Phoenix Suns Finally Beat a Good Team Again in a Nail-biter Monday Night
www.nba.com Grant Hill has another monster game.
And the Phoenix Suns' 118-115 win over the Denver Nuggets gives them their longest winning streak of the year, 5-0.
Unfortunately, they've had a longer losing streak, 0-6, that began just after that last victory over a good team, the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
But let's not be a buzz-kill. Monday night's game was entertaining from beginning to end, a battle-royal between two talented squads that had the crowd at US Airways Center roaring.
The Suns started out with a bang, running and gunning to an 11-point early first-quarter lead. But their advantage dwindled to 3 points by half-time and to a 4-point deficit by the end of the third.
We thought this was going to be the usual Suns story against a superior team. That is, Phoenix would run out of steam in the fourth period and lose.
But interim coach Alvin Gentry's brilliant use of what bench he has left (with Leandro Barbosa still on the mend from a hyper-extended knee) saved the day. His starters got spelled, and his reserves came through, largely because he has consistently given them confidence-building game experience.
In 29 minutes, reserve forward Jared Dudley continued to shine with his hustle plays on offense and defense. He had 12 points and 8 rebounds. Lou Amundson had 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots in 20 minutes. Backing up Steve Nash over 13 minutes, Goran Dragic played with more confidence than ever; he had 8 points, 3 assists, and only 1 turnover.
But enough about the excellent play of the scrubs. The star of the game was Grant Hill. The best defender on the team this year, the smart veteran has picked up his offense since Amar'e Stoudemire's departure for the season after detached-retina surgery. Hill had 23 points to lead all Suns scorers, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
Jason Richardson had 22 points and 2 steals. Hampered by foul trouble, Shaquille O'Neal had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and made 7 of 8 free throws. Nash had 15 points and 9 assists
But Nash's biggest impact on the contest was the two offensive fouls he forced his counterpart, Chauncey Billups, to commit -- including one late in the fourth quarter that was a back-breaker for the Nuggets. He got the calls by anticipating that Billups likes to slash to his left and planting himself in Mr. Big Shot's path.
Though he had 20 points and 8 assists, it just wasn't Billups' night in the clutch. He was fouled by Hill with 5.4 seconds left in the game to assure that he didn't shoot one of his patented game-altering threes. He made his free throws to bring Denver to within a point of the Suns.
But Denver was forced to foul Nash on the inbounds play, he hit his free throws (naturally), and Phoenix won by 3.
Carmelo Anthony had a game-leading 29 points for 45-26 Denver, and Nen'e had 10; the Nuggets center was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter after throwing Amundson to the floor. It was his second flagrant foul, and after a heated confrontation with a ref, he stomped off the court to the dressing room. If the season ended now, the Nuggets would be fourth in the West.
With the win, the 39-31 Suns are now within three games of Dallas for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff slot. The Suns have won 5 in a row since the Mavericks beat them here on March 10, and the Mavs have gone 3-3, which means the Suns have gained 3 games on owner Mark Cuban's team in that span.
With the team ball the Suns have been playing lately, it ain't over until it's over.