PHOENIX — Last night in Denver the Suns gave away a game that Steve Nash described as “heartbreaking.”
He proceeded to tweet that he’s going to count to 10 presumably to try to get over the defeat but that it frankly did not help much. The Suns had reason to be upset as they coughed up a late five-point lead and did not score for the final three minutes in a critical loss that dropped their Hollinger Playoff Odds from 39.0 percent to 24.3 percent.
Yet one day later while playing their fourth game in five days, the Suns were all smiles after blowing out the Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers, 125-105.
Michael Redd could not stop talking about how much fun he was having during his postgame interview and Alvin Gentry echoed that sentiment by starting his press conference by saying, “Well that was fun.”
We have not heard those words uttered after a Lakers game too many times in recent years, yet even with Bryant sitting out with a shin injury this game was nothing but utterly satisfying for the Phoenix side.
Although the starters have carried the Suns most of the season, as has been the case lately it was the suddenly dynamic reserve unit that won the game tonight.
The bench exploded for a season-high 38 points in the second period to turn an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead as the reserves played the entire quarter. Michael Redd caught fire once again on his way to tallying 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, and Sebastian Telfair adeptly controlled the offense while scoring 13 points and dishing four assists.
Sure, it certainly helped that the Lakers don’t possess much of a bench, but this unit is really coming together nicely. Just like the vaunted 2010 bench everybody knows their role and executes it to perfection.
For the game the Suns reserves outscored their Los Angeles counterparts 48-10 as Phoenix’s bench enjoyed its second-highest scoring game of the season (and the other came in an early blowout loss). More importantly in the 18 minutes this unit shared the court together the Suns outscored the Lakers by 28 points per 100 possessions.
“I was most proud of that second unit that came in because they’ve kind of had their ups and downs, but I thought they did a great job,” Gentry said. “Collectively as a unit I thought they did a really good job. When they went in the game that’s when the energy level really went up and the intensity really went up. I think we kept it there until the end.”
Redd continually tried to deflect the credit coming his way, saying he’s just taking advantage of an opportunity that arose with the Hill injury, but he’s really been the key to the bench’s revival. He’s averaging 18.3 points per game during Phoenix’s past four contests (scoring at least 15 in each of them) after tonight’s 23-point outing, and he has caught fire for a stretch in every one of them.
The Suns have lacked scoring off the bench all season, so the unit completely changes when he provides a consistent threat.
“He’s turning a corner,” Nash said. “We’re seeing more consistent basketball out of Mike because his body has been getting better and better, so I just feel excited for him that he feels better every night and he can do the things he’s accustomed to doing. What a player, you can see the runs that he can go on.”
Added Gentry, “Anybody in here has seen that before. It’s not something that we haven’t seen. Once he gets going he’s pretty tough. Our guys did a really good job tonight of understanding who had the hot hand, and we found them.”
In saying that Gentry was also speaking about Shannon Brown, who took the torch from Redd and burned white hot throughout his 20-point third quarter outburst in which he nailed 8-of-12 shots and 4-of-6 treys.
Along with the help of seven Nash assists in the quarter, the Suns followed up their season-high second quarter effort by scoring a season-high 37 points in the third quarter to turn this one into a rout.
Brown told Redd he was inspired by the veteran’s hot stretch and then went out and did him three points better.
“It got me going, it got me excited,” Brown said. “Every time he shot the ball they had to fix the net. I came out in the second half, got it going.”
The Suns were so busy scoring they barely had time to turn the ball over and thus they set a franchise record by committing just three turnovers the entire game, breaking a mark set on Jan. 17, 1995, against Denver.
That’s even more impressive considering Phoenix played a quick pace at 97 possessions and raced out to 22 fast-break points without hardly turning the ball over at all.
When you combine the torrid stretches from Redd and Brown with a pair of season-high quarters and mix in a great job of taking care of the ball you get a season-high 125 points in a game in which Phoenix outscored the Lakers 101-73 in the final three quarters.
The Suns hung an offensive rating of 128.5 on the Lakers behind a scorching 60.5 true shooting performance thanks to a 14-for-29 effort from behind the three-point line.
Any way you slice it, the Suns’ offense decimated the Lakers with one of their strongest performances of the season.
“We did a really good job of playing an up-tempo game but not overdoing it and taking the shots that were available,” Gentry said. “I thought we did a great job with the turnovers.”
Obviously this would have been a completely different game if Kobe Bean Bryant suited up, but as things were the Lakers countered the Suns’ potent attack with Gasol and Bynum but not much else aside from Metta World Peace, who had a nice game with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Gasol and Bynum combined for 53 points and 31 rebounds while attempting 52 shots (that would never happen with Kobe around), and they led the Lakers’ domination on the glass (20 offensive rebounds, 54-36 overall edge and Phoenix’s biggest blemish of the evening). But they weren’t quite efficient enough to keep pace with the Suns’ attack.
With Denver losing tonight at Golden State, the Suns now enter the final 10 games of the season just one game out of a playoff spot.
If they can get anywhere near this kind of contribution from the bench it’s not a stretch to think Phoenix can crash the playoff party after the Suns played a superb final three quarters to throttle the Lakers.
“It was a really good win for us,” Gentry said. “It was a much-needed win.”
- Before the game Gentry said that Grant Hill is “making great progress” in his rehabilitation from meniscus surgery. The Suns won’t rush him, but Gentry said the team may get him back for the season’s final five games.
- Days after my feature on the Suns’ special training staff, Gentry paid them another compliment while answering a question about whether he felt Redd would be this effective this season. “Once again, I think our medical staff can make anyone healthy enough to play,” he said. “Really, the guys that we have here, our medical staff, they’re the greatest.”
- Redd on tonight’s stellar outing: “I’ve been doing that for the last eight, nine years of my career. It’s always an honor to be in that zone and play like that. … I’m rolling right now. I’m accustomed to being in that position.”
- It’s hard to believe after the way the Suns dominated the final three periods, but they actually trailed by double digits (26-16) with two minutes left in the first quarter. That means the Suns have now won seven of eight home games in which they trailed by double digits and eight of 13 overall. They also own the second most double-digit comebacks in the league behind only Oklahoma City, eight of which have come since March 1, and that also means the Suns outscored the Lakers 109-79 thereafter.
- The Suns have now won consecutive regular season games against the Lakers for the first time since 2006-07, which is also the last time they split a season series against Los Angeles.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.