Phoenix Suns 102, Los Angeles Lakers 90 — Like the good old days


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIYYz9fjZl0]

PHOENIX — Close your eyes and you could almost imagine being transported back to 2010, a better time for this franchise when a home game against the Lakers meant a battle between powerhouses.

For one of the first times this season, a special electricity ran through US Airways Center with a flock of Lakers fans in attendance bringing out the best in the Suns fans in the stands and the Suns on the floor as well.

“It was motivating seeing all the Lakers fans out on our home court,” Channing Frye said. “I felt like our fans came out tonight, and we wanted to really take it to their fans and make sure we got back that loss.”

After the Lakers looked like men amongst boys Friday night against this Suns squad in Staples Center, as Mike Schmitz put it, the Suns blitzkrieged the Lakers by playing with the rhythm and effectiveness of Nash’s best teams during a near perfect first quarter before hanging on for a 102-90 victory that snapped a four-game losing streak.

That quarter perhaps represents the peak for this Suns team as they did nearly everything right. That entailed shooting 56 percent, committing just two turnovers, limiting the Lakers to one offensive board, running to eight fast break point and having Nash dissect Los Angeles for seven assists and Marcin Gortat dominate for nine points and nine boards (as many as the Lakers as a team) while setting a season high in first quarter points.

There was already a definitive feel in the air that this was a big game, something often experienced during the Suns’ heyday, and the vintage first quarter only continued the party.

“I thought our ball movement in the first quarter was great and the execution was really good,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought the defensive execution was even better. It just was a really good win.”

The Lakers, of course, made a run after the Suns led by as many as 27 early in the second half and then 26 with 5:16 remaining in the third, getting it all the way down to 10 with 4:21 remaining on a couple Kobe free throws as many in the Suns section of the crowd likely began to wonder if this would be the Suns’ worst collapse yet. But despite 20 second-half points and four assists from Bryant, Los Angeles never reduced the lead to single digits.

As always when these teams lace them up, the Suns’ defensive game plan centered around Bryant. After watching the man who hates them pick them apart for 48 and 36 points in their first two matchups, the Suns sent hard doubles from different angles to “limit” him to 32 points to go with his seven boards and five assists. Yet there was an ugly “10” in the turnover line, one fewer than the Suns as a team.

“He gets pretty determined to score and we decided to be just as determined to make it difficult for him,” Nash said. “We tried to make him shoot over two guys and pass the ball. I thought guys were really aggressive. Grant does a great job, he’s really solid. You can never stop Kobe, but he does a good job of just being there every time and if he makes shots, he makes shots, but it’s tough when you’ve got Grant right in your face every play.”

Added Hill, “He still scored above his average. One of these days I’ll try to keep him under his average.”

That’s OK when he needs 24 shots to get his 32 points and when they are coupled with the double-figure turnover numbers.

It’s also fine when Bynum (16 and 10) and Gasol (17 and 12) are held in check and the Lakers get seldom any production from anyone else. Their other starters combined for a mere two points and their bench contributed just 23, led by Troy Murphy’s eight. When it’s the Kobe Show and he’s barely above his league-leading average, you’re probably going to win the game.

Meanwhile, Marcin Gortat continued his dominance of the Lakers with his second straight 20-15 game against them his weekend (he finished with 21 and 15). The Polish Hammer is now averaging 19.3 points and 14.3 boards against Los Angeles’ vaunted front line, and only Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins own more 20-15 games than Gortat’s three for the season.

In all five Suns scored in double figures, but Nash wasn’t one of them, as he tallied just eight to go with his 14 assists to raise his assist average above 11.0 for the first time this year.

Dudley led that crew with 25 on 9-for-15 shooting, with perhaps his biggest bucket coming after the Lakers cut the lead to 10 with 4:39 left when he nailed a jumper in Gasol’s face off a switch. It was just his third isolation bucket of the season, per mySynergySports, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“For this team to be successful we’ve got to have four or five guys in double figures, it can’t just be two or three guys,” said Dudley, noting Nash and Gortat always get theirs but they need help. “Early on I had it going. I think we all just fed off each other.”

In all the Suns played like a playoff team tonight in front of a playoff crowd, particularly during the first quarter that for my money was their best 12 minutes of the season. If they could bottle that performance there’s no telling the kind of damage they could do with tonight starting a stretch of 12 of 14 home games.

Gentry was asked if he ever watches a quarter like that and says to himself, “Why can’t we do that all the time?”

His response: “Every single night. Me and 29 other coaches.”

Yet more often Gentry is resigned to discussing blown leads or defensive rebounding or turnovers or miserable bench play or any of the myriad topics he has often discussed in postgame interviews this season with Phoenix still six games under .500 after this win.

“I think we’ve shown we can be good, we just have to kind of remind ourselves of the formula,” Hill said. “It’s coming out with energy, playing hard and competing. When we do that — we did it tonight — we’re really good, and when we don’t we’re really bad.”

The Suns have been really bad far more often than they’ve been really good, but at least for one night they followed Hill’s formula to earn the kind of win that must have reminded Phoenix’s faithful of better times.

And 1

  • Gentry credited Rita Garvin, wife of vice chairman Sam Garvin, for pointing out that the Suns play well whenever he wears his glasses, as he did Sunday night. “I will never have a game where I will not wear my glasses anymore,” Gentry said. “I’m going to keep them on.”
  • Hill on Kobe: “He just seems to get up for the Suns. I don’t know what the Suns did years back in the playoffs, but I wasn’t here then.”
  • Gentry tightened up Phoenix’s rotation with Gortat playing 41:50, Nash 36:30, Hill 35:31 and Dudley 34:25. Markieff Morris was the only reserve to play over 14 minutes, Robin Lopez played just five and Josh Childress, Ronnie Price and Hakim Warrick all earned DNP-CDs. You think he wanted to win this game?
  • Many Suns players pointed to the fact that the team committed just 11 turnovers after coughing it up 15 times in the first half alone on Friday night as the difference between the two games. … The Suns had lost four straight games to the Lakers, including three in a row at home in the regular season. … With eight games of at least 14 assists, Nash has twice the number of any other player. … Phoenix recorded a season-high-tying 21 fast-break points.

  • Tony

    Great win for the Suns in particular because it shows they still have some fight left in them. Grant Hill’s defense on Kobe was fantastic and if Kobe didn’t always get the extra help from the refs as he did tonight, Hill would have kept him under his scoring average.

    Best game for Dudley in a long long time. He was consistent throughout the game as well, something he’s usually not. Gortat played exceptionally well, but it was pretty obvious towards the closing minutes of the game that he was exhausted. If only the Suns had a decent backup center, instead of the useless Lopez, Gortat would be fresher for the final few minutes in games. It might be time for Gentry to play Frye at center for just a few minutes to get Gortat some extra rest.

    Nash’s passing continues to be excellent, but his shooting is off these past few games. When he misses, it’s almost always due to some physical ailment. I hope that’s not the case, hopefully it’s just a little fatigue that is the culprit.

  • fan in chi-town

    this team is just confusing.

    they can thrash the lakers at home but look like a d league team at staples.
    they can beat atlanta on the road but not at home.
    they cant beat chicago without the reigning mvp but they can beat boston two games later at the garden.
    they thrash portland at home but cant beat the raptors.

    can someone please tell me whats going on here? this is so frustrating

  • And1

    @Fan In Chi-Town

    Yeah. It’s called lack of consistency. Aside from Nash & Gortat, the rest just dont want to win every night but only in some nights. Focus is the key.

    Back then you had consistent scorers like Amare & Richardson. Now you have question marks in who’ll score for the Suns in each game, outside Gortat & Nash.

    I really wish the Suns picked up JR Smith rather than Knicks. JR Smith was the Richardson type of player that the FO was talking about.

  • B. Cray Z.

    What will it take to get to our fans? They post here when they can cry in their beer, Where are the posts after a good game?

    J Rich was just as inconsistent as everyone else, possibly even more. Beacause of this & very poor defense & even worse character, I’m glad that he’s gone.

    When we had our last shot at a championship, he & STAT had some very good good games & some very poor ones. With the poor ones, our killer bench unit, full of high-ebergy hustling young guys would dig us out of the hole that our starters made

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • steve

    A loud (annoying) portion of Planet ORNG only likes to complain these days. They gripe and moan and complain about every little thing that goes wrong so often that they don’t know how to react when the Suns have a good moment.

    I didn’t get to watch any of last night’s game because of a wedding, but I really wish I had been able to see Gortat out-perform the Lakers’ bigs for the second time in two games. Going from Howard’s backup to one of the better centers in the league in a span of about a year is pretty impressive. I hope he keeps his determination to get better. He could become the real force the Suns need in order to get out of this mess they’re in.

  • And1

    @Steve & B. Crazy Z.

    You can’t blame me for whining. Suns should’ve won Atlanta & Warriors if the guys we expected to score played like they mean it. And when I mean guys, I meant Dudley & Frye. The Suns had all the momentum and during the streak, I thought maybe this guys clicked and found their role. But guess what, they reverted back to their losing ways during this losing streak.

    And no, Stat & J-Rich were not as inconsistent as the forwards plus Gortat that we have now. Stat & J-rich would give us the bucket everytime we needed it down the stretch, either Stat going in and get a foul or J-rich with his clutch shot. Guess what? During our losing stretch, guess what took us down. A 4th quarter fumble of trying to figure out who to go to, a stagnant offense that would last from 3-5 min for Atlanta & Warriors to come from behind and kick our ass. Our best option was go to Gortat, but Gortat don’t know how to get fouls, he jumps away with a jump shot, and even if he did get foul he misses his freakin’ free throws. Gimme a break I’m tired of the same retread all over and over and over..

    Btw, I love Jared Dudley, he plays with a purpose, but he’s limited to his athleticism or lack thereof. And Gortat is too soft. Big guy shouldn’t always be looking for a jump shot or taking a charge, especially down the stretch. I want you all to take notice of that down the stretch and tell me if I’m wrong of not. Because to be honest, Gortat has been the momentum killer down the stretch every time the Suns lose.

    Watch for yourself.

  • Scott

    I liked the win against the Lakers, but I think it was probably more the result of a poor game by the Lakers. In a situation where the Suns got a huge lead early, it was still possible for the Lakers to win in the 4th. The key misstep was by Lakers coach Mike Brown for failing to switch from Kapono to Bynum in the 4th.

    This year’s Suns team plays too slow to have inconsistent offense. They can’t make it up with volume any more. They need to be getting – and hitting – good shots each time. Despite the absence of Kerr, the Suns continue to morph into the Spurs.

    I’d like to see the Suns play a bit harder and faster. I think it would give them better opportunities on offense. Even the starters run a bit slower than I would like to see. It’s too easy for other teams to keep up with them and force a half court situation.

    As for the 2nd unit PGs, if they can drive, I think they need to. I’d like to see them experiment a little with driving hard to the hoop, and either scoring or getting fouled, in order to get defenses to sag back a bit. They can also penetrate and dish to Lopez if he’s close to the basket. That might help free up the shooters.

    IMO, the Suns are playing a small ball offense, but they’re playing it slow, and that makes it very tough.

  • And1

    And oh yeah. If the Suns had a good bench, they’d be a different team right now. I sorely miss Dragic or Brooks. Price & Telfair just don’t want to score. I saw Telfair play the Knicks and I saw how good he is when he wants to score. Likewise with Price. That’s just it, inconsistency. Nuff said.

  • And1

    @Scott

    Exactly. They play too slow. But there is a reason for that. No one in that lineup knows how to run with Nash other than Hill and even he is not getting any younger.
    Jared can run but can’t really finish, and Fyre is too big, Gortat doesn’t look at the ball and fumble almost all the time.

    That’s why I wish the Suns grabbed JR Smith rather than the Knicks. I envy the Knicks. They have a solid PG, solid SG, 2 solid Forwards, and a solid Center. JR Smith runs really well and can finish that electrifies the crowd like J-Rich or Amare have done. Plus JR Smith knows how to run the pick and role really well and is a very streaky shooter.

    With the players Nash have, no wonder the scoring is incosistent with the Suns this year.

    Back then Nash had runners in Marion, Stoudamire, Barbosa, etc… Too bad Warrick & Brown don’t know how to use their athleticism to their advantage.

  • shazam

    ,” Hill said. “It’s coming out with energy, playing hard and competing. When we do that — we did it tonight — we’re really good, and when we don’t we’re really bad.”…so that means that this season most of the time the suns come out playing with out energy,playing hard and competing..enough said…they dont play hard consistently because they dont believe the hype the front office puts out either…so why should we?…i mentioned this last week..yes there have been many games were gortat cost us down the stretch but its not his fault ..gentry plays him too many minutes..gentry doesnt have a lot of choice to do this so i dont blame him too much but i deff dont think its gortats fault…sure wish m redd was m redd this year

  • Grover

    Fast tempo only works well of you have athletes (Suns don’t) and shooters (Suns don’t). For all their faults, JRich, Barbosa, Marion, Amare, et al were perfect for that style as they stretched the floor vertically with speed and horizontally with shooting. Hill used to be good at getting out front and still has the speed to do so, but his legs have lost the pop he had even last year to finish well. Frye would be good stretching the floor with shooting, but is having a horrid year at least so far.

    The Suns could play a little more uptempo than they do today, but 7 seconds or less can’t happen with this squad. Even if we had the right genes to try it, I question whether it would be smart given what the compressed schedule could do to Nash and Hill in particular.

    The Suns still have enough they can surprise good teams on some nights. Inconsistency is frequently the result of a mediocre roster. When things go right, they can beat good teams that aren’t playing at their peak. When things don’t go right, they lose to bad teams who playa good game. The Suns aren’t good enough to play an average game against a good team and expect to win.

  • Sean

    I watched the game last night, and came away most impressed with Dudley’s overall game and Hill’s defense on Kobe. Dudley shot well and was his usual aggressive self. When that guy shoots well, he’s a perfect complimentary player on a good team. Hill played great D on Kobe, and Kobe hit some really tough shots anyway. Kobe just gets up for the Suns. However, he also had those 10 turnovers. Kobe made several bad passes that were caused by Hill’s pressure D, the Suns’ help D, and jumping the passing lanes.

    Also, playing the bench sparingly was helpful. Telfair and Price (and Brown sometimes) are difficult to watch at times. Dragic, we miss thee.

  • Mel.

    The most notable thing about this win was the presence of something that I haven’t sensed in the Suns in a while… some modicum of pride. I didn’t expect anything but a replay of the lifeless drubbing that we took at Staples on the head-end of the b2b, but the fact that the boys actually showed up and bloodied the nose of a squad that’s bullied them for lunch money consistently over the last couple of years was… inspiring*.

    Or at least as inspiring as anything happening in the Valley these days can be, really. I guess it’s fair to expect Wall to go off for 48/15/7 tonight and for the Wiz to blow PHX out of the building, given the consistency issues mentioned above and how, uh… “interesting…” they’ve made the team’s overall swag, this year.

    *Also inspiring: the fact that Adande, McMenamin and the rest of ESPN’s fairweather goofballs used the Suns’ loss at Staples as a springboard for a fresh batch of “THE LAKE SHOWZ BACK WE’RE STARTING TO COME TOGETHER MIKE BROWN WAS A GOOD HIRE AFTER ALL WE CAN CONTEND”-type fluff pieces… only to pull a complete and total 180 on the heels of Kobe’s storming off of the floor in their loss in Phoenix. Now it’s back to doom and gloom, the scourging of Mitch Kupchak and business as usual.

    So hey, we might not make the playoffs, but we can apparently still break the Lakers’ collective brain, given the chance. That’s a start.

  • A-ROCK

    No chance for the playoffs, look forward to a much longer season with old players getting older and young players with no athleticism except for my boy rookie of the year! lol

  • Mel.

    ^LOL. Yeah, that’s about the sum of it. I’m also liking the whole “Nash Farewell Tour ’12″ thing, now that it seems as though all bets at a last-second trade are off; regardless of where he winds up next season, knowing that the chances of him re-signing with Phoenix are getting slimmer with every passing week really puts a patina on even the crappiest games.

    Pyrrhic victory at best, but… it’s that kinda year.

  • steve

    @Mel

    I’m totally with you on celebrating the destruction the Suns seem to be able to bring to the Lakers’ psyche. There are things that could be better (and worse) as a Suns fan right now, but I take pleasure in the failure of the Lakers nearly as much as the success of the Suns. Last night we got both.

  • Grover

    A loss tonight is difficult to imagine. Wall has the speed to present a matchup problem or the Suns, but he hasn’t shown the ability to use that to carry his team on his back like Irving or Williams did to the Suns last month with similarly awful supporting casts. As inconsistent as the Suns have been I guess losing to Washington is within the realm of possibilities, but very difficult to picture. It would definitely take over as the worst loss on the Suns season.

    Let’s hope we get out to an early lead and let Nash and Hill ride the bench the whole 4th qtr.