Phoenix Suns 121, Charlotte Bobcats 104 — Three-point barrage


PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns must have been so surprised to be leading by 29 points at the end of three quarters that they didn’t know what to do with such an advantage.

The Charlotte Bobcats answered back with a 10-0 run to start the period against the Suns’ reserves to prompt not one but two timeouts from head coach Alvin Gentry in the first two minutes before the Suns cruised to an easy 121-104 victory once their starters re-entered the game, their fourth in a row after a seven-game losing streak.

Gentry didn’t like seeing it, but perhaps it’s understandable that those Suns reserves relaxed a bit with that kind of a lead since this season has largely been about Phoenix digging out of huge deficits, not preserving leads.

All was forgiven after Phoenix played a nearly flawless middle two quarters in which the Suns decimated a tired Bobcats squad by the score of 69-41. It was a total team effort as the bench unit dominated in the second quarter before Shannon Brown and the starters got the job done in the third.

“They did a great job in the second quarter. They did a tremendous job,” Gentry said of the bench, before explaining that he took them out before too much of the lead slipped away because “they didn’t play the right way.”

Sebastian Telfair caught fire in that second quarter by scoring 11 points and knocking down 3-of-4 three-pointers. P.J. Tucker added 10 in the period on 5-for-6 shooting as the Suns hit 60.9 percent of their shots and held the Bobcats to 20.0 percent shooting.

Then Brown took the baton again and finished Charlotte off. You might think the Bobcats would have learned not to leave Brown open after he torched them for 18 points in the fourth quarter during their first meeting, but apparently they didn’t as he hit 4-of-5 three balls and 7-of-10 shots overall during an 18-point third quarter evisceration.

In total Brown scored a season-high 26 points, surpassing a high set last time these two teams met, and he’s now scored 20 in consecutive ballgames. The Suns did a fantastic job of rotating the basketball, and when Brown got a good look he didn’t miss.

“It feels good,” Brown said. “I just want to continue to keep that rhythm, take good shots, not take bad shots and throw the rhythm off and then try and search for it again. If we run our offense, it ain’t like I am doing one-on-one moves and stuff like that, maybe a couple, but for the most part we are moving the ball and finding each other and that opens it up for everybody else also.”

Added Dragic, “It’s much easier for me, I just pass him the ball, he gets me assists. But he was great. He was in the zone, and he was hitting every shot, and that’s why we had a big lead.”

Indeed after an 11-point first quarter that kept Charlotte honest, Dragic dished six dimes in Brown’s big third quarter and finished with 21 points and 11 assists for the game.

Brown had company in his hot shooting as the Suns drained a season-high 17 three-pointers on 28 attempts, for a scorching 60.7 percent shooting percentage from distance. Brown knocked down five, Dragic and Jared Dudley four apiece and Telfair his three. Even Michael Beasley canned his one attempt, prompting Gentry to agree that this was the team’s best three-point shooting performance of the year.

“Yeah, by far, by far,” he said. “I thought we shot it well because we had good ball movement. We were taking it from the strong side to the weak side and we had their bigs in rotation so we were able to get some threes with out feet set. I thought Shannon gave us a big lift early on.”

The Suns set season highs for points with their 121 as well as first-half scoring, and they have now reached the century mark in three straight for the first time since Nov. 7-9. Phoenix is 7-3 when scoring that many points.

The Suns have also now won three in a row by double digits for the first time since Feb. 7-11, 2011, and they have followed a seven-game losing streak with a four-game winning streak for the first time since 1987-88 (the Pistons also pulled the trick last season).

Now, as nice (and strange) as it must have felt for the Suns to blow a team out, keep in mind this was the Bobcats. Charlotte has now lost 13 consecutive games and came in tuckered out after losing a heartbreaker to the Lakers last night in a game that ended around 11 p.m. Arizona time.

The Bobcats kept fighting to the end, as Gentry said all Mike Dunlap teams do, but they just didn’t have juice to stay with the Suns after a close first quarter.

The biggest positives include the fact that the Suns’ defense once again was stellar as it has been throughout the winning streak, save for whatever happened in the fourth quarter. Offensively, ball movement was the key as the Suns were able to repeatedly find open three-point shooters.

“I think we’ve done a fairly good job of executing and playing unselfish basketball,” Gentry said. “I think defensively for the most part we’ve done pretty good.”

Added Brown, “We caught them helping a lot, and we just picked them apart.”

We will soon find out whether this winning streak is the start of the kind of run the Suns made last season after dropping to 12-19 or just a week-long stretch of solid basketball as after traveling to Portland, Phoenix will encounter elite teams at home in the Clippers and Knicks.

But for now the Suns should savor this victory, as they don’t figure to build many 30-point leads in the future as they did tonight.

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I joined the Fantasy Hoops Insider podcast to talk Suns, particularly in relation to their fantasy values. Also, check out Ian Levy’s annual NBA wishes post on Hickory-High, which includes an entry from me on the Suns.