The Sacramento Kings came into Saturday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns as one of the NBA’s hottest teams.
Winners of four of their last five with victories over the Thunder, Trail Blazers, Warriors and Hornets, the Kings’ offense was rolling, averaging 99.8 points per game during that stretch — good for fourth in the NBA.
The trio of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins accounted for 56.0 of those points and the NBA’s youngest team already began talking playoffs.
But it was the Suns who looked like the playoff team on Saturday as they stifled the Kings’ offense en route to a 98-84 victory, their fourth win in five games.
“It was a great win for us,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “This team (Sacramento) has been playing great basketball for a while now. Keith (Smart) has been doing a great job with these young guys. For us to play from start to finish like that was great for us.”
Phoenix limited Sacramento to 35.1 percent shooting while collecting 11 blocks and eight steals, resulting in 16 Kings turnovers. While Cousins and Thornton ended up getting their numbers with 26 and 21, respectively, Grant Hill took Evans completely out of the game. The 6-foot-6 athletic point guard was a non-factor in Power Balance Pavilion as he shot 1-of-9 from the field for only four points and four turnovers in 30 minutes.
“We were going up against a team that was pretty solid and highly trained to guard,” Smart said. “I thought that Grant Hill did a great job of trying to create space and keep us out of the paint.”
Evans came into Saturday’s game averaging 19.4 points, 5.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds in his last five games, but none of that mattered to Hill, who kept the 22-year-old on the perimeter where he’s far less dangerous. Hill doing a number on Evans is nothing new. The 39-year-old put the clamps on Evans last year as well when he limited the Memphis product to 14.0 points and 3.5 turnovers on 35.1 percent shooting.
It wasn’t only Evans who the Suns locked down, however. No player aside from Cousins and Thornton scored more than eight points and the Suns’ defensive rotations were crisp while the interior defense refused to give ground as well — Marcin Gortat finished with four blocks and Markieff Morris racked up three.
The Suns capped those stellar defensive possessions with solid work on the glass. One game after getting outboarded 44-31 by the Rockets, Phoenix held the NBA’s third-best rebounding team to a 42-38 advantage that proved just enough for the Suns to seal the deal.
Phoenix jumped out to a 31-24 lead at the end of the first quarter and didn’t look back from there as the Suns never trailed in the game and led by as much as 17. While it was the defense that clamped down against a high-powered offensive squad, the Suns’ offense more than held up its end of the bargain.
They drilled 50.0 percent of their field goals, scored over 20 points in every quarter for the first time in five games, received 35 points from a bench that was missing in action against Houston, and dished out 27 assists on 39 buckets, 15 of which came from Steve Nash.
Nine different players scored for Phoenix and four finished in double figures, but no one was bigger than Jared Dudley. The crafty swingman was everywhere in 37 minutes of play as he scored 20 points, grabbed 10 boards, drilled three triples, and collected two steals and two blocks, all while shooting 8-of-13 from the field.
Channing Frye also continued his hot streak as he scored eight first-quarter points and eventually finished with 17 on 6-of-12 shooting in only 27 minutes. Frye is now averaging 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds on 47.0 percent from the field and 40.0 percent form distance in his last five games.
Gortat was rock solid once again with 15 points, seven boards and four blocks in 36 minutes while missing only three shots from the field. The usual suspects contributed and although a lot of it came with the game in hand, Morris went for a career-high 18 points, six boards and three blocks in 26 minutes of play.
From offense to defense to consistency, this was one of the Suns’ best 48-minute performances of the season. The Kings have given the Suns major problems in the past, but thanks to Hill’s perimeter defense, Phoenix’s interior presence, Dudley’s first double-double of the year, Nash’s vision and Frye’s shooting the Suns picked up a much-needed win and are gaining steam as they prepare to round out their road trip in Golden State and Denver next week.
“I definitely think this was a top three performance for us this season,” Gentry said.
- Nash received four stitches on his lip after receiving an inadvertent backhand to the face from rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas late in the first quarter. Nash sat the entire second quarter but went on to play 29 minutes and finish in double-digit assists for the firth straight game.
- Former Suns great and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson sat courtside at the game sporting a neutral purple shirt.
- Ronnie Price found his way off the pine to play 13 minutes and score six points on 3-of-3 shooting. Prior to Saturday Price hadn’t made a field goal in five games.
- Hakim Warrick and Shannon Brown remained out of the rotation. Warrick has missed the last five games while Brown hasn’t played in the last four.