PHOENIX — As he departed for the arena Friday afternoon, Channing Frye told his wife that the Suns had to win tonight’s tilt against the Indiana Pacers.
Then with his mother and college head coach in the stands, Frye went out and drilled five long balls (and had his toe on the line for perhaps three more) on his way to a Suns career high 29 points as the Suns dropped the Pacers, 105-97.
Frye was the guy we saw so often last season in US Airways Center, confidently releasing treys that more often than not find the bottom of the net as they did tonight when he hit 11-of-16 shots and 5-of-8 from three.
Ever reluctant to receive praise even from a standout performance like this, Frye credited his teammates and the way the Suns play for his big night.
“It’s kind of tough,” Frye said of defending Phoenix. “You’ve just kind of pick your poison. I think we have the right spacing, it allows everybody to just do what they do. Guys just come in and give us great minutes and I just kind of do what my job is, and that’s space the floor, make some shots, do some stuff and block some things.”
In the “block some things” department Frye tallied three swats, but none came close to his denial of Mike Dunleavy when Channing channeled his inner Dwight Howard and rose up for what’s got to be one of the most ferocious rejections of his NBA career.
The stuff led to an open Jason Richardson three-pointer on the other end that gave the Suns their biggest lead of the game up to that point of six points, and the Pacers never got within one possession from there.
“Dude, I don’t know where that came from, I really don’t,” Frye said. “I was like, ‘OK, let me make this look good.’ I thought it was just going to go, and I blocked it.”
As for his offensive game, Frye enjoyed his biggest scoring output since Dec. 20, 2006, back when he was a New York Knick, which must have seemed like a lifetime ago for Frye. This also marked the 11th straight game Frye has reached double figures, the longest such streak of his career.
“When we can space the floor and Channing shoots the ball like that it brings their big guys out from the basket and even when they try to put a smaller guy on him Channing did a great job, he shot the ball well and he did a good job defensively,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “When he plays like that it creates avenues driving and the spacing just becomes much better.”
Perhaps it helped that Earl Barron started the game next to Frye, and while Barron’s box score (2-for-9 field goals, 2-for-6 free throws) doesn’t look pretty, his activity made a huge difference for the Suns.
Tangibly he got Roy Hibbert into foul trouble (three in the first 5:27) and rendered a 7-foot-2 guy averaging 16 and 9 a non-factor with eight points and just one board. Barron said he purposely tried to get Hibbert into further foul trouble after he drew the first couple.
Barron also added four steals fronting the post and made a difference by being an active seven-footer.
“Pretty much energy,” he said of his contribution. “I’m just trying to be an active presence on the defensive end, a good help defender, put a lot of pressure on the post guys, keep guys off the glass and crash the glass.”
After a porous first half that included the Pacers drilling 8-of-12 from long range and 53.7 percent of their shots overall on their way to a seven-point halftime lead, the Suns stiffened up in the second half, holding the Pacers to 3-of-14 shooting from distance (21.4 percent) and 39.5 percent shooting overall in the half.
In all the Suns held Indiana below the century mark — they are undefeated (4-0) on the rare occasions that happens — after forcing 24 Pacers turnovers thanks to 14 steals.
The Suns bottled up Danny Granger, a stud who usually goes off against Phoenix, by holding him to just eight points on 2-for-13 shooting, which Gentry said is “the best that you can ever hope for with him.”
Grant Hill and Jared Dudley shared the responsibilities on Granger as part of Gentry’s latest stab at figuring out a rotation he’s comfortable with.
Frye’s 40 minutes (which included all but 38 seconds of the second half) were by far the most on the team, as only J-Rich’s 32:21 even cracked the 30-minute barrier otherwise. Surprisingly Dudley was next with 29:54, seven more than his previous season high and more than double the 14 minutes he played last night in Oakland.
Dudley finished both halves and scored 12 points on an efficient 5-for-7 shooting performance while dishing a pair of crucial assists in crunch time to help the Suns maintain their lead.
Barron got his 19 minutes and the rest of the starters received their normal time. Hedo Turkoglu and Goran Dragic played just 18, and the bottom dropped out from there with Josh Childress (8:27) and Hakim Warrick (7:11) going scoreless in minimal time.
Meanwhile, the Suns went 11 deep with Earl Clark logging 8:37. He made some dumb plays by taking a few quick jumpers and fouling Granger in the backcourt But later he drew the defense and whipped a sweet pass to Frye for the hoop and the harm and later threw down a dunk off a Turkoglu pass.
“I know I sound like a broken record a little bit, but we’re still just trying to figure out how we can have some consistency with that team so we keep trying to stick guys in there,” Gentry said. “Earl Clark has played great in practice. He deserved a chance to play, that’s why we stuck him in there tonight, not so much anything negative against the other guys I just thought that he had had so much energy in practice and done a good job that I thought he deserved a chance to get in and see what he can do.”
If anything, this game only muddled Gentry’s potential rotation plans as Dudley played the way he did last year when he was finishing games and playing 30 minutes, and the Earls flashed the ability to make both positive and negative contributions. On other nights, the skills of Warrick and Childress will come in handy as well.
Ultimately Channing Frye’s hot night and a stiffer second-half defense made this combination a winning one against an opponent that has previously won in Los Angeles and Miami.
“It was a great win considering that we got in at about 3:30 in the morning and very little sleep,” Gentry said. “I thought everyone stepped up and played great.”
The Suns came back from double digits for the third time this season, all three of which have come at home. … After pouring in 21, J-Rich has gone for at least 20 points in six straight games, his best such streak as a Sun. … Goran Dragic of all people led the Suns in rebounding with six. Thanks to Steve Nash’s five rebounds, the Suns’ point guards led all Phoenix positions in rebounding, and two guard Jason Richardson chipped in with another five. … The Suns have won five of six at home but they snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eastern Conference with the victory. … Phoenix is now 2-3 on the second game of a back-to-back and 2-1 at home. … Gentry was shocked that Josh McRoberts found the range to drill four three-pointers and score a season-high 16 points. … Frye on the ASU-UA football game: “I don’t remember what happened. I passed out due to ridiculousness.”