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."
Chemistry and cohesion have been the themes for the Suns as they've vaulted themselves back into the Western Conference race by winning 11 of 14 games before a rough back to back in Florida produced two losses. Their opponent tonight, the Indiana Pacers are a model of the "whole being better than the sum of the parts."
Of their starting five, only Danny Granger has missed a start (he missed two), and they're a team that gets solid production up and down their roster. At 27-18, they sit in the 5th position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Suns, of course, acquitted themselves well in a loss to the Heat but were then embarrassed by the Magic, quickly ending their brief foray into the wonderful world of winning teams. If there was any good news to take from the demolition at the hands of the Magic it's that the Suns were able to give their starters some rest, as only Jared Dudley played as many as 30 minutes.
Only 19 games remain on the Suns schedule and we won't find a whole lot of confident "should win"s among them. The Suns spent much of the month of March digging themselves out of an early season hole. It's critical not to let this current road trip put them right back in the same hole.
When the Suns last played the Pacers in February of last year in Indianapolis, Grant Hill scored a season-high 34 points (he hasn't scored more than 21 in a game since) in an overtime thriller that was capped by this game-winner from Channing Frye. Ah, the memories. Frye's confidence soared and he went on to hit another game-winner in the Suns next game in New Jersey.
The Suns won both games against the Pacers last year, but Indy improved through the second half of last season under new coach Frank Vogel, made the playoffs (albeit with a losing record) and have carried that momentum into this season under Vogel. They boast an above average defense, an All-Star in center Roy Hibbert and go ten deep with quality players, including former Suns fan favorites Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa.
Hibbert's matchup with Marcin Gortat will be one of the keys to this game. Gortat has had a rough go of it lately. There's not much shame in getting worked over by Dwight Howard, but Howard completely destroyed Gortat on Wednesday and the Suns will need him to bounce back against another strong opponent tonight.
The recent improvement of the Suns bench will need to continue tonight as well to counter the great depth of the Pacers, though the Suns are helped somewhat by the fact that the Pacers played on the road in Washington last night.
Regardless, this is a tough matchup for the Suns, as the Pacers are 14-6 at home this season while the Suns are only 8-14 on the road. It might take some heroics like what Frye and Hill provided last season to pull this one out.