The Phoenix Suns have played well with their backs against the wall this season and did so again tonight as they ground out a win over the Toronto Raptors. It wasn't the prettiest game of the season and it took contributions from all 12 active players with everyone playing at least eight minutes. The only exceptions to that were Grant Hill (6 minutes) and Mickael Pietrus (2 minutes). Both left the game early and were unable to return. Hill was "exhausted" and had flu symptoms and was sent home after starting the game. Pietrus landed awkwardly and sprained a knee.
The loss of those two players forced coach Alvin Gentry even deeper into his bench as he used combinations for the first time all season. Steve Nash, who only played 21 total minutes after Tuesday's triple overtime loss to the Lakers, played crunch time with Aaron Brooks for the first time all season. Third-string point guard Zabian Dowdell also saw court time with Brooks.
To cover up for the lack of defense with the two point guard formation, the Suns went to the Suns defense which proved effective against the Raptors.
"When they went zone it took us out of any flow that we had," Toronto coach Jay Triano said, "Overall, until they went zone, we were doing alright."
Suns big men Channing Frye an Marcin Gortat both played well in big minutes. Frye, who played 56 minutes in last night's game which is the most by any NBA player in a single game this season, was called upon to play 40 tonight. Gortat chipped in 34 minutes of his own.
Both guys came up huge again with Frye recording 14 points and seven rebounds and two huge three point shots early in the fourth quarter to give the Suns a lead. Gortat finished with 15 points and eight rebounds and had five blocks in the game, including two in the final minutes to help secure the win.
"Channing (Frye) and Marcin (Gortat) are about to kill me -- I think Channing has played 90 minutes in the last two nights or something like that," Gentry said about the effort his big men gave.
"I thought it was our best win of the year, really. That was a total team effort right there."
It was the kind of "chemistry win" the Suns were famous for last season and it's what propelled them to the Western Conference Finals. This season, it comes just a little too late although the Suns still have a slim hope of reaching the playoffs.
"That would be the difference between last year's team and this year's team," Nash said about the bench effort and team chemistry, "But again, we changed the team so many times it's really hard to have the continuity and confidence to know that we have what it takes to win in those situations. That's the difference."
One of those changes was bringing in Aaron Brooks in place of Goran Dragic in late February. It was games like this with Nash too tired to give a full effort, that he was supposed to help win. In his first few tries with Nash sidelined with injury, Brooks didn't deliver. Tonight he did with a season- and game-high 25 points to go with eight assists.
"Those guys played like an hour last game, I played 14 minutes. Coach told us to be ready, I didn't think it would be that soon, but we came in and provided a little spark and got it close enough for our starters to come in and finish it off," Brooks said.
A couple of things were different for Brooks in this game that helped him.
He played significant minutes off the ball with either Nash or Dowdell and for the first time, Gentry let Brooks call the plays when he was running point. Aaron said that helped him speed up the team and get into the offense quicker as he didn't have to check back with the coach to get the play and then signal it to the rest of his team.
Channing Frye was once again involved in an altercation.
This time it was fellow former Arizona Wildcat, Jerryd Bayless who was called for a Flagrant Foul 1 as he grabbed Frye's head while trying to fight through a screen. Both players were for called for technical fouls as the squared up and exchanged words. Frye said he didn't want to talk about the incident.
While the two didn't play together, both players also went to St. Mary's High School in Phoenix and both played in Portland for the Trail Blazers.
The Suns will get a much needed day off tomorrow to rest and get treatment before they face the New Orleans Hornets on Friday and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. The Suns trail the Hornets by three games in the standings but can make up ground with two remaining head-to-head meetings.