The Suns got a much-needed road win to break a two-game losing streak and get back to .500, beating the Pacers 113-111 last night. All five starters scored in double figures, and Michael Redd, Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick made strong contributions off the bench.
Well, whaddayaknow. The Suns' own Aaron Brooks is leading the 4-time defending Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Champion Guangdong Southern Tigers into this year's Finals against upstart Beijing Ducks and their own former NBA star Stephon Marbury.
They each lead their teams from the point guard position. Brooks plays a key role on the biggest collection of talent in China (Guangdong is China's version of the old NBA Celtics, winning 7 of the last 8 championships). Brooks led his all-star and MVP laden team with 21.7 points to go with 4.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2 steals per game (including playoffs). In the playoffs he's been even better to the point of averaging more than 30 points in the first two finals games, as you can see compared to the regular-season stats mentioned in the inset below.
This article is an excellent summation of both players' transition to Chinese basketball. Here's what they said about Brooks:
While Brooks struggled to fit his score-first game into a team loaded with CBA All-Stars, including this season's MVP Zhu Fangyu, the talent eventually won out. Even though they lost Yi to the NBA (unlike import players, domestic players were given an opt-out clause to join the NBA, otherwise known as the "Yi Jianlin Clause"), Guangdong righted the ship. Brooks began to fit in, leading the team in a revenge victory over Beijing in January en-route to an All-Star season and a 21.1 ppg, 4.6 apg, and 3.1 rpg line in under 30 minutes per.
The 35-year old Marbury, a former Sun himself, has made quite a remarkable transition as well, now in his third CBA season and soaking up the love and attention he's garnered through great basketball and giving back in the community. They love them some Starbury in China, and he's given them every reason to do so.
You have to give Brooks a ton of credit for fitting into the best team in China. Not only is the language and culture a tough barrier on a personal level (remember Earl Clark "quit" within a couple of weeks last fall), you can see from the article that fitting into the basketball culture is difficult as well.
Check out this site (the Guangdong page on asia-basket.com), and you'll see that despite Brooks leading the team in several categories, he's not even listed in the "top 5 players" picture insets. Yet every wrap-up article on Guangdong games mentions Brooks as their catalyst during a 27-5 season.
(to put this into context, though, former NBA hanger-on Lester Hudson had nearly identical stats for Guangdong while leading the Tigers to the championship last season, and Smush Parker had comparable stats for Guangdong the year before that.)
Brooks perseveres, chasing his first title. Some might say he's even enjoying himself while being "trapped" in China.
Unlike the other NBA free agents, Brooks wasn't swayed by NBA free agency, continuing to play at a high level in leading the Southern Tigers to a 27-5 record and the top of the league standings. He's been even better in the playoffs, helping Guangdong roar through with two straight sweeps before dropping Wednesday's Finals opener to Beijing. In his CBA Finals debut, Brooks shouldered the scoring load by leading the team with 31 points on 7-12 shooting with 5 boards, 3 assists but offset by 8 turnovers. He's adjusted to the CBA well and TNT recently did a nice video about his experiences. With the CBA season set to conclude in two weeks, Brooks will be available to re-sign with the Suns, possibly with a CBA title in hand.
When the CBA season is over - as early as tomorrow, maybe - Brooks will be free to return to the NBA. He will be the ONLY current NBA player who stayed the entire CBA season as promised when they all signed contracts. And he might just have a CBA title in his back pocket.
We have discussed the Suns' options with regard to Brooks - very much the same as Denver had with Wilson Chandler. They can do one of the following:
It's in both the team and the player's best interest to let Brooks wait until the summer. That's a nice card in the Suns' back pocket, isn't it?
The Suns and Pacers played a good old-fashioned shootout tonight, with the Suns prevailing 113-111. Steve Nash added another masterpiece to his ever-growing collection with 17 assists and 12 points, Grant Hill showed he loves playing in Indianapolis with a season-high 22 points, and Marcin Gortat came up strong in his duel with All-Star center Roy Hibbert, scoring 23.
Channing Frye had something of a reprise of his game-winner at Indy last year, hitting his lone 3-pointer of the night with 29 seconds left to pound another nail in the Pacers' coffins, giving the Suns a 109-103 lead, but then missed two free throws with the Suns clinging to a 111-108 lead, and it came down to a last second desperation miss from the Pacers for the Suns to pull it out.
Indiana was led by Danny Granger's 28 points, including a perfect 4-4 from behind the arc, while Hibbert went for 19 points and 7 rebounds. Pacers head coach Frank Vogel was ejected with 1:56 remaining for berating officials over questionable calls and drawing his second technical foul.
The Suns were able to overcome 52% FG shooting and a 61-point first half by the Pacers to climb back to.500 at 24-24 on the season, snapping a two-game losing streak and winning again versus a team in playoff position. They now sit at two games behind the eighth seed Rockets.
A .500 team is the very definition of average, but the Suns are giving fans some thrills this season. With about a month to go, they're right in the mix and playing their best ball of the season. Tough teams await, but the Suns are capable of beating tough teams when they score like they did tonight. Going into this game, the Pacers were 9th in the league in defensive efficiency, surrendering only 92.6 PPG. Tonight, the Suns blew those numbers out of the water.
"If you will it, it is no dream."