PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns acquired Hedo Turkoglu, they expected him to become a second facilitator to Steve Nash as well as a super stretch four spot-up shooter.
With a pair of five trey games and an overall three-point shooting percentage of 47.7 percent coming into Monday’s matchup with the Denver Nuggets, Turkoglu had done his job as a floor spacer.
But he had done little else before the fourth quarter Monday when Alvin Gentry gave him the keys to the offense and allowed him to become Orlando Hedo.
It worked, as Turkoglu scored eight points in the quarter and facilitated the offense while Nash sat to finish off the Suns’ comeback from 15 points down in their 100-94 victory.
“I had the ball in my hands and I was able to do the things that I was really good at so many years in the past,” Turkoglu said. “Here I’m playing in a different role so you can’t expect the things I did in the past. It seems throughout the games sometimes coach Alvin has confidence. He gave me the ball in the fourth quarter and I was able to do the things that I’m good at.”
The Suns used Turkoglu as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations, a rarity thus far this year, to alleviate some of the playmaking duties from Goran Dragic, who Gentry said struggled a bit with Denver’s pressure. With the Phoenix defense holding strong, Turkoglu sparked the offense to a 14-1 run over 4:20 of the fourth with the reserve lineup in.
During that stretch Turkoglu played some two-man game with Hakim Warrick, who scored nine points in the period to combine with Hedo for one less point than the Nuggets as a team in the fourth, and then when Nash returned Turkoglu spotted up for a dagger of a three-pointer with 2:50 left that put the Suns up nine. The Nuggets never got closer than six.
With Turkoglu also hitting a dagger Sunday night in Los Angeles to extend a three-point lead to six and essentially put that game out of reach, he has now lived up to his clutch reputation in helping the Suns salt away back-to-back wins.
“I always have confidence in myself, and I think I showed to my coaches and my teammates, too,” Turkoglu said. “Whenever I’m in that situation they pass me the ball.”
Added Gentry: “Hedo probably made the biggest shot of the night again tonight.”
Turkoglu’s three-pointer gave the Suns 26 the past two nights, and that only underscores the difference between this victory and the win over the Lakers. Whereas the Suns fell one three-pointer short of the NBA record in Los Angeles by drilling 22 longs balls at a 55.0 percent clip, the Suns hit just 4-of-20 (20 percent) in this one and won the game with defense, in the second half in particular.
The Nuggets scored as many points in the second half (36) as they did in the second quarter, and they made five fewer field goals in the second half (11) than they did in the second quarter. Denver shot 29.7 percent in the deciding half and just 18.2 percent on threes.
“Our defense was really excellent the second half,” Gentry said. “I thought we did a really good job. As far as team defense, I thought that this was probably the best win we’ve had in a long, long time from a total team defensive situation. I thought our perimeters did a great job of helping on the weak side, our bigs did a good job of stepping out on screen and rolls, and I thought we did a good job on the boards.”
It might say something about the state of the Suns that “a good job on the boards” still involves getting outrebounded by nine (52-43). But Gentry is right as the Nuggets grabbed only 11 offensive rebounds, many of which came on the seven Carmelo Anthony got on his own repeated putback attempts.
Carmelo enjoyed a monster game at first glance with a 20-22 line, but he needed 19 shots to get those 20 points and only got to the line eight times, a stat line the Suns are happy with, according to Josh Childress.
“Him doing that obviously takes shots away from other guys,” Childress said. “Our goal is just to make it difficult, make him shoot as many shots as he needs to shoot to get to where he needs to get.”
Gentry likely would have been OK with just one win during this brutal four-game road stretch that continues with a back-to-back in Miami and Orlando later this week. Instead the Suns have found a way to win the first two in polar opposite fashion, scorching the nets one night and then relying on defense the next.
Along the way they might have unlocked the blueprint for unleashing Hedo Turkoglu at his maximum level of effectiveness. A spot-up shooter all season thus far, he showed glimpses of being the same kind of playmaker he was in Orlando as the lead facilitator of the bench unit at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
With Hedo’s help, the Suns have now won five of six games and proven they can beat a good team despite being less than their best offensively.
“We can handle a great win last night and not have an emotional letdown today,” Hill said. “It wasn’t as pretty, it wasn’t as effective, but we kind of grinded it out, got stops, did what we had to do.”
Before the game Gentry was asked if Turkoglu’s big shot Sunday changed the way the team felt about him. “Not at all,” Gentry said, “because we’ve already viewed him that way, which is why he had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. He’s done that before.” And now he’s doing it again. … The Suns extended their home winning streak over the Nuggets to 12 games, Phoenix’s second-longest active home win streak. Denver has not won in US Airways Center since the return of Steve Nash in 2004. … The Suns won despite shooting 42.7 percent from the field a night after drilling 51.2 percent of their attempts. … The Suns have now hit 100 three-pointers through 10 games, matching the second-fewest games needed to reach that mark in league history. They trail only the nine games needed by last year’s Suns. … Warrick scored 20 point for the first time as a Sun, but he has gone for at least 18 points four times in 10 games overall. … Channing Frye put in a solid night’s work with 15 points, seven boards and some more good defense in his first game as a starter in place of the injured Robin Lopez. … Steve Nash went for 15 on 6-for-17 shooting. He has scored at least 15 points his last seven games.