PHOENIX — In two consecutive games, the Phoenix Suns have blown out opponents, but for whatever reason, it took a little bit longer to get into kill-shot mood against the Washington Wizards a day after they blasted the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half.
Marcin Gortat scored 20 to win the battle against youngster JaVale McGee inside and the Suns outscored Washington 32-13 in the third quarter during their 104-88 home win on Monday. Phoenix (14-19) took the risk going with a zone defense in the third, forcing the Wizards (7-25) into off-rhythm jumpers that didn’t drop all the while making sure to pack the paint and keep John Wall out of the heart of the Suns’ defense.
The catalyst for that huge period — the best defensive quarter for the Suns this season — differs depending on who’s talking.
“I wish I had some deep thought about it,” head coach Alvin Gentry said of the Suns’ third quarter. “We were good defensively, and we got out and got easy shots. That’s all it was.”
A perturbed Randy Wittman, Washington’s interim head coach, wasn’t so sure it was anything the Suns were up to.
“Selfish is what happened,” he said. “We didn’t share the ball and tried to do everything one-on-one, and a good team like Phoenix is going to take that away from you. That’s all it was. I’m not going to put up with that. That’s something we haven’t been doing and I believe we were up one and go on a spree of the most selfish basketball I’ve seen since I’ve taken over.”
Arguing aside, the statistics told the story.
A 53-48 halftime lead for Phoenix dissipated in the first four minutes of the second half. Finding themselves down 55-54 with just more than eight minutes to play, a clearly-agitated Gentry called timeout.
“I was a little upset because we had talked about the defense we were going to play,” Gentry said. “We had half the guys in it and half the guys not. That’s why I took the quick timeout.”
That’s all the Suns needed to find cohesion.
After missing their first five shots of the quarter, the Suns all of a sudden ran off 16 straight points and had themselves an 85-61 advantage by the end of the third. They held Washington to 5-of-22 shooting in the period and got eight quick points from Michael Redd, who finished with 14 points off the bench.
Steve Nash put in 12 points and 11 assists in 27 minutes of playing time before sitting out the fourth quarter with the rest of the other starters, save Channing Frye.
Frye, who scored 19 and grabbed 11 rebounds, scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Suns gained a 19-10 advantage early.
“This sounds a little bad,” Frye said, “but I try to be as aggressive as I can for those first six minutes and see what happens. I think the more space we can get Marcin, and G-Hill and Jared, it helps. It just opens the floor.”
A lowly offensive start for the Wizards put them down 19-10, but their scoring was sparked by guard Jordan Crawford’s five quick points, part of a 7-0 run that helped Washington stay within six points, 31-25, by the end of the first quarter.
Crawford was one of the few bright spots for Washington, scoring a team-high 20 points off the bench.
Wall added 10 points, six rebounds and six assists, but Nick Young, the Wizards’ leading scorer at 17.5 points per game coming into the night, didn’t score until 37 seconds remained in the first half. He hit the first jumper of the second half en route to only six points on 3-for-13 shooting by the end of the night thanks to solid defense by Grant Hill.
On the evening, the Suns’ starting small forward tied Nash with a team-best +24 in the +/- column.
The Suns retained their lead in the fourth quarter with their bench play, and by the end of the game had allowed the Wizards to shoot 42.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, the Suns’ offense flowed like the old days as they hit 46.8 percent themselves and even outscored the young-legged Washington squad with a 22-14 advantage in fast-break scoring.
But this game is bigger than a single victory. It was a momentum builder after a big win the night prior, and with the last game before the All-Star break this Wednesday against Golden State, the Suns are still sniffing the playoff hunt.
“For the most part though, I thought we did a good job and were pretty consistent in what we were doing,” Gentry said. “We were a little tired I think, but defensively we were good and we did a good job rebounding the basketball.
“After a big win last night, and a really emotional win, to come back and take care of business like that I think is what we really need.”
- Apparently, the logjam of a schedule isn’t hurting Phoenix so much. The Suns are 5-4 in the second game of back-to-backs this year, which obviously is a decent percentage considering the team’s overall record. Said Grant Hill: “Superior fitness and condition on our part. No, I don’t know. We have played well on second of back-to-backs. We have to keep it up. “
- The Suns have now beaten the Wizards 10 straight times dating back to Dec. 22, 2006, when Gilbert Arenas poured in 54 in an overtime win.
- The victory was only the second time Phoenix has won consecutive home games this season.