Does anyone get the feeling that Grant Hill has his eyes on a ring this year? Not to start drinking the Kool-Aid punch (Kool-Aid + Sprite) or anything, but something about that play on Ronnie Price at the end of the Jazz game in conjunction with his general badassery on the defensive end of late got me thinking. That was a straight-up message play a la Kevin Garnett, Bill Laimbeer or Charles Oakley. You do NOT do that in in our house. Hill's 37 and playing some of the most inspired ball of his career. It's the most fired up I've seen him as a Sun. I think he's looking around at this team and his ever-shrinking shelf life as an NBA player and thinking, "Just maybe..."
I don't think this happens without the sudden emergence of Robin Lopez as a tough smart defensive post presence. (I did NOT think I would be typing that sentence this season.) Now, the Suns have shored up a huge hole in their defense and teams have to think twice about getting in the paint. Before, the worst that would happen is a weak side block if Lou was in the game or a drawn charge. Now they have a real center to deal with. For the first time in the post-Barkley era, the Suns are healthy (big knock on wood) and peaking down the stretch and not getting pushed around in the middle. I think he would never say it out loud, but Grant Hill sees this team as perhaps his last legitimate shot at a ring.
And it's not just Hill showing an edge. Despite blown leads the last 2 games against the Jazz, Gentry could have been content to bench his starters with a 17 point lead in the 4th last night. Instead, he brought Nash and Stoudemire back in the game and stepped on their necks.
In his last 5 games, Amare Stoudemire has scored 164 points on 90 shots and gone to the line 66 times making 60... That's an average of almost 35 points on 18 attempts and 12-13 FT shooting. That's head-spinningly aggressive and efficient offensive play.
In the past, I've bemoaned Amare's lack of leadership, and I still don't think he's the floor leader he should be, but he's getting better. And as gifted as Steve Nash is as a point guard and offensive leader, I don't think he's the alpha male required to fire up and inspire a group of professional athletes to go beyond themselves as one has to do in the crucible of the playoffs. But Grant Hill on the other hand...
Here's a guy who's seen and done it all. He was Lebron before Lebron: a superstar with an all-around game that defied positional assignment. He was T-Mac before T-Mac: a ridiculously talented player with a gargantuan contract done in by injury issues and eventually discarded by the franchise he was supposed to save. And now, maybe he gets to be something else entirely: a leader who doesn't have to carry the burden of a franchise's past or future, but simply his team's will to victory, one play at a time.
As co-captain with Stoudemire and Nash, I think he's finally filling a leadership role the team has sorely been lacking and has an offensive and defensive unit worth leading. I'm not saying this squad will be hoisting the Larry O'Brien come June, but with the right combination of leadership, skill and determination... just maybe.