Following two losses in the state of Florida that put a halt to the Phoenix Suns’ momentum, Alvin Gentry’s crew needed a wild last minute to hang on with a 113-111 victory against the Indiana Pacers in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
And in the end, Friday’s Phoenix win gave us what Michael Schwartz anticipated in his preview; a wild, back-and-forth of a game. At some point in the game, each team had leads of as many as seven points, and it included 13 lead changes and 10 ties.
“We had a tough stretch in Florida against two very good teams, and Indiana is a very good team,” Grant Hill told FSAZ’s Tom Leander after the game. “We got back to just playing good basketball. We didn’t defend as well as we would’ve liked, but we executed, the second unit was wonderful.
“We made and missed some free throws down the stretch, but we ultimately did what we needed to do to get the win.”
Quickly, the first three quarters spanned these amounts of real time:
1st – 27 minutes
2nd – 34 minutes
3rd – 23 minutes
The fourth? 45 minutes long, many of which were devoted to the final minute of play.
Before we get to the final minute, let’s play catch-up.
Surviving 28 Danny Granger points by the end of the night, the first quarter back-and-forth between centers Roy Hibbert and Marcin Gortat gave a firm example of how things were about to develop.
Breaking out of a mini-slump, Gortat scored 12 of his eventual 23 in the opening 12 minutes thanks to constant feeding from Steve Nash. The Suns’ point guard finished with 12 points and 17 assists, and Phoenix also got 22 points from Grant Hill as six players hit double figures.
Meanwhile in the first, Hibbert scored 10 points with jump hooks galore en route to his 19 on the evening.
The Suns entered the fourth after building their biggest lead of 86-79, but Tyler Hansbrough and former Sun Leandro Barbosa led the scoring charge with the first 11 points of the period to reel in Phoenix and bring the Pacers within two just more than two minutes into the quarter.
Phoenix’s starters built the lead back to seven with four minutes left, but things thereafter got sketchy as Nash picked up two turnovers in a row with under two minutes remaining.
The first 47 minutes also included an emphatic dunk by Jared Dudley, apparent tornadoes in the Indianapolis area, and the tossing of Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, yet it was the final minute that made the game.
After the second of the two Nash turnovers, a Hibbert free throw made it a 104-103 contest with 1:09 remaining.
Super Steve came to the rescue, throwing a bounce pass under the long arms of Hibbert to a cutting Gortat for a reverse layup, then finding Channing Frye for a three-pointer on the next possession. With 28 seconds left and a 109-103 lead, it looked like Phoenix had the victory locked up.
Granger scored on a layup the next time down, and Nash hit two free throws as the Pacers stopped the clock by fouling him. But with Gentry putting a smaller, faster lineup on the floor to defend the three-point line, Sebastian Telfair ended up
contesting being too short to defend a Granger three-pointer after Telfair and Grant Hill made a switch on the inbounds.
All that resulted was a swish and a three-point game.
Compounding matters, Frye missed two free throws after a quick Pacers foul, and all of a sudden it was a 111-110 game with 11 seconds left following two Granger free throws.
Nash hit two more foul shots himself, Barbosa missed a three-point attempt, and the ball was batted out of bounds to the Pacers, the Suns leading by three with seconds remaining.
Enter one of the more volatile basketball debates: To foul or not to foul?
Dudley did, and with 1.7 seconds left, Paul George was out to hit one free throw and miss the second in hopes of getting a tip-in to tie it at 113.
He hit the first, and with a sideways attempt at the rim on his second attempt, a tipped basketball on the right side of the hoop floated in the air as George chased down his own miss. As he fell out of bounds, a two-handed shove toward the hoop couldn’t twist the ball over the rim.
The Suns escaped with a two-point victory.
And a very long, tense minute.