Phoenix Suns 86, Memphis Grizzlies 84 -- Bouncing back

PHOENIX — Every time the Suns’ season seems to be careening toward a “wait til next year” cliff, they pull off a resounding victory over a likely playoff team.

After an uninspiring 2-4 start they whacked the Blazers. Then after five losses in a row they upset the Knicks and Celtics on the road. Now they followed up last night’s “horrendous” effort in Portland and a three-game losing streak by slipping past the Memphis Grizzlies, 86-84.

This win won’t remind anybody of the Seven Seconds or Less era, however, as the Suns managed to win just their second game in the last four seasons when shooting under 40 percent in their 36.4 percent shooting effort.

They did so by limiting the Grizzlies to 16 points in each of the first two quarters to build a 16-point halftime lead before narrowly hanging on when Jared Dudley knocked down four clutch free throws.

“We had to gut it out at the end, but I thought after last night’s embarrassment, we came out and played with a lot of heart and found a way,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “They are a really good team and they have a lot of talent, a lot of depth, a lot of weapons, so we did a good job defensively and we just hung on offensively.”

When Dante Cunningham tied the game with a layup at the 1:24 mark this seemed to be shaping up as a game in which the Suns’ lack of a go-to player could spell doom. It turns out all the Suns needed was for Dudley to find some contact.

After a Marcin Gortat miss, the Suns’ defense forced a Cunningham 18-footer and Marc Gasol was called for a loose ball foul during the scramble for the rebound on a play Dudley thought would go down as a no-call.

Rudy Gay answered those two foul shots with a nifty bank shot, which gave the Suns the ball with the shot clock turned off and an opportunity to make one final play. After killing the clock, Memphis’ defense on a Nash-Gortat pick-and-roll forced the ball to be rotated to Dudley, who got tripped with 3.3 seconds left.

“I have cat feet,” Dudley said to defend the debatable call. “I usually land on my feet, so you know if I don’t land on my feet it is a foul.”

Those free throws proved to be the winning margin after Mike Conley’s 30-footer fell well short. Afterward JMZ joked that he hasn’t shot free throws that big since his Boston College days when he was beating Hakim Warrick’s Orangemen.

I’ve always been fascinated with the mental aspect of clutch free throws (I once wrote an entire paper on the subject for a creative writing class back in college).  Players often lie in postgame interview and say shots like that are just another free throw, but Dudley did in fact admit those shots were “definitely different.”

“This is game time,” said Dudley, the game’s star with 20 points, six boards, four assists and three steals. “Now you guys are interviewing me. If I didn’t make it you might be interviewing Steve right now.”

Nash was his usual spectacular self in his 700th game with the franchise, racking up 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with six assists and five rebounds. Marcin Gortat hit just 6-of-17 in his showdown against potential All-Star center Marc Gasol (18-13) but still collected another double-double with a 13-12 game.

Meanwhile, Channing Frye’s shot continued to be off in tonight’s two-point, 1-for-9 performance. Frye has averaged 3.6 points on 21.3 percent shooting in his last seven games.

Thus Alvin Gentry’s decision to return to the starting lineup that he began the season with had a much bigger impact on Dudley than Frye. Markieff Morris continued to produce off the bench (10 points, nine rebounds) while Ronnie Price played just 6:32 as Sebastian Telfair continued as the primary backup point guard even with Price joining him on the pine.

It was a different rotation all around as Shannon Brown and Robin Lopez did not play by coach’s decision, and Josh Childress pulled down three boards (two offensive) in eight rotation minutes. Also, Telfair subbed in for Nash seven minutes into each half to allow him to return earlier than usual.

“I played the guys tonight that I thought were going to help us win,” Gentry said.

After last night’s embarrassment Gentry seems to be searching for new combinations that could be a fit. It’s obviously not an ideal situation to be in a month into the season, but at the same time since the Suns have so many potential rotation players and only two clear-cut starters it’s what needs to be done.

Dudley said he just wants to know what his role will be, whether it’s as a sixth or seventh man or a starter, although he did admit to feeling “comfortable” as a starter since he “envisioned starting this year and playing that role.”

Ideally, the Suns will eventually develop the kind of well-defined roles that catapulted the 2009-10 team to such spectacular heights, but that team was able to feature such specialization because players naturally filled particular spots on the team.

However, this season after Nash and Gortat there is so much parity between players 3-13 that Gentry may be relegated to mixing and matching and playing the hot hand or the best matchup all season long.

“It’s hard to pick the rotations,” Nash said. “It’s hard to say whether the rotation is the reason we won, you know, I don’t know. So, we’ve just got to keep working and believe in each other and hope no matter who is called upon, they’re going to go out there and play hard and try to play for each other.”

And 1

  • Nash suffered “another” thigh bruise on the final play of the game when he got tangled up with Gasol setting a screen for Conley’s final heave. He previously injured his other (right) thigh against Cleveland on Jan. 12, which caused him to miss a game, but Nash is “optimistic” he will be able to play Monday against Dallas. “It’s just frustrating,” he said. “Hopefully it will settle down for Monday.”
  • Morris’ locker was adorned with an Iowa State logo and the words “all we do” after the Cyclones knocked off the rookie’s No. 5-ranked Kansas Jayhawks today.
  • The Suns are now 4-1 when Dudley scores 15 or more. … Nash dished six assists to put him seven shy of Kevin Johnson’s franchise record. … Gortat is now averaging double-digit boards for the first time in his career. The last Suns to do so was Matrix in 2005-06.

Tags: Jared Dudley Steve Nash

  • Rolling Eyes

    I’m overwhelmed. This is certainly the turning point. I have faith that Sarver, Babby, Blanks and Company will find a way to right this sinking ship. Perhaps they will bring back the Desert City Six, sign Pat Burke to mentor Josh Childress, and give free Alliance Bank calendars to the first 1000 fans at each game.

    Maybe it is just blind optimism, but I can feel this team turning the corner and being right back in the hunt for a low lottery pick….which we can ship to someone in our division for a few million bucks.

    It’s going to get much worse.

  • suns68

    The Suns showed us something last night, bouncing back from an embarassing loss to take out a good team.

    When they play hard, they can compete. That’s all I ask and that’s what they delivered.

  • Really

    Do you really think that the reason for a home win by two points over “Memphis” is because of the bench rotation? If you do you are probably wrong and or are Jared Dudley. Lets get Real. Sebastain Telfair is a turnover machine with a offensive score first mentality. the Problem is he has a problem scoring in this league and has since he has been labeled as abust out of the draft. Ronnie Price is a defensive minded player that might give you two points for every 15 minutes hes on the court. Josh childress struggled out of training camp and looks like he will continue the trend with 0 points and 3 rebounds last night. he is not a quality bench player , maybe overseas he is. They will not give you wins especially if Alvin Gentry Changes the lineup every night, They won’t be able to get in a groove especially when they All can’t score. Now Shannon brown on the other hand while showing signs of lacking focus when the game is out of hand, he shows aggresiveness, and a will to Score the basketball which i thought was the key to winning a ball game. in 19 minutes per Game last year he was key in the Lakers succses filling minutes , scoring points and giving the lakers a big boost off the bench when Steve Blake struggled most of the year. So if Alvin Gentry wants to put the players that will help win a game on the court, then why is he putting in players that Can’t score? Yes the roster is not an ideal one, but the coach of the SUNS who have been known to score in high volume puts a roster out there with almost zero scoring on the bench how can they compete at all with teams better than a Memphis whithout Zach Randolph, Like a Portland team ,or a Denver team who scores points . How can we keep up with that ? The answer is we will get blown out at least by 20 to any scoring team. The Team needs a new coach , new Players if they think they can compete. Also Jared Dudley is by Far the worst Starting Shooting guard in the NBA besides Ronnie Price. Giving Big minutes to a slow un athletic player that barely shoots 40% from the field will get you losses. its time to make a move , Trade , New coach or something ,otherwise we are looking at a season to forget.

  • steve

    Ah, it’s easy to be a critic.

    A much-needed win last night. We’ll have to enjoy them when they come this year.

  • GoSuns

    Actually, Dudley is shooting .436% on the season and i would rather have him for my starting sg over anthony parker any day of the week, he is not as athletic as alot of your other starting sgs but he gritty he rebounds he gets some steals, he’s very active and smart and that can go a long way in making up for his shortcomings

  • sun-arc

    I only saw the 2nd half, but I did not see a lively, energetic team with a plan in place. I saw a weak team who couldn’t figure out how to get baskets. These players may not have the talent that Miami does, but surely they have as much as Houston- and I see players in Houston scrapping, driving, running, getting inside and playing basketball. And that is why they have the record they do. There is no reason our team can’t play like that. None.

    The only players on our team that exert effort are Nash, Gortat, Hill, Dudz and sometimes Hak. And it just isn’t enough. We got lucky last night- plain and simple. Memphis was without Randolph and was tired. We were completely outplayed in the 2nd half, and squeeked by because of Dudley’s hussle and a couple of Nash’s shots. Without that, it’s another L.

    I’m a huge fan of the team, both in terms of individual players we have and of the organization. But I don’t recognize the lack of spirit they have. I’m not hopeful of the season at all. Wins like this are, to me, not “quality”- they are circumstatial. We’ll be lucky to show up and get 25 wins this season.

    Either the FO needs to make major moves with an eye to next season, or trade Nash, or both- or stop playing Nash and Hill so we can tank the season to get a higher draft pick, because I don’t want to see this lack of character/identity/talent for a third year in a row. It is so painful to see them looking so lost.

    Either that, or this team needs to find the grit and chemistry to play hard for each other every night. If they just do that, even if they lose, I’ll be happy to watch.

  • Scott

    I like the idea of using Childress as a defensive stopper to rest Hill. If you’ve got him on the team, and you’re paying him all that money, you should try to find a way to use him and I think that’s the way. He may not score points, but he’ll hopefully stop someone on the other team from scoring.

    I don’t think the Suns should have signed Childress, as he doesn’t seem to want to shoot the ball, and thus doesn’t match their offense at all. But use him as a defender, and maybe he will do well enough in that role that another team would pick him up in a trade. Other teams, with other offensive schemes, could use him.

    Dudley looked good as a starter tonight, but this was probably the best effort we’ve seen from him all season. This Grizzlies game was probably the first time a Sun has gone to the line 8 times since Hakim Warrick last year.

    I was also encouraged – modestly! – to see Redd hit both his free throws. I think this next week we may start to see what Redd really has to offer: something, or nothing.

    This game was all about getting to the line. The Suns finally had a game where they went to the line MORE than the other team did. The Suns were 17 of 24, and the Grizz were 17 of 20. Just about all of this aggression came from two players: Dudley and Warrick, who accounted for 15 of the 24 trips to the line. The other Suns player who regularly gets to the line did not play in this game (Lopez).

    If the Suns can get to the line more they can start winning.

  • shazam

    @ scott “I don’t think the Suns should have signed Childress”….stop being so controversial. ;)

  • Zak

    The starters – except for Frye – played heavy minutes in this game. Gortat 44, Dudley 42, Hill 35 and Nash 32. Not to bad for Nash or Hill but still a lot for Gortat and Dudley. I doubt those two can keep that pace up every night for long.

    Considering the Suns’ low offensive production this year, I can’t see any harm in giving Childress some minutes as long as he plays good defense.

    But there’s little that can be done with this team as presently constructed to improve. I hate to say that but it’s what I believe. It was a good win but not a turning point or anything like that.

  • KeZ

    No minutes for Brown…….wow!

    Just because Childress had a ok game against Portland, does it mean he´s in the rotation and Brown is not?

    Good coaching(ironic) Alvin

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    Well, in an earlier thread I think I said something to the effect of “Childress should not get onto the floor at all, because he can’t shoot,” but what I’ve meant all along is a more qualified, “Childress can defend scoring SGs and SFs, so if you need someone to cover a hot shooter to rest Hill, Childress should be your choice. However, keep in mind he won’t be contributing to the offense at all, and because of that use him sparingly.”

  • shazam

    haha…i was just goofing scott…i get it :)

  • Zak

    The Suns just don’t have the offensive weapons this year as they’ve had in the past. They won’t win many, if any, games by out scoring the other team anymore. Trying to do that… well, we’ve already seen the results of that. If the offense can’t out score opponents, then I want to see the Suns concentrate on defense. If they’re going to lose, I’d rather see them lose 93-87 as they did against Dallas instead of 109-71 as they did against Portland.

  • Tony

    An ugly and gritty win for the Suns last night. But regardless, it was great to see them come out and play with pride after playing so poorly the previous night.

    Big props to JD for playing his best game of the season and coming up big in the clutch, something I’ve never seen him do.

    Hopefully Nash won’t be limited by the thigh contusion. I don’t know why Gentry had him in the game with 3.3 seconds coming out of a timeout on a defensive play. Price should have been in there.

    The Suns were very fortunate to win that game though. The team still cannot shoot and Gortat seems to have lost a little aggression out there. There were a couple of times when he was wide open and didn’t look to score but to pass instead. It doesn’t matter if he struggled shooting the past two games, he still needs to keep shooting.

  • 3 point happy

    This is not a satisfactory victory at all. The Suns were up 16 at the half and only managed to win the game because the set play by the Grizzlies failed in their last 3 point shot. Why is this happening?

    Two reasons: the Suns seem to forgo their hot players in crucial times: i.e. Dudz was shooting well during the first half (as well as Gortat) but did not see the ball much until way late in the fourth quarter. Instead, some bad coaching decisions were made and the ball was being “spread around” for empty shots.

    Two: The Suns shot an overwhelming amount of three point shots in the last quarter while they only tried to go inside towards the end of the period. Most of these shots failed to score, while the Grizzlies managed to get inside for a few dunks and layups thus cutting the margin quite drastically.

    In my opinion. When the Suns are up, that is the point when the Suns should be more aggressive defensively, rather than try to spread the ball around: i.e. get Morris and Dudz in to challenge some shots. Admittedly, Morris did pick up five fouls, but so what? I rather have him foul out, than sit him when his rebounding is needed.

  • shazam

    @ tony “Big props to JD for playing his best game of the season and coming up big in the clutch”…couldnt agree more bro :)

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    For good or ill, stars are there at the close of tight games.

    Sometimes things go awry because of it, but also sometimes unforeseen things happen and your star is there to make the right play and pull the team through.

    I agree about Dudley playing his best of the year in that game, and being clutch at the end. And yes, Gortat lacks aggression on scoring. One possible reason for why his FT% is so low is probably that he doesn’t get there often enough to feel comfortable and automatic with the shot.

    Of the Suns who have made a career out of going to the line, we have:

    Hill 4.3 of 5.6
    … this year: 1.7 of 1.9 (way down, at least partially due to his slow start)

    Redd 4.2 of 5.0
    … this year: 1.1 of 1.7 (he’s not on the court yet)

    Warrick 2.7 of 3.7
    … this year: 2.3 of 3.2 (slightly down, minutes also slightly down)

    Gortat 2.3 of 3.2 (not a career avg, but his numbers last year)
    … this year: 1.6 of 2.6

    Nash 2.6 of 2.8
    … this year: 1.9 of 2.2 (down by about 20%)

    Childress 2.2 of 2.8
    … this year: 0.0 of 0.0 (he isn’t playing)

    Suns players this year who are going to the line more than their career average:

    ( … which is none of the top 6, as they are all getting to the FT line less than their career average … )

    Lopez 1.5 of 2.1
    Brown 1.5 of 1.8
    Price 0.5 of 1.5

    And the rookie PF who rarely gets to the line:

    Morris 0.7 of 0.9

  • Evnerl

    The Suns need to stop kidding them selves, they suck, they are not going to get any better any time soon. Now is the time to blow up the team and start from scratch, honestly I would like to keep Dudley because of his hustle, and Morris because he is a Rookie, and it is possible for our training staff to do for Redd what we did for Hill but EVERYONE else can go and should go, save Nash and Hill from this hell please!!! Gortat is no better than most starting big guys in the league, we can pick someone like him up any year in free agency, Frye is garbage, so is Lopez, we should try to get some value for them, this up coming draft should be deep and the free agent class is good too, It may take a few years to get back to being a contender but we can do it, we just have to stop living in the past and realize that our window closed when Amare left, we have to work on opening a new window.

  • shazam

    2 weeks ago i said michael redd will be starting in a month…what do you think about that shirley?

  • Sturmtank

    there are so many things about the lineup which could be changed … 1000 different opionions.

    but there’s one thing I just don’t get, maybe one of you guys can help me:

    why the hell is nash on the floor for that last griz’ possession? even d’Antoni did that …

    for that last inbound, the best defensive lineup must be on the floor. And that best defensive lineup definetely does not contain nash ….