PHOENIX — The 2010-11 Phoenix Suns have been nothing if not inconsistent, and that trait was on full display in their season finale Wednesday night against the Spurs.
The Suns stormed out of the gates with their best offensive quarter of the year by scoring 43 in the first before missing 14 shots in a row during a sixth and a half minute stretch of the second quarter.
Then a Suns team that amazingly didn’t commit a single turnover in the first half and coughed the ball up just once through three quarters gave it up five times in the fourth quarter while shooting less than half as well as they did in the first (65.4 percent to 31.6).
This game also featured stellar play from the starters as every first unit player boasted a positive plus/minus and all but Grant Hill were positive in double figures while all of the reserves put up negative plus/minuses.
Like so many Suns games this season it even turned into a nail biter in the final seconds but when Gary Neal’s potential game-tying three-pointer clanked off the rim Phoenix had at last secured a 106-103 victory to close out the season.
“It was a good win for us to end on a note like that and playing against a team that really needed to win,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I’m happy for the guys, and as I said to them earlier 40-42 sounds a ton better than 39-43, it just sounds a lot better. It’s a good win for us, I thought we did a good job.
“Obviously the first quarter we were as good offensively as we’ve been all year, and then we got a little bogged down in the second quarter, but you knew they were not going to give up 43 points again in the second quarter. I thought we hung in and made enough plays to win the game. It was a good win.”
The Suns could do no wrong in that season-best first quarter in which they scored 40 points in a period for the first time since November, when a completely different Phoenix squad took the floor. The Spurs yielded just 46 first-half points when these two teams met on April 3 in San Antonio, and they allowed 45 in the first half against the Lakers Tuesday night.
Steve Nash of course was the catalyst as he is of all fantastic first quarters in Phoenix by scoring eight points and dishing six assists, and the Polish Hammer Marcin Gortat burned the Spurs for 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting to go with six boards in the opening stanza to help the Suns take a 43-27 lead.
The Suns led by eight at the half following their second quarter malaise and narrowly prevented a collapse when Aaron Brooks hit four clutch free throws (to go with an 0-for-7 day from the field) and the Spurs could not find a good look at a game-tying three. After twice fouling up three in the final seconds the Suns could exhale with victory No. 40 when Neal’s late shot didn’t connect.
Phoenix played with considerably more energy than it has of late in these meaningless games, and that’s got to be in part because the Suns had the opportunity to play spoiler against their long-time rivals.
With Chicago winning earlier in the evening, the Suns prevented the Spurs from joining the Bulls in a tie atop the league that would have resulted in a coin flip for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Unlike last night against the Lakers, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich played his guys most of the game (potentially a mistake when Manu Ginobili suffered an elbow injury in the opening minutes) although a crew of mainly reserves finished it.
“It’s just a great feeling to beat one of the best teams in the NBA right now,” Gortat said, “and it’s a good feeling to end up the season with a win and, just like Coach said, it looks better 40 wins than 39. That’s the positive thing about winning this game.”
At this point that’s about all the Suns have left to hang their hat on, but it’s nice to build some positive momentum into next season as there were a slew of good things that occurred in this one.
Nash earned his fifth assists title in seven seasons with an average of 11.4 per game and will finish the season as the league’s all-time leading free-throw shooter, just a fraction of a percent ahead of Mark Price.
Gortat punctuated his breakout season with 21 points, 13 boards and some tough defense against Tim Duncan.
Jared Dudley played another solid game with 17 points, eight boards (four offensive) and another steal (his 12th straight game with one) as he prepares to enter a season in which he will likely start.
Even Robin Lopez put in a quality effort with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting to go with three boards in 12 minutes. More than the numbers he played with an intensity he has lacked all season. He didn’t look quite as clumsy and played with the kind of energy that would make him a contributor next season.
Big picture it was a sad night as the Suns saw their season end in mid-April for the second time in three years, and as Kevin Garnett told Alvin Gentry earlier this season in Boston if the Suns want to see a playoff game they will need to buy a ticket.
There are many reasons for the Suns to be disappointed in the outcome of their year and one meaningless win certainly won’t change that, but in a game that mirrored so many aspects of their season at least they can feel good about finishing on a positive note.
“Obviously it was great to get a win,” Nash said. “It’s been a long year so to finish it off with a couple of victories was good. I think it was important for us too for our psyche. It’s a good feeling amidst a lot of disappointment.”
Grant Hill became the first two-time winner of the Majerle Hustle Award before the game. Just take a look at the NBA charges leader board to see why Hill is befitting of this honor. … The Suns join the Mavericks, Nuggets and Spurs as the only franchises to win 40 games each of the last seven seasons. … Along with leading the league in assists, Nash led it in double-digit assist games (51), 15-assist games (20) and 18-assist games (four). … Nash’s career free-throw percentage is .903933 compared to Price’s .903895. … Nash tweaked his hamstring and sat out the final 5:17 with Gentry seeing no need to push him. … Gortat ripped off 23 double-doubles and 43 double-digit scoring games in 55 appearances with the Suns after recording six double-doubles and 12 double-digit games in 175 career contests with Orlando. … Dudley scored at least 17 points 14 times this season after doing so 12 times during his first three seasons combined.