After giving back what was once a 19-point lead, the Suns held on in the closing minutes to win the game 100-98. So what's the first thing that comes to mind after this game? Thank goodness for Brian Skinner's three-point shooting!
For those who weren't watching, listening, or following along in the live blogging, Brian Skinner put up a buzzer-beater from somewhere between half-court and the three-point line to close out the first half. It was the first three-point make of his career. That three-pointer might have saved the game for the Suns--everything else being the same without it, the Suns would have come up one point short. And so, the Suns were able to withstand being outscored 24-to-14 in the fourth quarter, and hung on to win the game when John Salmons' three-point attempt at the buzzer was blocked by Amare Stoudemire. It was one of four blocks by Amare tonight, and was a nice way to redeem himself for two potentially costly missed free throws just moments before. He also had a team-high 26 points and 13 rebounds. Incidentally, this makes the second time Amare has blocked the Kings at the buzzer at Arco Arena. The previous time happened during the 2004-05 season, and was the featured YouTube video for today's game thread.
Another player who deserves special mention tonight is Brian Skinner. Aside from the aforementioned three-pointer at halftime, Skinner played solid defense, and registered three blocks of his own. He also hit all four of his free throws, after being 43% for the season.
For the Kings, it was mostly Ron Artest who got them back into the game, putting up a monster line of 33 points and 12 rebounds. Francisco Garcia played a big role in helping the Kings close the gap by hitting timely three-pointers and getting to the free throw line. Kevin Martin was the third King in double-digit scoring, and even though it looked like he was getting past his defenders at will (especially when guarded by Eric Piatkowski), he really didn't shoot all that well, going 3-of-15 and 1-of-6 from three.
The Kings played really well from near the end of the third quarter through the fourth, while the Suns hit a very untimely dry spell and weren't matching the Kings' energy on defense. It also seemed like an old nemesis came back to haunt the Suns--the inability to score, or even to run the offense smoothly when Steve Nash sat down for his usual rest. Unfortunately, it's games like these that are going to make it harder for Mike D'Antoni to trust that it's OK to bring in the rookies and the other end-of-the-bench guys when enormous leads continue to vanish in the blink of an eye. Still, it's good to see the Suns hang on and pull out a close one. After all, there aren't many blowouts in the playoffs, so in a way, this is good practice for May and June.
Player of the Game: Amare Stoudemire, although Brian Skinner was quite good too.
Runner-Up: Ron Artest. In fact, I should probably make an exception and make him Player of the Game, even though his team lost. This was probably the best I've seen him play (as a King anyway) against the Suns.
Grading the Game: "A" for hanging on to win, "C" for needing to "hang on" to win, and an extra half-letter for Brian Skinner's three-pointer and Amare's block. We'll make it a B+.