PHOENIX — They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but the Phoenix Suns returned home Friday night following a three-game road trip and came out absolutely lifeless against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Byron Scott’s squad came into US Airways Center and sprinted out to an 18-2 lead just minutes into the contest, and both the Suns and their home crowd looked left for dead.
The Suns had seen similar double-digit deficits earlier in the week during road losses to the Magic and Heat, but when Alvin Gentry and Co. found themselves staring at a 26-point differential early in the second quarter, it seemed likely that recent history was bound to repeat itself.
So, where did Gentry turn to?
Sebastian Telfair (13 points, four assists and five rebounds), P.J. Tucker (eight points, seven rebounds and fantastic perimeter defense) and Shannon Brown (22 points) played substantial minutes in the second half, as the Suns turned a sizable first-half deficit into the largest home comeback in team history — a thrilling 107-105 victory over Cleveland. With the win, Phoenix now has its first two-game win streak of 2012-13 and is back to .500 (3-3).
In defeat, second-year guard Kyrie Irving scored 17 points to go along with eight assists. He did, however, miss a game-winning three-point attempt as time expired.
“In this league you really have to play all 48 minutes,” Gentry said. “I mean, we’ve been there where we we’re up 14, then all of the sudden we’re down 16. My whole thing was don’t have long faces. Everyone has to lift each other up and truly believe we can do this. That we can chip away, chip away, chip away and maybe find a way to win in the last three minutes.”
For the first time all season, Telfair joined Goran Dragic (season-high 26 points) in the backcourt and his 10 second-quarter points helped to whittle the lead down to 13 at halftime.
Phoenix continued to climb back in the third quarter, but Anderson Varejao (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Daniel Gibson (19 points off the bench) never let the lead go below six in the period.
Enter the Suns’ closer this season, Brown.
Fresh off a combined 42 points against the Heat and Bobcats, the Suns’ go-to option off the pine was at it again Friday night. Helped by three early Cleveland turnovers to start the fourth quarter, Brown scored seven quick points to put the Suns on top for the first time all evening, 87-85.
Brown added five more points in the final minutes of the Suns’ victory, which was almost for naught after rookie Dion Waiters pulled the Cavaliers ahead almost single-handedly. The No. 4 pick in this past year’s draft went right at Brown down the stretch and his individual 7-0 run coupled with Alonzo Gee’s three-point play had Cleveland up 98-91 with four minutes to play.
Despite needing instant offense, Gentry went with Tucker down the stretch at small forward — and it paid off both offensively and defensively for the Suns.
The second-year veteran shut down Waiters in the waning moments and added a go-ahead jump shot from the left corner with 90 seconds remaining, as Phoenix roared back for its most exhilarating win of the short season.
“We just got to do that in the first half,” said Brown. “We definitely can’t dig ourselves holes likes this because we are definitely not going to be able to get out of all of them. You know, it is definitely a good test for us early, but now that we know what we have to do, we have to go out and we have to jump on it from the start.”
After putting together their worst first quarter of basketball all season — they allowed 37 points, shot 6-of-19 from the field and committed seven turnovers — the Suns did something over the final 36 minutes of play that is often rare for a team made up of nine new faces: they fought harder and harder and harder.
Tucker’s relentlessness and “gritty play,” as Gentry called it, at the defensive end made the comeback possible, but he wasn’t alone. The Suns got another strong outing in the middle from center Marcin Gortat, who chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds. The league’s No. 1 shot blocker added five more to his season total, including a game-changing swat of Waiters with 43 seconds remaining that led to an easy Brown layup.
“It was probably the worst basketball first quarter of my career,” said Gortat. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Not being able to score and giving up 25, 30 points in a span of eight minutes. Wins like that are definitely going to build chemistry with the team, and that’s great. A lot of people feel good about the game now.”
Gortat, who was injured on an inadvertent elbow thrown by teammate Luis Scola in the third quarter, said his flare for the dramatic Friday night had everything to do with wanting to make a big play for his teammates when it mattered the most.
“I should have had four more if I just had slightly better timing and a little more wind in my body,” Gortat said. “The last three minutes I gave up about two or three layups and everyone was upset. So on the fourth and fifth times, I went way, way harder. And, I’m happy I actually hit the ball, because if I didn’t hit the ball I would’ve broken someone’s arm probably because I swing so hard.”
- The Suns’ come-from-behind win Friday was not their largest in franchise history. On Dec. 5, 2003, a Frank Johnson-led team went into Boston and won after falling behind by 29. On March 2, 1997, the team capped a 27-point rally with an impressive win over Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks. The franchise’s largest comeback at home before Friday night’s instant classic was on March 31, 2008, when Amar’e Stoudemire’s 41 points helped the Suns erase a 22-point deficit en route to a 132-117 victory over Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets.
- Gentry said Dragic — who played 34 minutes — was exhausted to the point of being physically sick after helping the Suns complete their miraculous comeback. While the Slovenian looked at ease knifing through Cleveland’s defense Friday night — it was his first 20-point performance with Phoenix since April 2010 — he was just relieved to be a part of the special night at US Airways Center. “I’m really just excited we came back,” Dragic said. “I heard we came back from 26 points, and I’m just happy and glad the team stuck together, fought back and got the win.”
- Shannon Brown recorded his second straight 20-point performance for the first time in his career. Brown’s 18 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday keyed the Suns’ win in Charlotte, and his 14 in the fourth quarter against Cleveland proved to be the difference yet again Friday. Asked if he views himself as the team’s closer early on in 2012-13, the two-time champion prefers a much more simple title. “You can call it what you want to, I’m a basketball player,” he said. “The other day I hit six three-point shots, and I was asked if I was a three-point shooter. I said, ‘No, I am not, I just hit threes.’ I just go out there and do whatever the team needs.”