On a night where both the home team and the home crowd appeared lethargic, it appeared as though the Suns were about to begin their first losing streak of the young 2009-2010 NBA season.
Appearances can be deceiving, however, and Phoenix was able to rally behind solid performances by Amare Stoudemire and Channing Frye to notch their 9th win of the season, a 101-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors (5-5).
Down 84-77 with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter, the Suns finally woke up from their prolonged slumber and began attacking the Raptors where it hurt: Andrea Bargnani.
After the young Italian sharpshooter was removed from the game due to foul trouble, Phoenix went on a 14-2 run and took a 91-86 lead with 6:03 left.
This display of offensive prowess was keyed by several things. First, Toronto began rushing their shots and were unable to find open looks, thanks to the new and improved Phoenix defense. Second, Amare began to attack the basket and picked up a three point play.
Finally, the hustle of Jason Richardson allowed him to score on consecutive fast break layups that brought the crowd to their feet and forced the Raptors to take a timeout.
Throughout the final quarter, the Suns began aggressively switching their men on screens, playing hard defense to disrupt the Raptors offense and force Hedo Turkoglu, Jose Calderon, and Marco Belinelli to take contested shots.
The game came down to one final play. With 12 seconds remaining, the Raptors had the ball at half court, down only one. The atmosphere in US Airways Center was tense, and the scene was set for a heartbreaking Suns loss.
Turkoglu set up at the top of the key, and Bargnani came over to set a screen. Channing Frye and Grant Hill knew it was coming, and were able to work together to limit the screen's effectiveness by switching.
Hedo was able to get a clean look at the right elbow, but his shot just missed, and the Suns were able to escape with a victory.
"I tried to cross [Frye] over and I almost lost it," Turkoglu said. "That's a shot I'll always take, every time."
After the game, Suns coach Alvin Gentry called tonight's game a "really good win for [the Suns] against a real quality team."
"It's the third game where we won with our defense," Gentry continued. "We needed stops and we came up with [them] at the end, and I think that's really encouraging... on a night where we didn't shoot the ball well."
With the victory, the Suns now hold the best record in the NBA, and are the first team to reach nine wins this season. This was their 11th consecutive victory over Toronto, and their 13th consecutive victory at home, a streak that dates back to last season.
Amare Stoudemire scored 30 points and made 10 out of 11 free throws attempted. His counterpart, Chris Bosh, was equally impressive tonight, scoring 25 and grabbing 10 rebounds. Both players will be free agents this upcoming offseason, and will look to cash in on their excellent careers to date.
As for Frye, he scored 20 points on 6-8 shooting from beyond the arc, only further validating coach Alvin Gentry's faith in his shooting abilities. After this performance, expect to see more from the 26-year old center out of the University of Arizona.
Phoenix leaves tomorrow for their Tuesday evening matchup in Houston against the Rockets, beginning yet another road trip for the weary Suns. They then touch down in New Orleans for a Thursday match-up before returning home again.