A Suns victory over the ten-win Grizzlies is hardly anything to write home about yet this was probably one of the bigger wins of the Suns season so far.
The second leg of the back to back made Shaq's performance questionable and without former team leader Steve Nash (back spasms) the Suns needed big games from Amare and JRich.
Instead, Amare found himself in early foul trouble just as he was the night before but this time upped the ante by getting tossed after only logging 11 minutes of play. JRich, the NBA leader from the 3pt line and solid scorer couldn't buy a bucket.
Fortunately for the Suns diesel fumes are pretty powerful stuff as Shaq delivered an amazing performance putting up 24 and 13 in 38 minutes of play and even more important lead his rag tag band of bench players to victory by the sheer force of his overwhelming will.
Shaq, has been more vocal of late calling for the ball and asserting himself as the team's leader after first coming to Phoenix and promising to simply fit in and be a role player. Shaq has realized that he's got far more left in his legs then anyone (himself included) imagined possible and with his championship experience and undeniable leadership presense has taken over the team from the low key Nash and immature Amare.
This is now Shaq's team. Period.
The Big Risk of course is that Shaq won't be able to sustain this level of play and will either miss a huge chunk of games or will be worn down come playoff time.
Still, the Suns tonight showed how the big fella can win a game on both ends of the floor only needing help from a few of his many possible tertiary weapons systems.
Make no mistake. This was a great win for the Suns bench and role players as Dudley and Amundson picked up the defensive load from Amare and Barnes and Hill provided perimeter defense and savvy play.
Barbosa put on the kind of display we've seen before and know that he can deliver from time to time and continued to show improvement both with his defense and ball handling.
Yes, it was the Grizzlies coming off an OT loss the night before. But the way the Suns won this game by over coming adversity and using lock down late game defense* has got to bode well for the confidence and development of this Suns team.
Winning without Nash and overcoming hardship were serious flaws in D'Antoni's teams that ultimately cost the Suns over the past few years.
Perhaps tonight we saw tangible signs of the Porter-Shaq imprint of toughness and will that teams need to succeed in the playoffs.
* In the fourth quarter, the Suns held the Thunder to 15 pionts and the Grizzlies to 11 including a 10-0 run in the final 4 minutes to close the game.
Come to think of it, how can Kerr not earn a Genius Point for the two games Shaq just put together?