Steve Nash outdueled ex-teammate Amare Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns got a hard-fought victory Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, 91-88. Nash scored 26 points, dished out 11 assists, and hit six free throws down the stretch to seal the game, which was tight all the way to the final buzzer.
After taking the night off defensively against Chicago, the Suns team defense came roaring back in New York. Carmelo Anthony was held to just five points through the first three quarters and ended with just 12 for the game. All the credit for Anthony’s struggles from the field goes to Grant Hill who spent all of his team-high 38 minutes attached to Carmelo’s hip.
Hill said on the Suns’ postgame show about his defense on Carmelo, “I just tried to make him work…We really just defensively tried to make it difficult for him.”
“We won ugly,” Hill added. “That’s not normal for the Phoenix Suns historically. The main thing is we got the win.”
The Suns double-teamed Carmelo several times with Gortat. Their defensive rotation looked great as there was always a defender near the otherwise open Tyson Chandler. The Knicks were not able to skip or swing the ball for perimeter jumpers effectively, shooting only 4-for-15 from beyond the arc.
Stoudemire also struggled from the field due in large part to the Suns extremely physical play inside. Stoudemire was held to 7-for-22 from the floor, but did convert 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
At times, the Suns’ interior defense looked like the Knicks teams of old with Anthony Mason and Patrick Ewing bludgeoning anyone who came into the lane. The tone was set early by Channing Frye who took Tyson Chandler to the floor with a hard foul eight minutes into the first quarter. The 7-footer trio of Frye, Gortat, and Robin Lopez handed out 10 personal fouls and had all eight of the Suns’ blocks. No surprise, New York had 14 more free throw attempts than Phoenix.
Marcin Gortat played well on the offensive end of the floor as well, recording his 6th straight double-double with 11 points and 12 boards on 5-for-13 shooting. Nash and the Suns looked for Gortat early and often with mixed results. Gortat had five turnovers in the game and at least two of Nash’s three turnovers were the result of a pass intended for the big man from Poland.
Gortat’s scoring confidence is still building as the season progresses. Thus far in the year, two things are clear. First, his jump shot is much better from the center of the floor than it is from the baseline. Second, he needs to learn to attack away from double teams or attack quickly before the double can arrive if he wants to be an efficient low-post scorer. Because head coach Alvin Gentry has shown so much confidence in the center, it is likely he will be able to make these adjustments and continue to improve.
One of the reasons the Suns were able to find Gortat open so much was because of the Knicks’ defense on screens. On both pick-and-rolls and off-the-ball screens, the Knicks switched, allowing the Suns to attack mismatches. The Suns were able to convert many of these chances into points, although Knicks’ rookie point guard Iman Shumpert did have four steals, most of them stripping Phoenix big men he had switched on to because of a screen.
Shumpert had a great night offensively as well, scoring 20 points in the game and 12 in the fourth quarter alone including a pair of threes late that kept the Knicks close. Shumpert showed his speed early in the game, so Nash played well off of him, allowing Iman to shoot over the outstretched arms of the Suns’ point guard.
Shumpert’s backcourt partner, Landry Fields, also had a great night. He scored 17 points, including nine in the third quarter. Fields was able to use his size to and speed to score pretty much at will against the not-so-great defense of Shannon Brown and Ronnie Price. Price got the start at shooting guard in place of Jared Dudley.
Markieff Morris also got his first start as a pro in place of Channing Frye. Coach Gentry told Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic about the lineup moves, “It’s not really a demotion. We went back and looked and right now we’re No. 27 in the NBA in second-quarter points. We’ve got to get that unit to the point where we’re at least playing even and not playing from behind.”
Morris logged only five minutes in the game. He picked up two early fouls guarding Amare and did not return because of illness. Frye was the power forward on the floor to start the second half.
Frye’s shooting stroke looked great as he connected on 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
The Suns were able to keep pace in the tightly-contested fourth quarter thanks in large part to Shannon Brown scoring nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Brown got an incredible shooter’s bounce on a corner three which put the Suns up 85-80 with 35 seconds left. From there Nash’s free throws sealed the win despite long threes by Anthony and Shumpert on the other end.
Hill contributed offensively for the Suns in addition to his stout defense. After struggling mightily in the first half with his shot, Hill ended the game with 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
The final score seems quite odd when you consider that both teams were among the league leaders in offensive efficiency last season. Former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni certainly has some work to do as the Knicks have lost four straight games. The Suns, on the other hand, snapped a five-game losing streak and got a much-needed win on this incredibly taxing five-game road trip against five of last season’s playoff teams.
If the Suns can bring this level of physicality and defense to Boston on Friday, they could easily pull out another win. If not, it won’t matter if Steve Nash goes for 20-plus points for the fourth game in a row, the Suns will still come up wanting.
- Carmelo Anthony started the game just six points away from 15,000 for his career. He didn’t eclipse that plateau until the 1:47 mark of the fourth quarter.
- Michael Redd did not see any action in the game. It was his first DNP-CD since his season debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers.