The Phoenix Suns still hope to make it to the playoffs despite having a losing record (17-21) on the season and being the 10th seed in the West. There's a lot of basketball left to be played -- a tad more than half the season -- but from both a confidence and numbers stand point getting a win over the current eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers (20-20) was extremely important.
"Once again, it was a much, much needed win for us and I thought we played hard and competed," Coach Alvin Gentry said after the game.
Overall that's a fair assessment, but at the same time there were stretches in the game that were troubling.
Portland scored 36 points in the first quarter which surprisingly is the most the Suns have given up in an opening period this season. And in the first three minutes of the second period, Portland used a 5-0 run to extend their lead to a game-high 13.
After a Gentry time out, the Suns buckled down and played hard the remaining nine minutes of the quarter and as a result cut 10 points off that margin and held the Trail Blazers to just 23 points in the period. During both the deficit and even the Suns comeback, the body language was poor and the team never really looked confident.
"Chemistry is strange thing. We're still trying to develop that chemistry. I think we're getting a little better but I still think we've got a ways to go to be where I'd like it to be but I do think that we're trying," Gentry said about his team's challenges.
The Suns have struggled coming out of the halftime break in their last eight games. They've averaged an 8 point deficit which has made it difficult to fight back in fourth period. Things were going along that track again as Portland went on a 13-8 run and extended their lead back to eight before Gentry once again called a time out and rallied his troops.
From that point on, the Suns played some of their best basketball in weeks as they went on a 51-39 run to finish the game.
The defense was stingy with effective double teams on LaMarcus Aldrige and solid rotations to contest shots behind the doubles. In fact, the Suns would have pulled away easily had Andre Miller, not known as a good outside shooter, not gone 4-5 for 11 points in the fourth quarter hitting mostly contested mid-range shots.
This was the sixth time this season the Suns have overcome a double-digit deficit to win at home this season.
The Suns credited pushing the pace and the bench play for their best offensive performance against a winning team since the December 19 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"The bench played great," Grant Hill said about the Suns bench which outscored the Portland reserves 32-15.
"Jared was unbelievable there in the first half. Goran starting to get his mojo, his rhythm. Hakim came in and contributed. Pietrus came in and so it was just a good effort by those guys. We're going to need them to continue to play well and continue to bond as we go on this east coast trip."
One big bright spot off the bench was the all around play from power forward Hakim Warrick. While he only finished with nine points and three rebounds in 13 minutes, Warrick's effort and energy on the defensive end was noticed by his coach and teammates.
"I thought Hak (Hakim Warrick) did a great job. I thought he had energy, he came in with energy. Came up with a couple of big plays for us, made a couple of good passes and that's the kind of play we would like to have consistently from him off the bench. If he can do that for us night in and night out, I think we'll be in good good shape," Gentry said.
Jared Dudley agreed, "Hakim (Warrick) bringing a different dimension to the team helped bring more passion to the game."
For his part, Warrick said that while it's been difficult to deal with the changing roles and rotations this season, he's just focused on playing hard every time he steps on the floor.
"I'm just trying to bring some more energy, especially on the defensive end. Trying to continue to play hard and whenever I come off the bench just try and be that spark," he said.
The Suns were lead once again by the great play of Steve Nash who finished with 23 points, 13 assists and six rebounds. Nash hit a crucial three-point shot with the game tied and under two minutes on the clock. His shot was effectively the difference in the game.
"We tried to take away their easy dives, we switched up and he comes and hits a big three on us," Blazers guard Wesley Matthews said about his team's late-game defensive strategy.
The Suns leave Phoenix Saturday for a five-game road swing through the Eastern Conference starting with old pals Amare Stoudemire and Mike D'Antoni in New York on Monday. Other than the Knicks, the rest of the teams the Suns face have sub-.500 records. A 4-1 road trip would go a long way towards restoring some respectability to this difficult season.
- "Goran being aggressive, myself shooting the ball pretty well, Hakim (Warrick) bringing a different dimension to the team helped bring more passion to the game. We played smarter and with that got a win."
- Dudley admitted that he intentionally kicks his leg out on the three-point shots to draw the foul. "I'm admitting to kicking my leg, ala Reggie Miller."
- "It is an offensive foul but they call it a defensive foul. Even refs mess up once in awhile. It's craft."
- Rhythm and and pace better. Moving the ball well. Frye posting up when they switch the screens.
- "Sometimes I get depressed and think I could have had more. But I'll take the 16 (thousand), don't get greedy," Hill said about passing the 16,000-point mark on his career.