I always try to do, bring energy to the game, try to be aggressive on both ends,” Dowdell said. “I had a chance to make a couple plays tonight and was able to convert.”
Hill said he was feeling great physically in this one, and it showed as Grant went for 19 points in his 25:31 of action. Hill chased Eric Gordon through screens all night and even ran into press row trying to corral a loose ball.
His energy was contagious for an otherwise young Phoenix team that showed the kind of fight I wasn’t sure we would see. The Suns have collapsed during their previous four fourth quarters to drop them out of the playoff hunt, but instead of suffering from an elimination hangover the Suns played this one as if it were a must-win game.
“We came out good tonight,” Hill said. “We came out with really good energy. Everybody contributed and played hard. The goal is – I don’t know if we’re mathematically out of it yet, but the goal is just regardless just to play hard and feel good about ourselves either going into the summer or going into the postseason. We can control that. We’ve just got to go out and play with a lot of effort, a lot of energy, compete and give ourselves hopefully a chance to win some games.”
Dudley chipped in as well with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists, giving him five straight 15-point efforts for the first time in his career. Four have come since he joined the starting lineup, and this from a player who had scored 15 or more in just nine games all of last year.
The rest of the season is now about looking ahead to next year, and Jared Dudley is certainly playing like an NBA starter, even if his teammates teased him pretty good about a layup the official scorer ruled a dunk.
For the Suns’ backup point guards, the rest of the year is about proving they deserve a contract with Phoenix next season either as a backup to Nash or as part of the solution in replacing him.
Although you can’t draw many conclusions from a victory against a Clippers squad that just dropped to 8-29 on the road, tonight the Phoenix point guards helped the Suns show their first signs of life without Nash.
“Overall it was a big win in the sense that it’s good to get a win without Steve here, it gave us confidence,” Dudley said. “You see when opportunity comes knocking, certain players, they stepped up. I thought Zabian played tremendous for us coming off the bench, giving us a spark and kind of helped will us to get this win.”
The Suns held Blake Griffin to 6-for-15 shooting and through three quarters when the game was still in doubt limited the Clippers to 39.7 percent shooting. Three of their four opponents during their losing streak shot at least 50 percent. … Gentry had not heard anything on the subject of the league disciplining Mauer for disrespecting Dowdell during Wednesday’s game, and he said the Suns did not call the league about the issue either. … Former Duke track coach Al Buehler, the subject of Grant Hill’s movie “The Coach Buehler Story,” attended Friday’s game. You can see the film, of which Hill is an executive producer, on Monday at the Harkins Cine Capri. … The Suns are 10-21 without Nash since the start of 2004-05. Tonight was their third-largest victory in such games. … Hill has scored 18 or more 19 times, his highest single-season number since doing so 21 times in 2006-07. … The Suns have won eight home games in a row against the Clippers. … Mr. ORNG was Mr. GRN, decked out in green Suns gear, with tonight being Green Night in US Airways Center. … Dudley on whether he dunked: “I’m a prideful dunker so I would say no.” As for Hill: “What dunk? He dunked?”