PHOENIX — Upsets will become the name of the game if the Phoenix Suns hope to put together any semblance of a winning streak.
They started the second half of the season with a inspiring win over the then-18-18 Minnesota Timberwolves last night and hope that builds into momentum with the Los Angeles Clippers on deck tonight in US Airways Center.
If anything, the victory proved that Phoenix isn’t done throwing punches.
“Just encouraged that we fought, battled,” point guard Steve Nash said of the win. “We had some moments when we weren’t playing well. We came back from those moments.”
After a sluggish first half where they turned the ball over 11 times, the Suns tidied up their offense (only six turnovers in the second half) and continued to shoot the ball at a high mark to take control, all the while playing physical interior defense and holding the Timberwolves to 29.5 percent shooting.
Of course, it helped that the poor three-point shooting Timberwolves weren’t a threat from outside, hitting on only 1-of-13 three-point attempts. But overall for Phoenix, its effort and execution in the second half will be needed tonight if the Suns want to pull off another fast one.
“As good as we were, we can be better,” forward Grant Hill said after the Minnesota game. “Maybe in that first half, timing was off. I anticipate us being better tomorrow night. We’re going to have to be.”
We already know what the Clippers bring to the table — lobs, athleticism and one of the best point guards in the game.
But while Chris Paul tossing passes a couple feet above the rim — OK, OK he does a lot more than that — has helped the Clippers to the 3rd best offensive rating in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference.com, their defensive rating only comes in at 21st place, one place behind Phoenix.
In other words, they’re vulnerable.
The very same Timberwolves team that Phoenix frustrated last night put the hammer down on the Clips on Tuesday, trailing almost all of the game before exploding in the fourth quarter without the help of Kevin Love, who left with a bruised rib. Bench players Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley combined for 26 fourth quarter points and 54 on the night in the victory.
Though not to the same extent, the Suns will need a strong bench effort to defeat Los Angeles. And after Thursday’s win, head coach Alvin Gentry still has hope that can happen despite his lack of options.
“Shannon Brown obviously came in and did a good job for us,” Gentry said. “Robin (Lopez) was a real force in there defensively, and Sebastian (Telfair) I thought did a good job. Markieff (Morris) didn’t shoot the ball good, but defensively I thought he did a good job.”
The Suns did enough to upset a .500 team, and now they’ll see whether that translates to toppling the Pacific Division leaders.
Three keys for Phoenix
Keep it physical. As an observer, the biggest difference on Thursday that gave promise to a revived Suns team was their physicality. In the past, this team didn’t want to get called for too many fouls — that slowed the tempo — but this year it matters much less considering the lack of fast breaking. Using all of their big men’s fouls and going deep into the bench didn’t appear to hurt the Suns to a great degree, and more importantly, it made for one of the most impressive defensive and rebounding efforts of the season. Against Blake Griffin, who hasn’t really liked the slimmer Grant Hill being physical with him in the past, getting Los Angeles frustrated could go a long way.
Post the guards. Since everything went so well against the Timberwolves, I’m again pointing to that game for solutions. The Clippers, like Minnesota, run with a small backcourt of point guard-sized players in Paul, Randy Foye and Mo Williams. Phoenix took advantage of Luke Ridnour being cross-matched with Hill, and whether it’s Hill or Jared Dudley, the Suns should exploit whomever the 6-foot-1 Williams or 6-foot-4 Foye are guarding.
Attack DeAndre Jordan. Once shot-blocking center DeAndre Jordan is off the floor, be it foul trouble or rotations, the Clippers don’t have a lot of size. Reserve Reggie Evans is more of a rebounder than a shot blocker, and power forwards Griffin and Kenyon Martin, while athletic, will likely not be deep in the paint as they worry about Channing Frye and Markieff Morris stretching the floor. That makes room for Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez to do some damage in the paint on offense.