Suns 115, Warriors 105 – Phoenix’s final stand?


PHOENIX – Amid a cacophony of trade rumors enveloping the franchise, the Suns still had a game to play Friday night.

It likely won’t be enough to save the Suns as we know them, but led by an inspired effort by Grant Hill, they played with just enough heart to gain an ounce of revenge with a 115-105 victory over the Warriors, who trounced Phoenix on Wednesday night in Oakland.

Although nobody played particularly well in Wednesday’s loss, Hill was peeved enough about the effort he displayed in his eight-point showing in the first meeting that he said he was “kind of waiting for this game and waiting to get out there,” going so far as to say he couldn’t sleep today.

Hill will have no such trouble sleeping tonight after scoring a season-high 27 points and grabbing five boards while leading the Suns’ onslaught in the paint and on the break.

“I’m physically, mentally and emotionally spent right now,” Hill said. “I’m exhausted. That’s the way you should feel after a game. I think you should be tired. Lay it all on the line, that’s the way it should be.

“Just come out and play hard, fight and compete, nine times out of 10 you can live with the results. Unfortunately we haven’t done that on a consistent basis.”

This effort comes on the heels of the Suns losing eight of 12 games, five to losing teams, and reports that general manager Steve Kerr is entertaining trade proposals for Amare and Shaq, among others.

Every day until the Feb. 19 trading deadline the Suns know that that contest could be their last one with their current set of teammates.

“It’s tough,” Hill said. “It can divide a team or it can bring a team together. At least for the night we were on the same page and we’re fighting. We had energy, we had enthusiasm, we were supporting one another. I know we haven’t met our expectations, everyone’s frustrated, everyone’s a bit emotional. It’s been tough. I’m proud of our guys that we just came out and played hard and got the win.”

Added head coach Terry Porter, “You have to block that stuff out and just play through it. You can’t worry about that, it happens every year. What’s going to happen is going to happen.”

Phoenix won this contest by recording an NBA season high with 72 points in the paint even without a dominant performance from Shaq, who made just four baskets and fouled out in 26 minutes but not before becoming the seventh player to reach the 27,000-point plateau.

The Suns still got into the paint at will to the extent that it was hard to tell when the pregame layup line ended and the game began. They also revved up their running game, outscoring the run-and-gun Warriors 30-5 on fast-break points.

The Suns’ fast-break game started a minute in when Shaq picked up his second foul and Porter opened things up.

That led to a run that wasn’t exactly a 17-2 in 2:38 avalanche, but the Suns’ 15-2 spurt four minutes into the game was still a nice Golden State impression even if it wasn’t done in lightning fashion with five three-pointers.

“They’re the type of team once they get it going it’s hard to stop them,” Jason Richardson said after scoring 25 points. “We knew what happened on Wednesday night, they got it going and it was impossible to catch up to them, so we knew we had to come out and jump on them first before they jumped on us.”

However, whereas the Warriors never let their lead slip back into single digits throughout the final three quarters on Wednesday, Golden State came back to take the lead with a run to start the third before the US Airways Center crowd had even settled into their seats; the Suns eventually regained control for good and led throughout the fourth.

Sparking the early run, Phoenix realized that Kelenna Azubuike can’t guard Stoudemire, feeding STAT on two of the first three possessions. That led to a big first quarter for Amare in which he scored nine points but more importantly grabbed seven boards.

“TP called a few plays for me early, got me going,” said Stoudemire, who became the youngest Sun to score 9,000 points. “Once I get going it’s hard to stop. That got us riled up.”

Amare’s offense slipped a bit, missing 11 of 18 shots on his way to 19 points, but he cleaned up the glass with his second-best board game of the year, grabbing 15. That output marked the first time all season Stoudemire has recorded double-digit boards in a game he did not score at least 20 points.

“We are a lot better, we obviously talked about how we are when he has that type of energy on the boards we are a different team,” Porter said. “When he is doing a good job on the boards like that, that really helps us as far as our ability to get out on the open court.”

Amare presented a counter theory. Apparently, Amare and Shaq talk beforehand about how some nights Shaq is going to be the main rebounder and Amare is going to jump right into transition.

“Me and Shaq talk about it, that’s what we talk about, and all I hear is about is, ‘Amare’s not rebounding,'” Stoudemire said. “That’s part of our strategy is to let Shaq get the rebound so that that way we can get on the run, I can fill the lanes. Whenever the coaching staff wants me to rebound, I go out there and board.”

That doesn’t exactly explain some of Amare’s low offensive rebounding nights, but next time Amare doesn’t crash the defensive glass at least we know it’s just all part of his master plan.

And I guess the coaching staff decided it wanted Amare to board on Friday and thus he did.

In the end the Suns can just be happy they didn’t lose another game to another bad team, and they certainly played harder than they did on Wednesday night even if it was one of the uglier 115-105 Suns-Warriors games you’ll ever see.

“I thought it was a good win (against) a team that beat us by 20 a few days ago and I guess it wasn’t necessarily pretty,” Nash said, “but I thought we were mentally tough and we fought and showed a lot more commitment and desire than we did in Oakland on Wednesday night.”