I'm filing this one under "lucky". That doesn't mean the Suns wouldn't have found a way to hang onto their one-point lead with 15 seconds to go and the Sonics' inbounding the ball. That could have happened. But what did happen is the ultimate "D'oh!" play by Wally Szczerbiak who called a non-existent timeout. That sent Steve Nash to the line for a technical free throw and gave the Suns back the ball. No choice for the Sonics but to foul Nash in desperation.
Moments before Wally's gaffe, the Suns caught another lucky break when Grant Hill's jumper bounced a good three times on the rim before dropping in. On a night when the Suns shot less than 40% and could hardly make a three-pointer if their lives depended on it (3-of-15), they needed all the luck they could get. The Sonics not only shot a (very) slightly higher percentage (42%), they also had 11 more shot attempts than the Suns, thanks in part to the usual edge on the offensive boards. So how did the Suns win this game (other than the aforementioned luck)? Well, the seven steals didn't hurt and neither did the nine blocks, but the real difference was at the free throw line where the Suns went a perfect 32-of-32. Here's how it broke down:
So, not only did the Sonics send the Suns to the line 32 times, they managed to send only the good shooters there. Nice.
It's probably not surprising that the Suns still looked a little out of sorts at times. They did a good job of divvying up Shawn Marion's rebounds and other contributions, but they're a team that just lost a major cog and is waiting for another major cog to arrive. No gripe there. That's to be expected. It's not like the Suns have had a lot of practice playing without the Matrix. He had missed a grand total of five games since the 2004-05 season.
The unsung heroes tonight would be Brian Skinner for some major hustle and a nice 10-rebound effort, and Grant Hill with (among other things) a couple of sequences that almost made me forget his jersey had "33" instead of "31" on the back of it. Then there was that lucky shot. Boris Diaw didn't have an impressive night on the scoreboard, but he did grab nine rebounds, make two steals, and get four assists. His best play of the night was late in the fourth quarter when he blocked what looked like a sure-fire transition dunk by Kevin Durant. Durant had a rough night, going 2-of-12 and scoring just nine points. Credit Raja Bell's defense for some of that.
Overall, it wasn't the prettiest game ever by the Suns, but I doubt we're going to be seeing a lot of finesse and beauty until the team is whole again. For now, I'll just be happy with the "W".
Player of the Game: Amare Stoudemire. 33 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, a block, and a perfect night at the line. Steve Nash may have gotten the MVP chants, but this was Amare's night.
Runner-Up: Chris Wilcox gets the nod with his usual All-Star-caliber effort against the Suns. 22 points, 15 rebounds, 10-of-18 shooting.
Next: The Suns take on the Wizards on Sunday to close out the homestand.
[Update 02/09/08 11:13MT]: From Paul Coro's blog: