There are many reasons why the Phoenix Suns’ offense has slipped from the heights of the elite all the way down to the bottom third of the league, but Channing Frye’s struggles have played a major role.
The Suns’ sharpshooter entered the day hitting 34.7 percent of his shots and 29.1 percent of his long balls, percentages that have hurt the Suns all year long.
But Monday night in Atlanta Frye showed why the Suns are a different team when he catches fire as Channing’s season-high 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting sparked the Suns to a 99-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
“I thought Channing shot the ball well, and when he does that, we’re pretty good,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters.
Frye got the Suns started right by draining jumpers on their first two possessions. He opened the second half the same way with another pair of jumpers, and then in the fourth quarter when Atlanta cut a 22-point Phoenix lead down to nine, Frye came right back in at the three-minute mark and knocked down a pair of jumpers to salt this one away.
As Frye has struggled he’s become less and less a part of the offense. He attempted double-digit shots for just the fourth time all year and the first time since Jan. 13. Such is life when your box scores are lined with 1-for-6s, 0-for-7s, 2-for-8s and 1-for-9s as Frye’s are. He’s a streak shooter, and this year he’s only been streaking one way.
But tonight was different. From the tip Frye shot the ball with the kind of confidence that he did in 2009-10 and ended up hitting the two critical buckets Phoenix needed to prevent a meltdown.
In the meantime, Frye has been working on expanding other parts of his game so he won’t be known as “just a shooter,” which is particularly important when you can’t hit a shot. In this one Frye hit the backboards for nine caroms, blocked a pair of shots and even slammed home a putback dunk for good measure after his two clutch jumpers.
“I was getting down on myself, but I was trying to implement new things like going to the basket, being more aggressive with that,” Frye said on the Suns’ postgame show. “The games that I’m aggressive we tend to do good.
“I’m not out here just to be a shooter, I’m out here to be a complete player and do the best I can and tonight was one of those nights.”
It’s nice that Frye is adding dimensions to his game, but for the Suns’ offense to reach its potential they need Frye’s first dimension — shooting — to become a weapon once again.
Although it may come as a surprise that Frye produced such a good game, that’s certainly not the case for Steve Nash, who twirled another masterpiece a day before turning 38.
“Steve Nash never plays like his age,” Frye said.
Two Time carved the Hawks up for 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting (4-for-4 on threes) and dished 11 assists, with all but one of the dimes coming in the first three quarters when the Suns built a 20-point lead.
Nash’s most glamorous play came when he answered a Joe Johnson three with 3.8 seconds remaining in the first half by weaving through Atlanta’s defense before draining an off-balanced three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to keep Phoenix’s lead safely at seven at the break. It was a huge shot as it gave the Suns all the momentum heading into halftime despite Atlanta prefacing the super shot with a 14-4 spurt.
The Suns possessed such a lead because their bench continued its superb play from Saturday night during tonight’s first half. The reserves built a 16-point lead in the second quarter by exploding on a 14-2 run as the unit once again played with a special energy. Sebastian Telfair led the corps, most spectacularly on his alley-oop feed to Josh Childress, and all the bench players chipped in on the run.
“I thought we got good effort from our second unit,” Gentry said. “They were the ones who got the separation for us.
“It was a total team win, and I thought there were some guys who played real well.”
Although the Hawks have now lost three home games in a row, this certainly qualifies as another superb win in what is becoming an unpredictable Suns season. They’ve now won on the home courts of three potential East playoff teams (Atlanta, Boston, New York) on top of beating Portland and Memphis at home despite losing to the likes of New Orleans, Toronto, New Jersey and Cleveland in US Airways Center.
This was no fluke win, either. The Suns controlled the game throughout, and although Atlanta made a run like most NBA teams do, Phoenix led comfortably during the majority of the final three quarters.
The Suns have now won three of four games in February and could be on the verge of turning their season around. But every time the Suns have strung a few solid games together, inconsistency has lurked just around the corner as Phoenix will shoot for its very first three-game winning streak of the season tomorrow night in Milwaukee.
The Suns’ defense played a major role in this victory by holding the Hawks to 39.3 percent shooting, including 25.0 percent (6-for-24) from long range. … They also won the battle of the boards, 45-35, with Marcin Gortat (nine) and Markieff Morris (seven) chipping in along with Frye. Gortat did see his streak of consecutive double-digit rebound games end at 15. … Michael Redd contributed 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting off the pine. … Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price and Hakim Warrick all did not play by coach’s decision. Warrick received a DNP-CD Saturday night as well when Price logged just four minutes.