What a difference 10 days can make.
The last time the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks squared off for Amare Stoudemire’s homecoming, Mike D’Antoni’s squad dominated the Suns in every facet of the game.
Raymond Felton notched his first career triple-double, the Knicks drilled 17 three-pointers and the Suns showed zero life offensively, failing to score 100 points for the fourth straight game in a 25-point defeat.
But after 10 days that included a handful of highs (back-to-back wins over the Nets and Trail Blazers) and lows (sneaking past the lowly Cavaliers and losing to the Nuggets by 34), Phoenix played its most complete game since the trade on its way to a 129-121 win in Madison Square Garden on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Suns looked like a totally different team than the one that the Knicks embarrassed 10 days ago, as they scored 32 or more points in three quarters, resulting in their highest scoring output in a victory all season.
Although Stoudemire exploded for 41, the Suns jelled offensively and showed flashes of what they can look like when everything is clicking on all cylinders.
Vince Carter was a huge reason why, as he played with energy and efficiency from the opening tip to the final buzzer, scoring a Suns-high 29 points while grabbing 12 boards and dishing out four assists. The double-double was Carter’s first since Feb. 2, 2010.
He drilled 5-of-8 triples, but also produced in the paint and moving to the basket, even mixing in a Vinsanity-esque dunk as he drove baseline and slammed it home.
“My shot was falling. I just wanted to be aggressive,” Carter told Suns.com. “They beat us pretty good last time. That was one of my first games there and I feel like I can give this team more. My aggressiveness has gone up because of it.”
Although he was aggressive, he played within himself and didn’t force bad shots as he shot 11-of-20 from the field, only committed one turnover and became the 37th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points. Carter is now the eighth active player with more than 20,000 career points.
Carter also proved he can be that go-to-guy late in the game, as he rattled off five straight points to turn a 109-106 lead into 114-108 advantage with 3:41 remaining. But it certainly wasn’t a one-man-show for the Suns.
Grant Hill went for 25 points (11-12 from the line) and a plus-24, Steve Nash turned in a classic Nash performance with 15 and 11 and a plus-24, Channing Frye scored 11 in the first quarter and 18 in the game, and even Robin Lopez showed signs of life with 12 points, two blocks and a monster jam over Wilson Chandler.
The bench mob of Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and Hakim Warrick (nine fourth-quarter points) also came through with 30 points and 18 rebounds as things finally came full cirtcle for the new-look Suns.
They scored a season-high 39 first-quarter points, including a 15-2 run and a 39-30 lead after one. The Knicks fought back to start the second quarter, rattling off a 10-2 run to tie things up at 41. New York built a five-point lead with 2:31 left in the half and led 64-61 at the break.
But Carter and Hill came alive in the third quarter, combining for 17 of the Suns’ 36 points on the way to a 97-91 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
In typical Knicks fashion, New York went on a 10-4 run to take a 101-100 lead with 8:56 left in the game. The Knicks would never lead again, however. The Suns put the clamps on STAT, while Warrick scored six points in a row and Nash, Carter and Hill helped seal the deal, combining for 18 points over the final 4:45 to give Phoenix its third consecutive victory.
STAT had a great night and the Knicks still hit 11 threes and scored 121 points, but Amare was held scoreless for the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter and the Suns regained their identity. For the first time seemingly all season, roles were clearly defined and each and every Sun that played did what he was supposed to.
After losing the rebounding battle 59-34 the last time these two teams met, the Suns out-boarded the Knicks 48-38 as five Phoenix players coralled six or more rebounds. They also held the Knicks to 11-of-31 shooting from three-point land after yielding 50.0 percent marksmanship in their last meeting.
Phoenix made a complete transformation over the course of the last 10 days and has now strung together three impressive wins in a row to move into a tie for 9th place in the Western Conference — 2.0 games back of Portland for eighth place. The Suns are back offensively, scoring 120.3 points per game over their last three games.
Most importantly, the Suns defeated by far the toughest team they’ll face during their five-game road trip. Phoenix has Cleveland, Washington, Detroit and Philadelphia up next, and Charlotte at home after that. Those are five extremely winnable games that could get the Suns back into the thick of things in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Needless to say, aside from defeating Stoudemire in New York, this is a huge, big-picture type of win for the Suns that could truly help them build chemistry moving forward while eventually vaulting them into playoff relevancy.
Today’s game was the first time since joining the Suns that Carter has shot over 50 percent from the field. In his last three games (all Suns wins) he’s now averaging 23.0 points per game, while shooting exactly 50 percent from the field and 11-of-21 from distance. … There’s no hiding that Warrick needs to play well for the Suns to win, and he did just enough down the stretch to help the Suns past the Knicks. He scored all of his nine points in the fourth quarter and forced Stoudemire to miss three of his first four shots in the fourth quarter. … Although Gortat and Lopez were both serviceable, Gentry went mostly with Warrick and Frye down the stretch. That combination worked both defensively and offensively.