Phoenix Suns 109, Detroit Pistons 101 — Avoiding the trap game

Jared Dudley, the undisputed greatest player in the NBA, possibly the universe, once again led the Suns to victory -- and in scoring. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Jared Dudley once again led the Suns in scoring, and Phoenix relied on teamwork and excellent ball movement to defeat the Pistons, 109-101. With the victory, the Suns moved to .500 at 22-22 for the first time since they were 4-4 on Jan. 8. Now two games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they also joined the Bulls, Heat and Thunder as the only teams to win all three games of a back-to-back-to-back series.

The first quarter saw the Suns get out to their typical quick start. Dudley started off on fire, scoring 12 points in the first frame. Nash had seven assists in the first 12 minutes, something he seems to do in 80 percent of the Suns’ games so far this season. Phoenix would pass the ball well throughout the night — of their 41 total made field goals, 32 were assisted. The Suns took a 31-27 at the end of the first quarter, and Phoenix fans prepared for the roller coaster of the bench unit in the second.

Detroit’s backcourt abused the Phoenix perimeter defense as the Suns offense went dry in the start of the second. Through the first two quarters, Rodney Stuckey (17) and Brandon Knight (14) combined for 31 Piston points. The Pistons also got significant production from Jonas Jerebko off the bench in the second; he had nine points before halftime, including an at-the-time backbreaking three as the shot clock expired toward the end of the first half. At the break, Detroit was winning the field goal shooting, free throw shooting, 3-point shooting and turnover battles.

The Suns kept themselves in the game, though, by crashing the offensive boards, grabbing 10 of their own misses, led by Channing Frye. Frye struggled offensively on the night, going 4-for-14 from the field, but he was the only player to end up with double-digit rebounds (13). It was the fourth time this season he had at least 10 field goal attempts in a game, shot less than 30 percent from the field and grabbed at least 10 boards. On nights when Frye is struggling offensively, he’s still managing to crash the boards and contribute something.

The Suns’ starters started to take over the game in the third quarter. Grant Hill scored on three of four straight Phoenix possessions (Marcin Gortat scored on the other one) as the Pistons threatened to pull away in order to keep the game close. A couple Suns misses gave way to a Gortat layup and a Dudley three to tie the game at 73 and force a Detroit timeout. The Suns and Pistons would trade baskets back and forth for the rest of the quarter; Detroit led 80-79 going into the fourth. Gortat totaled eight in the third, and Nash had all 17 of his assists on the night by the end of the quarter.

With the bench in to start the fourth quarter, the Phoenix offense turned its weary eyes to Robin Lopez. Much of what the Suns did with the ball in the first half of the fourth quarter involved getting Lopez touches in the post — he was the only Phoenix player to score for the first 3:27 of the period. In fact, Lopez was playing well enough in the fourth to warrant coach Alvin Gentry keeping Gortat on the bench for the last 12 minutes of the game for the second straight night. The Pistons did their best to keep the Suns’ bench (and Frye) at bay for as long as possible, but Phoenix seized the lead on a Shannon Brown deep ball with 5:33 to go. Nash, Dudley and Hill returned to the floor with 4:56 to go in the fourth to ice the game for the Suns, who were 9-for-10 from the free throw line over the last three minutes of the game.

The win, combined with Minnesota’s loss to the Lakers, moves Phoenix into sole possession of ninth in the west. Their 8-2 record since the All-Star break is tied with those same Lakers for second best in the league, behind only the Chicago Bulls.

And 1

  • The Pistons shot 51.3 percent from the field on the night. Coach Gentry joked after the game that he asked Jerebko why teams had been shooting well against the Suns lately, and Jerebko said that they hadn’t seen the sun in three months and were loosened up because of the beautiful Phoenix weather.
  • Michael Redd (15 minutes) split backup shooting guard duty with Brown (16) fairly evenly on the night. He scored 11 points, 10 of which came during the second quarter.
  • Markieff Morris once again saw his playing time limited; he was on the court for just 12 minutes.
  • This was the ninth time that Nash played more than 30 minutes and had five or fewer points in a game with the Suns. Phoenix is actually 7-2 in such games, in which Nash averages 13.67 assists per game.

  • shazam

    curiouser and curiouser…are they going to win just enough to miss play offs and get lousy draft pick?…win just enough to get in the playoffs bow out early and get lousy draft pick? OR does this team have a real run in them in this weird season that no team is playing as well as expected in?

  • Tony

    Great win for the Suns tonight. Some of those Nash passes were ridiculous how sweet they were.

    The Suns are playing with a ton of confidence and it’s really starting to show. I could tell just watching them play that they knew they were going to win this game. Even with the Pistons playing superb basketball as of late and even though they had the lead through the third quarter, the Suns players and even the normally super-animated Gentry, all seemed to possess an air of confidence that it didn’t matter how well Detroit played, they would figure out a way to win. Great to see the team’s confidence level running so high.

    It’s interesting, from what I’ve observed, the better Lopez plays, the worse Gortat performs. It might just be a chicken and egg situation, in which Gortat’s having an off-night which leads Gentry to give more time to Lopez but if that’s not the case, then I’m a little concerned. The last thing this team needs is for Gortat to start losing his confidence and start pressing. So I hope Gentry keeps an eye on that situation.

    Other than those two observations, great win for the Suns especially since the Timberwolves lost, which with the Suns victory moved them into 9th place.

    Who would have thought that even despite the Three Stooges, the Suns players and coaches would be able to at least make this team respectable? Just goes to show how much leadership and team chemistry matters and that although the Suns are probably in the top-5 of the least talented teams in the NBA, their heart and effort elevates their level of play in spite of the lack of talent on the roster.

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    At this point, only the top 3 picks look like definite winners. The rest get chancier as you go. Hard to know if getting to the playoffs will really hurt the Suns, as if they pick poorly, they can screw themselves even with an earlier pick, and if they choose well, they can probably get someone good even out of the 2nd round (not that they will likely have a 2nd round pick, but you know what I mean).

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    Since the All-Star break, and the team meeting, Lopez has been playing more like he feels he belongs, and they’re increasingly looking for him on offense. That’s great for him.

    Gortat isn’t doing quite so well in the last few games, but unless he has unreported aches and pains (quite possible), I think it’s mostly mental. Remember, he’s never in his life played so many minutes and played such a key role. I think he could be suffering from a variety of “rookie wall.”

    I doubt Gortat will lose his confidence though. He may not feel quite as “juicy” for a while.

    Give him some time, it will sort itself out. And thankfully the Suns have Lopez to turn to in the meantime.

    Also, glad to see small signs of Redd coming on.

  • steve

    I like the effort, focus, and determination the Suns are exhibiting. I feel like this is The team we should have been watching all year. The way they’re playing right now is much closer to their potential than the 14-20 Suns we saw at the all star break. Hopefully they don’t lose this grit when they hit the road.

  • JZ

    Suns have new life after the All-Star Break. I just hope they don’t get their assess handed to them against miami and orlando. The players need confidence. I just saw the west standings and its seems like that seeds 4-8 are up for grabs and 10 teams are fighting for them. So, Suns cannot falter in this last month and a half even though they have one of the tougher schedules. I hate how Brooks return to the U.S has been delayed by a week due to chaotic fans in China.

  • Grover

    No “tired” or “rookie wal” typel excuses allowed for Gortat, if that’s whats had his stats down recently. The man is 28 yrs old and has been in the NBA five years. He knows the grind and knew the compressed season like the rest. Fatigue is not his problem any more than any other player, and if it is, shame on him. Gortat just has to get mentally tougher.

    Very interesting turn to the season. I didn’t think it would be possible to make the playoffs just a coue weeks ago, but now with Houston and Dnever swooning, who knows. Even if we don’t make it, it sure makes going to the games more fun when you see your team fighting and playing well.

  • Robert

    Keep Winning while we have Nash. Great to see games matter for him. Worry about draft picks and all that stuff after he is gone. Reward the man!

  • shawn

    Didn’t get to watch but I damn sure checked the score with one eye open and was ecstatic they won and got themselves back to. 500. I love it and the suns in the playoffs would be awesome f a draft pick this is about now and right now the suns are blazin hot.

  • Scott

    @Grover -

    But you know Gortat didn’t play much, right?

    He was drafted in 2005 and didn’t play in his first NBA game till March 2008. In that year, his average court time was nearly 7 min.

    He played his first full game (28 min) in December 2008, when Howard was out with injury. In April 2009 he played his second full game (43 min), again substituting for an injured Howard.

    In December 2010, Gortat was traded to the Suns and began playing real minutes in the NBA for the first time in his career.

    In his whole time in Orlando (essentially 2.5 seasons) he never played more than 15 min on average, whereas upon arriving in Phoenix he went to 30 min and is playing slightly more than that per game this year.

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