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Fourth Quarter Small-Ball Lifts Suns Over Grizzlies (127-113)

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Well, it certainly wasn't the four quarters of beat-down I predicted in the game thread. It wasn't a reunion with our favorite former Laker either as Kwame Brown not only didn't start, he registered a DNP. And despite Shaq having his best statistical night in a Suns uniform so far, I wouldn't even say this game was evidence that the Big Experiment is working. In fact, it seemed to me like the Suns played better when Shaq was resting on the bench.

At no time tonight did the Suns look like a revenge-seeking team that had just been embarrassed by its worst loss of the season. In fact, they looked like it was "just another night at the office" for the most part. With another game tomorrow against a team that's already beaten them three times this season, maybe that's a good thing. No point wasting all that adrenaline on an opponent that's lost four more games than the Suns have won. So, the Suns did just enough to put themselves in position for one of those patented late-game surges. Probably wasn't the original plan, but we'll take it.

A few random observations:

  • Raja Bell definitely saved his best for last in this game. After starting out colder than an Antarctic winter, he swished three three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
  • Speaking of three-pointers, those who were following the live blogging in the game thread were probably wanting to know why Juan Carlos Navarro was killing the Suns from downtown (6-of-11). I wanted to know too, so I went back and re-watched (easy to miss stuff like that when you're trying to type and watch at the same time). Navarro had at least one three in transition when the rest of the Suns ran to the paint and left him alone behind the arc. Most of the others were when the defender (usually Bell) went under the screen. Mental note for next time we play these guys.
  • I mentioned that the Suns seemed to play their best ball without Shaq. The plus/minus stat in the boxscore would seem to back me up on that--he had a -7, the only negative among the Suns who saw significant minutes.
  • I don't want to bag on Shaq without also mentioning the positives. First, he made 5-of-8 free throws (5-of-9 if you count the one he got a do-over on because of a lane violation). On two separate occasions he went to the line and made both. He also made 4-of-6 from the field, and had 11 rebounds to go with 13 points in his first double-double as a Sun. Lastly, he hooked up with Steve Nash once for the alley-oop, and had a couple of dunks on put-backs. In other words, he mostly just kept it simple on offense, letting the game come to him, and it worked.
  • Amare Stoudemire had a team-high-tying 25 points and shot lights out, but he got some extra rest for himself when he committed his fifth foul out of what looked like frustration on the offensive end in the fourth. He picked up a technical on the play too, and the Grizzlies led by two after the free throw. But the Suns made their Bell-fueled run with both Amare and Shaq on the bench. By the time Amare re-entered with three minutes left in the game, the Suns were well on their way to putting it out of reach. Small ball lives!
  • The Grizzlies aren't on my regular watch list, and this was the first time I'd seen them play this season. Rudy Gay is obviously very good, and Juan Carlos Navarro looked like he was auditioning for the Suns. Mike Conley showed some promise as well with a Nash-like double-double of 15 points and 11 assists. Darko Milicic rewarded his coach for giving him the starting nod over Kwame.
  • You don't lose many games when you have three players (Nash, Amare, Grant Hill) score more than 20 and another three in the teens. In fact, one more point from Raja and we would have had all seven of the main rotation guys in double-figures.
Player of the Game: Raja Bell easily wins Player of the 4th Quarter, but for the overall game I'm going with Steve Nash. Definitely his best game in the "Shaq era": 25 points, 13 assists, 8-of-11 from the field, including some morale-crushing threes earlier in the game.

Runner-Up: Rudy Gay and Juan Carlos Navarro share the honor for the Griz.

Honorable Mention: Boris Diaw came within sniffing distance of a triple-double with maybe his best game off the bench this season: 15 points, 6-of-7 shooting, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals.

Boxscore Recap     Arizona Republic      3 Shades of Blue

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