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The Phoenix Suns were a tired team facing the rested Indian Pacers. The Suns played a tight game the night before in Golden State and did not arrive home until about 4:00 a.m. this morning. It showed in the poor shooting from the Suns vets, Steve Nash and Grant Hill, who combined to hit only 5-of-16 of their shots. Open looks that both normally make, simply wouldn't go down due in large part to tired legs.
The Pacers came into the game on a roll, having proven their ability to win against good teams on the road. They are lead by Danny Granger (22 point) and Roy Hibbert (16 points, 9.2 rebounds). The Suns defense was able to neutralize both Granger and Hibbert, holding them to a combined 16 points.
The Pacers role players hit outside shots in the first half but weren't able to sustain their hot shooting throughout the game. The Suns role players, however, carried the team to the win led by Channing Frye's game-high 29 points along with 21 for Jason Richardson and 12 for Jared Dudley off the bench.
"I thought it was a really good team win...It was probably as good of a win as we've had all year, considering the circumstances. The style of basketball and quality of basketball that (the Pacers) play, you know, they got a win at Miami, they got a win at the Lakers. They've been playing well. It was a great win for us," Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said about his team's much needed home win which pushes the team to one game over .500 on the season.
Gentry has mixed up his starting lineups and rotations over the past two games, both wins, by inserting little-known center Earl Barron into the starting lineup and using Hedo Turkoglu off the bench to play with the reserves. Hakim Warrick, who started one game for the Suns and had been playing big minutes, has seen his time cut to less than ten minutes per game over the stretch.
Gentry said Warrick not playing tonight was more about the matchups. The Pacers play four perimeter players around their one center so it made more sense for the Suns to match that with more minutes for Jared Dudley (30 min.) and Earl Clark (9 min.). Gentry specifically praised Clark for his defense and said he's earned the minutes with his strong and energetic play in practice lately.
Jared Dudley credited the improved play of the second unit to having Hedo Turkoglu as another ball handler on the floor with Dragic which helps open things up and creates opportunities for everyone. Another issue for the bench that was corrected in the second half was the spacing. Gentry said several of Dragic's turnovers (he had five) were a result of guys not being in position to receive a pass when the defense collapsed on him.
"On back-to-backs and throughout this whole season it can't just be on Steve (Nash) and (Jason Richardson) the whole time," Dudley said about the need for the Suns bench to carry some of the load.
Barron had a second strong game as a starter. He limited his man's production and picked up four steals against Hibbert.
"Of course, you have to be physical," Barron said about his match up.
"He's a big guy -- he's 7-2, 7-3 -- and I just try and keep my body on him as much as possible...I just made it tough on him. I was a little winded from banging with him and he was a little winded from banging with me."
Offensively, Barron says he's thinking too much on his open shots (he shot 2-9) but the coach has told him to take the looks when they are there. He's known as a pick and pop guy with a decent mid-range game, but playing with Steve Nash he's finding himself open for roll opportunities and is just following Nash's direction on the floor.
"I'm a pick and pop guy but certain times the way the defense has been playing lately, the roll has been there a lot. Playing with Steve (Nash), he's always going to find you. If there are times I don't roll, he'll tell me, 'hey go space out in the corner and the shot will be there' and other times if I'm spacing for the shots he'll tell me, 'next time roll' and I'll have that drop pass for a dunk or a layup. He makes the game so easy for you."
Barron said that after Hibbert picked up his second foul, they knew that he would be less aggressive defensively but still wanted to attack him because of his propensity to pick up bad fouls. That game plan worked to perfection as the Suns limited Hibbert to only 18 minutes of court time and eight points and one rebound.
The Suns limited the Pacers offensive opportunities by creating 25 Indiana turnovers and were aggressive getting to the line for 33 free throws.
"We're a mediocre team as long as the other team goes to the line twice as much as you do and when you turn the ball over. It doesn't matter how well you shoot it. If you can't solve those problems, you lose," Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien said.
Channing Frye, who has clearly the hero of the night on both end of the floor with his 5-8 three-point shooting along with solid defense that went beyond the three blocks and two steals on the stat sheet. Fyre had a highlight block in the fourth quarter that lead to a transition three for J-Rich.
"Dude, I don't know where that came from. I really don't," Frye said. He's been working with the Suns strength and conditioning coach to increase his "hops".
Frye, a graduate of the University of Arizona who lost a heartbreaking football game to in-state rival Arizona State, was asked if his big game was related to the Wildcats loss, "I don't remember what happened (with the football game). I passed out due to ridiculousness."
The Phoenix Suns are back in the desert and will host the Indiana Pacers tonight at US Airways Center and revenge is on the mind. We aren't sure exactly who's mind it's on, but perhaps it's the Suns fans who will give Danny Granger the "LeBron Returns To Cleveland" treatment thanks to his big "shhh" moment from last season. Bright Side of the Sun has all the details of this hated rivalry.
Indiana, meanwhile, will wrap up a four-game road trip out west tonight and is 2-1 so far on the trek following Wednesday's 110-88 loss in Utah.
Darren Collison finished with 16 points, five assists and five rebounds for the Pacers, who saw a modest two-game winning streak come to an end. Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert each added 15 points, while Danny Granger collected 14 points and seven rebounds in defeat.
The Suns will likely keep Earl Barron in the starting lineup to match up with Hibbert, who is averaging 9.2 rebounds per game. That will let Channing Frye play against the bruising but shorter Josh McRoberts.
Barron grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes in his first start with the Suns last night, but his impact was felt on the overall team effort, thanks in large part to his solid box-outs of the opposing big man, as can be seen below.
1) The shot went up from the corner and Barron was standing in front of the rim after helping off his man to contain Steph Curry's dribble penetration. Instead of just standing flat-footed and watching the ball as the Suns have been prone to do, he immediately looked for a body -- in this case, David Lee, who wasn't his original assignment.
2) Barron got a hand on Lee to prevent him from streaking in while Grant Hill could also be seen face guarding the bigger Andris Biedrins. The box outs by Barron and Hill ensured Steve Nash got the easy rebound. These are the types of plays the Suns had been allowing to turn into offensive rebounds for their opponents.
"We just want to try and continue to make a commitment on the defensive end. Keep working hard," Hill said after shaking off a foot issue. "We've had a good start to the month now, so we just need to focus on keeping that momentum going."
Channing Frye recorded 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Richardson is averaging 31.0 points in the last three games. Phoenix is 4-3 in the Valley of the Sun this season and will also host Washington on the short homestand.
This will be a good test for the Suns. It's a winnable game, but by no means a push-over. Indiana is playing well this season and the Suns, of course, will be tired from having played in California last night, while the Pacers are rested. It's important for the Suns to build momentum off the Warriors win and not take a step back.
Phoenix and Indiana split a home-and-home series a season ago, with each team holding serve as the host. The Suns are 9-3 in the previous 12 meetings with the Pacers, who have dropped 11 of their last 14 games in the desert.
The game tips at 7:00 p.m. local time and can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona. Fans can follow along with the game at Bright Side of the Sun's live game thread.