The Suns are relevant again!

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Last night, the Phoenix Suns took care of business at home by beating the Detroit Pistons who had previously won five of their last seven games. The Suns led early but fell behind in the second quarter, and although the Suns kept it close, the Pistons held onto the lead all the way until the fourth quarter. But the determined Suns just kept pouring it on, hitting clutch shots and getting crucial stops at the end of the game to pull ahead and eventually win the game 109-101.

But this wasn't just any game. No, this game was a milestone of sorts that would prove to the fans, the NBA, and also the team itself that the Phoenix Suns were back. After a disappointing start to the season and plenty of struggles along the way, the Suns have seemed like a different team altogether since the All-Star break, winning eight of their ten games against some tough competition. This was the Suns' third game in just as many nights, and after winning their first two, the Suns were in position to go undefeated over the taxing three-game stretch.

By winning the third game in a row of a brutal back-to-back-to-back stretch, the Suns not only joined the prestigious ranks of the Miami Heat, OKC Thunder, and Chicago Bulls as the only teams to win all three of their consecutive games, they also brought their playoff hopes back to life by earning a record of 22-22 and reaching the .500 mark; an NBA barometer of sorts that separates the wheat from the chaff, or the contenders from the pretenders if you will.

The Suns are now in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, and only two games behind Denver for the 8th and final playoff seed. Even better, the Western Conference is so bunched together that the Suns are also only three games behind the L.A. Clippers for the fourth seed. What once seemed like an impossible long-shot now seems well within reach...The Suns are officially back in the playoff hunt.

The win last night was a total team effort with multiple contributions that helped make a difference. It seems like just yesterday that the only consistency the Suns could count on was from Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat. However, last night nearly every player that stepped on the court found a way to help the team win, and I believe that has been the biggest difference in the recent success of the Suns.

Here are some of the other reasons I believe the Suns were successful against not only the Pistons last night but since the All-Star break as a whole:

Keys To Victory:

  • Jared Dudley is Ballin'! - Dudley started off the season playing inconsistently and missing a lot of open shots. I'm not sure if it was the lockout or what, but he didn't seem like the same energetic, blue-collar player the fans had come to know and love...So much that Alvin Gentry even toyed with the starting lineup, sending Dudley back to the bench briefly in search of a better option. But as the season has progressed, Dudley has returned to form and is playing with tons of energy, hustle, and intensity. Dudley has led the team in scoring in two of the last four games and is shooting lights out from beyond the arc. In last night's game Dudley scored 23 points and also grabbed 7 rebounds. This was a great effort on Dudley's part and he's been one of the biggest reasons for this team's recent success.
  • Channing Frye is Playing Like a Big! - Frye has long had the reputation of being a one-trick pony of sorts in the NBA, an enigmatic 7-foot power forward who only stands behind the arc and shoots three's. Well that;s an awesome weapon for a team to have when the shots are falling, but as Channing quickly learned at the start of the season, when his shot wasn't "juicy", he was more of a liability than an asset. Well Frye has since abandoned his former way of playing and has begun to roam around the paint more often, even looking for opportunities to score inside. But not only that, he is hot on the heels of Marcin Gortat for the title of leading rebounder since the All-Star break. Gortat has 89 rebounds over the last 10 games for an 8.9 average, and Frye has 79 rebounds over the last 10 games for a 7.9 average. Like last night, Frye had an overall poor night of shooting, but his 13 rebounds was a huge help to the team and kept him on the floor long enough for his shot to return in time for a big three near the end of the fourth quarter to help the Suns secure the win.
  • Robin Lopez Has Played Well Off the Bench! - While center Marcin Gortat remains the starter for the Suns and still the most offensively skilled and best rebounding big man on the team, Robin Lopez has been playing very well recently, so well in fact that Alvin Gentry has been leaving him in the game when the starters return to close it out in the fourth quarter over the last three games. Robin's play has been another noticeable improvement since the All-Star break, and though I'm not sure what the reason is, his effectiveness and presence in the paint has been night and day from earlier in the season. When Gortat goes to the bench Lopez has stepped up and provided quality minutes lately, and having a very capable big man patrolling the paint at all times is a huge advantage for the Suns.
  • Shannon Brown has made a difference! - At first many Suns fans cringed when they saw Shannon Brown enter the games as he often jacked up bad shots and played out of control, and while he still does both of those things at times, his play as of late has been much more efficient and productive, and the excitement he brings with his big shots and huge dunks spark the electric atmosphere surrounding the fans and his teammates alike. Brown has come on strong as one of the most consistent reserves for the Suns this season, and his energy has been contagious.
  • Defense! - Elston Turner has done wonders with implementing defense and rebounding into this team and incorporating it into the fast paced offense that the Suns like to employ. There have been plenty of growing pains along the way, but there definitely seems to be a good balance of both offense and defense now, and a new commitment to rebounding that all of the players seem to have bought into. With Gentry directing the offense back to their ways of scoring over 100 per game, and Turner keeping the Suns committed at the other end of the floor, the Suns seem like a much more complete team now, and I believe this is a big factor for their recent success.
  • Alvin Gentry is Adjusting! - While most Suns' fans realize that Gentry is the type of coach who likes to go deep into his bench, some may not realize his method of substituting starters and reserves as an entire unit, rather than relieving individual players one at a time and mixing the units together, has caused our second unit to suffer at times and lose the leads that the starters had built. Gentry has recently begun mixing the lineups up a bit more often to lessen the blow of pulling all the starters off the floor at the same time. For instance, he tried substituting the bench in for the starters as a unit in the second quarter last night and the Suns quickly fell behind. Near the end of the third quarter, he slowly substituted a few players at a time instead, and it worked much better. Gentry has also been playing with the lineups and looking for the right mix of players, and while this remains in flux, he seems to have found a winning formula recently and it's really starting to pay off.

Summary:

As long as the Suns continue to play hard as a team and the individual players continue to work hard at improving their games, I see no reason why this team can't continue it's winning ways. I never would have thought the Suns would be in this position after such a rough start to the season, but they have fought very hard to prove that they can be a winning team who can compete with anyone when they are playing well together. Their 8-2 record since the All-Star break is among one of the best in the league, and the rest of the NBA is beginning to take notice. The Suns may not have the flashiest players, or an owner with the deepest pockets, but they do have a real team atmosphere they've built together headed by two ageless vets who also happen to be two of the finest, classiest ambassadors of the game that the league has ever known. I believe their influence, along with the overall attitude and climate of the organization, has done wonders for bringing these players together and helping each and every one of them truly buy into this team's philosophy and the belief that they can win.


Jared Dudley once again led the Suns in scoring, and Phoenix relied on teamwork and excellent ball movement to defeat the Pistons, 109-101. With the victory, the Suns moved to .500 at 22-22 for the...

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Jared Dudley once again led the Suns in scoring, and Phoenix relied on teamwork and excellent ball movement to defeat the Pistons, 109-101. With the victory, the Suns moved to .500 at 22-22 for the...

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We did it!... Back to .500!!!

 Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

In what was a tough match-up against a young, confident Detroit Pistons team, the Phoenix Suns had their work cut out for them tonight as they won a hard fought battle at home 109-101 to end their back-to-back-to-back stretch with a 3-0 record. More importantly though, the Suns were finally able to reach the vaunted .500 mark on the season at 22-22, returning to relevance, and now officially in the playoff hunt!

The Suns are now 8-2 since the All-Star break and playing with much more confidence overall and consistency in the second unit which has really bolstered the team. Detroit gave a valiant effort with the very talented back court of both Rodney Stuckey scoring 23 points and dishing out 8 assists, along with Brandon Knight who scored 17 points along with his 6 assists as well.

The leading scorer for the Suns tonight was Jared Dudley who scored 23 points and 7 rebounds on hot shooting and tons of hustle. But make no mistake about it, this was a total team effort tonight with big contributions from just about everyone who saw the floor. Steve Nash dished out a season high tying 17 assists, Channing Frye had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, Marcin Gortat had 16 points and 5 rebounds, Grant Hill pitched in with 14 points, and even big Robin Lopez took over in the fourth quarter with 14 points and 4 rebounds.

Full game recap coming tomorrow morning. For now enjoy the win Suns fans, and read on after the jump to see the game notes!

Game Notes

First Quarter:

Gortat comes out with an immediate P&R bucket off a Nash feed…Ahhh, back to normal!

Grant with a block and then a steal that leads to a Dudley 3!

Dudley staying HOT!!! 2nd 3 already

As for Frye…not so much. 0-2 on wide open 3’s to start the game…But he has 6 rebounds already so he’s earning his time

Brandon Knight now with two 3’s as well…and then sticks a two to lead the Pistons with 8 points so far

Knight hits another jumper..now with 10

The Nash-Gortat machine is well oiled and working great tonight! Gortat with 6 points so far all off the pick and roll with Steve

Beautiful no-look over the head pass from Nash to Dudley who then finishes with a layup…Pure poetry in motion!

Halfway through the first quarter, Dudley is leading the Suns already with 12 points, Nash has 5 assists and Fry has 7 rebounds…Great contributions! Suns up 25-23

Uh-oh, Gortat gets his second PF early and has to come out…Let’s hope that doesn’t become an issue

Nash with a great feed to a running Robin Lopez who rocks the rim!

Suns lead 31-27 at the end of the 1st quarter. Suns shooting 50%, Pistons 58%. Suns with 15rbs, Pistons with 8rbs. Suns with 2 TO’s, Pistons with 3 TO’s. Dudley leading the Suns with 12 points, Brandon Knight leading the Pistons with 10 points. Nash already with 7 assists

Second Quarter:

Suns bench in to start the 2nd quarter: Telfair, Brown, Redd, Morris, and Lopez

Morris starts off the second quarter with a nice screen and roll with Telfair that he converts to a layup

Morris with a BIG block on Knight who he shadowed all the way to the rim before extinguishing!

Redd comes out and hits his first shot…Nice start for him, let’s hope it’s a good omen!

Lopez tries to get a little too fancy with a behind the back pass and turns the ball over. “A” for effort there Robin, but we should probably leave that to Nash.

Suns reserves holding serve so far as Redd drills a three to make it a 38-33 lead.

Well that didn’t last long, a few sloppy possessions by the bench and Stucky getting to the line twice in a row to tie the game at 38 now.

Stucky trying to take the game over now, Detroit on a 12-3 run as Stucky powers in for the and-1. Gentry has seen enough and brings in Frye in place of Morris who despite a great start has air-balled his last shot and committed a bad foul.

Now Dudley comes in for Brown as well.

Redd with another 3! Now has 10 points off the bench

Halfway through the 2nd quarter the Pistons now lead 45-43. Stucky beginning to put his mark on the game with 15 points already. Might be time for Hill to come back in and cool his jets. Telfair hasn’t been able to guard him.

Dudley with an incredible and-1 after getting the offensive rebound…great hustle from Dudz!

Stucky drills another 3 with Dudley guarding him now.

Starters back in but Detroit is pressing on. Frye not able to knock down open shots yet tonight.

Just like that Frye hits a three to make me eat my words…and I’m glad to do it

Knight answers right back though with a three of his own

Frye with a BIG DADDY block that leads to a transition three for Dudley! He has 18 now!

Jerebko hits a three at the other end as the shot clock expires and Detroit holds their lead going into the half

Detroit outscores 32-23 in the 2nd quarter…Uh-oh, let’s hope the Alex rule takes a night off!

Pistons lead 59-54 at the end of the 1st half. Suns shooting 47%, Pistons 57%. Suns with 28rbs, Pistons with 19rbs. Suns with 9 TO’s, Pistons with 7 TO’s. Dudley leading the Suns with 18 points, Rodney Stuckey leading the Pistons with 17 points.

Third Quarter:

Gortat makes a nicve adjustment to hit the floater off a Nash assists to start the 3rd quarter…Now has 10 points.

Nash with a beautiful pass in the air as he whips it behind him to an open Grant Hill who drains the jumper!

Maxiell just posterizes Gortat on a vicious dunk...that was ugly

Detroit still holding their lead so far by hustling and grabbing offensive rebounds…too many second chance shots so far in the early 3rd quarter

Tayshaun Prince is having a nice shooting game so far as well…Suns have to start getting more stops and securing the rebound.

Nash hits an open Grant Hill who punches in another jumper…10 points now for Grant and now 13 assists for Nash!

Halfway through the 3rd quarter the Pistons lead is down to 3 as they lead 71-68. Suns need to increase the intensity on defense and hustle for loose balls and rebounds to take this game back over.

Gortat now 18-14 with 16 points…He’s really come alive in the 3rd quarter

Dudley with another 3 to tie the game at 73-73…Dudz now with 21 points

Gentry mixing in the bench with the starters now rather than substituting the entire unit together…I like this strategy better.

Detroit still hitting their shots at a high percentage…Knight now with 17 points as he drills a 3 over Grant Hill

Morris with a very nice feed to find Brown at the rim for an easy bucket!

Pistons lead 80-79 at the end of the 3rd quarter. Suns shooting 51%, Pistons 52%. Suns with 36rbs, Pistons with 32rbs. Suns with 12 TO’s, Pistons with 13 TO’s. Dudley leading the Suns with 21 points, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight leading the Pistons with 17 points each. Nash has also tied his season high in assists already with 17!

Fourth Quarter:

Telfair, Brown, Redd, Morris, Lopez in to start the fourth quarter…Uh-oh, let’s hope they do better than their 2nd quarter or Gentry may need to switch things up quickly

Lopez gets a quick foul to start the 4th and heads to the line knocking down both free throws to give the Suns a 1 point lead

Lopez then hits a lefty hook! Robin now with 10 points off the bench!

Lopez with a nice follow tip in on a Redd miss….Robin has been the best player for the Suns to start the 4th quarter

Stuckey still hitting big shots to keep the Pistons with a slight lead

Brown with a big 3 to give the Suns the lead

Frye now hits another 3 to give the Suns a two point lead at 95-93 halfway through the 4th quarter…The Suns are in a dog fight and will need to have a strong finish to ice the game.

Suns starters have returned to drive the victory bus to win-ville, except for Lopez who remains in the game

Frye with a huge turnaround 3 as the shot clock ran down…Suns up 100-95

Lopez ices two critical free throws to give the Suns a seven point lead with two minutes left

Frye plays good defense and grabs a critical rebound with 28 seconds left which should ice the game! Frye now with 12 rebounds on the night!

Frye with another rebound as he gets fouled and heads back to the line to close the game…Excellent game for Frye and the Suns as a whole for that matter!

Suns win 109-101! Suns shoot 49%, Pistons 51%. Suns with 51rbs, Pistons with 38rbs. Suns with 13 TO’s, Pistons with 16 TO’s. Dudley led the Suns with 23 points, Rodney Stuckey led the Pistons with 17 points.



Well, that didn't go exactly as planned, the Suns are down 59-54 at the half after Detroit outscores the Suns 32-23 in the second quarter. Let's hope Alex's rule takes a vacation tonight and the Suns can take care of business in the second half!


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