With the playoffs out of the question and nothing tangible to play for, it’s up to the Phoenix Suns’ bench and role players to rack up victories as the season comes to a close.
Although it came against the NBA’s worst team without its best player in Kevin Love, the Suns’ second unit rose to the occasion on Wednesday night as Phoenix defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 108-98.
Steve Nash and Grant Hill played a combined 39 minutes and every starter aside from Marcin Gortat sat for the entire fourth quarter as they watched Aaron Brooks, Josh Childress, Vince Carter and Hakim Warrick take care of the lowly T-Wolves.
Hill scored 17 points in 19 minutes and Gortat had a monster game with 20 points and 16 boards in a team-high 32 minutes, but it was the bench that should be credited with the win.
The second unit combined for 58 points, all of which came from Brooks, Carter, Childress and Warrick.
The bench mob that’s struggled at times this season did a nice job fending off Minnesota down the stretch as they never let the five-point lead they took into the fourth shrink down below four.
Brooks was a huge reason why, as he controlled the tempo and scored 10 of his 19 points in the final period, making all four of his shots while dishing out three of his six dimes to boot.
Tonight was Brooks’ best performance since his 25-point, eight-assist outburst against the Raptors, and easily his second most efficient performance as he made 8-of-13 shots and turned the ball over only twice in 26 minutes. It came against Luke Ridnour and a laughable Minnesota squad, but maybe the Suns have reason to believe in Brooks as the point guard after the Nash era.
Childress, Gortat, Carter and Warrick did the rest of the Suns’ fourth-quarter scoring, which was Phoenix’s downfall all season long. But it wasn’t only the fourth quarter where the bench mob shined.
After the starters limped through the first quarter to take a 26-23 lead at the end of one, the bench pushed the Suns’ lead to 15 — their biggest of the game — with 3:34 left in the quarter.
Much like the fourth quarter, Carter, Warrick, Brooks and Childress combined for all 30 of the Suns’ second-quarter points, even though they also allowed 30 points and took only a three-point lead into halftime.
The defense wasn’t stellar, but those four bench players — plus Gortat — got it done with the starters on the bench. Warrick played as aggressive as he has in a long time, scoring 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting including a few rim-rattling slams.
Carter also impressed, following up his 23-point game against the Bulls with 12 points and four boards. But it wasn’t his stats that turned heads, but rather a pair of dunks — one following a reverse spin where he planted both feet and threw it down with two hands and another one-handed slam off an alley-oop.
And finally there was Childress, who once again played an efficient all-around game, scoring 10 points off of 5-of-6 shooting while grabbing four rebounds, dishing out three assists and collecting three steals.
In addition to the four bench standouts, Gortat played another Gortat-like game, grabbing 36.3 percent of the Suns’ total rebounds and shooting 8-for-14 from the field to collect his sixth double-double in eight games. He’s averaging 11.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over his last five games and continues to be one of the few silver linings to come from this season.
It’s hard to find positives out of a victory over the NBA’s worst team when the playoffs are out of the equation, but the play of the Suns’ bench and Gortat’s continual dominance give Phoenix something to smile about with four games remaining in a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
Garret Siler, not Robin Lopez, was the first big man off of the bench for the Suns. Siler played only two minutes, however, committing a turnover and scoring zero points and grabbing zero rebounds. … Although it seems impossible to be worse than that stat line, Lopez was. He went 0-for-3 and picked up three fouls in six minutes. But the stats didn’t even tell the story. He airballed a 16-foot jumper, got swatted at the rim by Wesley Johnson on a ball that he should have easily dunked but instead went for a weak left hook, and got embarrassed defensively on a lob feed when he didn’t jump. The seven-footer’s regression remains the biggest mystery of the season.