PHOENIX – On a night the Suns showed little fight through the first three quarters, I was happy to see them mix things up toward the end of the third quarter on an otherwise depressing evening in which Houston took a 94-82 decision.
Tough guy Matt Barnes leveled Skip 2 my Lou AKA Rafer Alston while he was trying to set a screen for the red-hot Tracy McGrady, and Alston responded with a little love right back.
The fight (OK, a little overdramatic because no punches were thrown, but I had to suppress words like “fight” and “brawl” when I worked at MLB.com so I’m making up for it now) spilled over into the superstar part of the court, with T-Mac shoving Steve Nash and Shaq Daddy coming to his defense by shoving T-Mac right back.
“It was just a shoving match,” Shaq told Suns.com. “I saw somebody push my brother Steve and so I came to his aid. It wasn’t anything good.”
It must be nice to have a 325-pound big brother to back you up in an altercation, and that wasn’t the only thing Shaq connected on as he also led the Suns with 18 points, 13 boards and four rejections on the night he moved into 10th place on the all-time scoring list.
As for the scrum, Skip 2 my Lou contended that Barnes took a cheap shot at him, a claim confirmed by video evidence.
(Side note: Maybe I haven’t watched enough NBA fights live, but have you ever seen the refs use video replay not to see if a shot beat the buzzer but to see who should be ejected in an altercation? Effective, but weird).
At the time of the incident with 27 seconds left in the third quarter, the Suns trailed 74-55. Yes, 55 points!!! That just doesn’t happen to the Suns, or at least it didn’t, so I was glad to see Barnes do something to try to spark his team, even if it was largely out of frustration.
The crowd erupted during the melee (I know, too strong of word choice again) and went bonkers when Nash hit that halfcourt 3 that didn’t quite beat the third quarter buzzer.
Another observation from the scrum, head coach Terry Porter can still move. He was halfway across the court and in the middle of the action to make sure none of his players did anything real stupid practically by the time Nash hit the floor.
The pile moved in the direction of owner Robert Sarver’s courtside seats, and I’m kind of surprised he didn’t do anything to inflame the situation, although he did yell at the refs to eject T-Mac (only Barnes and Skip were ejected, although Nash, Shaq and T-Mac all received techs).
For everybody’s sake, it’s also a good thing that Ron Artest was replaced by Aaron Brooks (and for that matter Barbosa for Bell) about a minute before the scuffle, or we may have had a Malice in the Purple Palace situation. I wasn’t watching the Houston bench, but I’m assuming an assistant coach or three chained him to the pine.
Otherwise, I may have been present at (and/or a participant in) Malice Part II.
Shutting down the Suns
It’s no secret that if you limit Amare Stoudemire and Nash, you’re probably going to beat the Suns.
The Rockets held Amare to 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting from the field while allowing him to get to the line just twice. Nash, meanwhile, went for 10, which would be OK if he would have dished out more than three assists.
Luis Scola did the best job on Amare I’ve seen all season, and it really isn’t close. Amare could not out-quick him as he does so many bigs to get to the basket, and the Argentinean fought Amare hard in the post.
He seemed out of sync all night, and when Amare’s having a rare off night, everybody else needs to pick him up.
That did not happen aside from Shaq, as the Suns shot a season-low 37.6 percent. Raja Bell and Grant Hill went scoreless in 44 combined minutes and Boris Diaw scored just two, as the trio shot a combined 1-for-14 (7.1 percent).
As for Nash, as much as I love him he’s averaged an alarmingly-low 5.4 assists per game in his last five contests. We know he’s not going to average 11-plus per game like he used to in D’Antoni’s free-wheeling system now that the Suns’ offense revolves around feeding the post, but three assists? Really?
On the other end, T-Mac caught fire and punished Raja and Hill to the tune of 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
He was just in one of those zones where there’s nothing you can do about it. Superstars do that once in a while, even when they score just five points on 1-for-16 shooting in their previous two games.
But the Suns were really hurt in this one by the fact Nash could not guard Skip 2 my Lou or Aaron Brooks, as the duo combined for 34 points and consistently burned Nash.
When the Suns only trailed by seven at halftime I considered them extremely lucky because players like Artest were missing shots they normally make and the Suns were still in it.
In the end, Artest (four points, 1-for-12) and Scola (two, 1-for-6) didn’t do anything offensively, and the Suns still got killed.
That’s not a good sign against a team I consider among the NBA’s best.
Weird rotation … again
I’m really having a tough time understanding Porter’s rotation.
He went with Robin Lopez as his first sub off the bench and then didn’t play him the rest of the game.
He also used the all-subs lineup I hate so much to start the second quarter, although surprisingly the Suns only lost three points during that stretch, quite an improvement on previous contests as Goran Dragic played one of his best games as a Sun.
Then, Porter’s only substitution in the third quarter was Barbosa for Bell with about two minutes left besides the Barnes ejection substitution.
He continued to ride his starters plus Barbosa and Hill to start the fourth before taking out Nash and Shaq at the 8:36 mark and Amare at the 5:58 mark as he waived the white flag.
Sure, by that point he had to rest them, but why not take them out earlier to save them for a final burst?
Then the Suns closed the gap to 12 with 2:30 minutes left, and stranger things have happened. Why not bring back Nash and Amare to make one final stand?