As it seems to go these days, it wasn't pretty, but the Suns found a way to win Saturday night in Washington D.C., 109-91, and extended their season-long win-streak to five games.
Though, it looked like the story would have a much different ending after the first quarter. The Suns looked sluggish out of the gate, and the Wizards sprinting out to a quick eight point lead in the first few minutes. Nick Young hit back-to-back wide open threes, courtesy of Vince Carter's bizarre unwillingness to play defense, and Washington seemed to be rolling.
Sensing the Suns' early struggles, Grant Hill put the team on his back, scoring two quick buckets that fueled the Suns to a 10-0 run, putting them right back in the game.
The momentum was short lived however, and after a quick timeout Flip Saunder's squad pushed right back, piling in eleven straight points to take a 25-14 lead. Rookie phenom John Wall led the charge, assisting on five of the Wizards' baskets and nailing a 15-foot jumpshot. By the end of the first quarter Wall had filled up the stat sheet, accumulating nine assists in his eight minutes.
"He's going to be a great great player in this league for a lot of years." Alvin Gentry gushed after the game. "He wants to be a great player, and he's a great player and a student of the game."
Trotting out for the second quarter, the Suns' second unit had their work cut out for them. One of the changes in the Suns' recent win streak has been Alvin Gentry's continuity in a shortened bench, and his faith was grandly rewarded tonight. A lineup of Dudley, Carter, Dragic, Gortat, and Warrick revived the listless club, brought furious energy to the floor, played solid defense, and stormed out to a 14-4 run in the first six minutes of the quarter. As bad as the first quarter was, the Suns somehow went into halftime barely trailing Washington, 53-52, on the heels of the efforts of the second unit.
"The first half we were struggling, and they came into the game and did a really good job," Gentry said. "We had to shorten our rotation because we just couldn't get any consistency. I thought, as a coach, I got to try to develop some consistency, and the only way you can do that is when guys have a pretty good feel of when they're going to go into the game and when they're going to play."
Grant Hill echoed that sentiment, saying "The second quarter, the second unit did a great job getting us back into the game.
"Pretty much at halftime, we were talking amongst ourselves as players. Saying ‘Ok, we're down one, back in the game, and we played terrible. Let's come out and take care of business."
The starters must have found their energy in the locker room pep talk because the Suns came out of the break on a mission. Three minutes into the third quarter Grant Hill scored on a driving layup to put Phoenix up 55-54, their first lead since the first quarter.
Then Channing Frye came alive. The power forward hit three straight threes, scoring nine points in a single minute, to fuel the Suns to a 23-7 run that stretched the lead to 13 points. By the time the quarter came to a close, Frye had thrown in 12 points, two rebounds, and an assist.
"I was just in a nice rhythm. We had a day off, and I just shot it." Frye said. "Some games it goes like that. It's just being patient, and I think the defense really got our offense going; running off misses. And Steve, of course, is going to hit you when you're in a good spot, and Gortat does a great job of screening."
Though, as the old saying goes, it ain't over ‘til it's over, especially in Suns-land. Shades of the recent Cleveland Cavaliers game -- in which the Phoenix bench allowed a big lead to quickly disintegrate in the fourth quarter -- were rolling through Alvin Gentry's head as the Wizards quickly narrowed the lead to eight to start the final period.
Sensing trouble, Gentry hastily called a timeout and settled his second unit down. The coach's wisdom proved correct, and the bench, led by Goran Dragic's four points and three assists responded, pushing the lead back up to twelve, allowing Steve Nash ample time to rest before coming back in the game with 5:05 left and closing the deal.
It was a good sign to see, as the Suns finally clamped down on the throat of a beaten opponent like good teams are supposed to.
Channing Frye finished with an impressive 25 points -- nailing seven threes to match his career high -- and eight rebounds, Marcin Gortat notched his second consecutive double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Steve Nash continued his torrid pace, sipping from the fountain of youth again for 17 points and 14 assists.
Nick Young led the young Wizards team with 25 points, but was held to only five points in the second half. Despite the loss, John Wall had an impressive showing, ending up with 11 points and 14 assists.
The Suns continue their road trip tomorrow as they head to Detroit to face the struggling Pistons.