If Marcin Gortat hasn't done enough to earn your respect and love, just watch the second half of tonight's game. Going into the half, he was limited by foul trouble and Robin Lopez playing well. But when he entered the game in the second half, he was an entirely different player. And he never looked back from there.
We saw a highly contested game in the first half, with the two teams seemingly trading baskets. If the Suns went on a run, New Orleans would answer with a run of their own. For every rebound a Suns big pulled down, Emeka Okafor would pull down two offensive boards. For every sweet assist from Suns newcomer Zabian Dowdell, Willie Green or Marcus Thornton would step up and drain a three.
The Suns then decided that they had had enough. Using a third quarter surge from center Marcin Gortat, Phoenix outscored the Hornets by 8 in the quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Suns bench came in and extended the lead to 10 when Nash came back in. It looked like the game was all but wrapped up, but when you're dealing with a top 10 team like New Orleans, you can't let off the gas pedal.
With the Suns up by 7 with just over a minute to go, the Hornets went on a nearly game-winning run. Click the jump for the full story.
The Final Minute
I'm going to basically give a play-by-play, because it's still just amazing to me that we were even this situation.
With 1:02 left in the game, Vince Carter missed a 26-foot three point jumper. Trevor Ariza pulled down the rebound, advanced the ball to Marcus Thornton, and Thornton drew a foul on Grant Hill. After sinking one of two free throws, New Orleans found themselves down by six. The Suns inbounded the ball to Steve Nash who was fouled and consequently sunk both free throws.
Suns are up by eight. Everyone on Planet Orange figured this was another mark for the win column.
However, after a Thornton miss and an Ariza offensive rebound, New Orleans found a wide open Chris Paul who drained a three pointer. At this point, New Orleans trails by only five points. Grant Hill then tries to inbounds the ball to Steve Nash, but it's picked off by Trevor Ariza. He swings it over to Chris Paul who draws the phantom foul on the three pointer. He steps up to the line and sinks all three. Hornets down by two.
After several failed inbounds attempts, Grant Hill throws a long pass to Nash who somehow saves it from going out of bounds, but gets it to Carter who then steps out. Turnover Suns. New Orleans has the ball with 10.4 seconds left. They get the ball to Marcus Thornton who missed a jumper from point blank range. Game over, right? Wrong. Chris Paul gets the rebound, pulls it out beyond the arc, and fires up a prayer at the buzzer. It misses.
Game over. Suns win.
My heart is still racing over this game. In what should have been the Suns easily finishing the game with a win over a very solid New Orleans team, we found ourselves with one of the wildest finishes of the season. I'll let Seth or one of the other stat heads do the more in depth analysis of the final minute, but all I can say is this Suns team needs to know when to keep their intensity up.
Granted, I was one of the many who thought this game was over. However, when you're on the court launching three pointers and tossing lazy inbounds passes, you are basically setting yourself up for this kind of situation.
I can't exactly fault Gentry for keeping Gortat in the game. Gortat was playing out of his mind, posting a career high 25 points on a near perfect 9-10 shooting, and was coming up with some huge rebounds and defensive plays. However, after his second half explosion, he was very clearly gassed. I understand wanting to leave him in the game and let him ride off into the sunset, but when New Orleans started making their run, you have to wonder if the much fresher Robin Lopez would have been a better option down the stretch.
I'm not knocking on Gortat in the slightest. I'm not even sure if he and Lopez had switched spots for the final minute if it would have made any difference. But the lack of focus and intensity to finish off the game has me a bit worried. Had Thornton nailed that short range jumper with time running out, the game would have gone into overtime with all the momentum in the Hornets' favor.
The Suns are very clearly still a team in progress. Yes, this was a much needed win against an impressive New Orleans team, but there is simply no excuse for the breakdown in concentration. I sound more negative than I would probably like or than I actually am, but I'm simply trying to stress the importance for this team to realize that it cannot take even 60 seconds off against the better teams of the league. We're simply not good enough for that. And with each win inching us closer and closer to the playoff picture, this team needs to realize just how important those waning moments are.
That said, I'm impressed with the way the Suns came out of the locker room in the second half. They were a team focused. They made stops. They grabbed rebounds. They started knocking down the jumpers they were missing earlier in the game. There was a poise present that reminded me of the Boston game. We saw a team hungry for a win, and that's exactly what we needed to see.
Aside from that final minute, I was very impressed with the way this Suns team played.
Other Post Game Thoughts
- Zabian Dowdell did much better than I anticipated. He came in, allowed Nash to rest, and didn't lose the lead. Yes, the offense was stalled and generally out of sync, but his energy and poise allowed him to make the correct play. Usually.
- Vince Carter started the game attacking the hoop and playing pesky defense. His play dropped off as the game went on, but it was his attitude at the start of the game that set the team up for success.
- Steve Nash posted his 27th double double of the season. Is there any question that even at age 36 (37 in eight days) he's still one of the best point guards in the league?
- Chris Paul maintained his "Suns killer" status in today's game. He finished with 26 points, 12 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal on 50% shooting (50% from three point land). He also got to the free throw line 10 times, where he made all 10 free tosses.
Suns Hold Down Pesky Hornets, 104-102 - SB Nation Arizona
"I think we're starting to come together. You're always kind of hesitant to say that with us, but seven out of the last ten (wins)...we're starting to get confidence, we're starting to get a feel for one another and a comfort level with the new guys," Hill said.
- David West blows by Frye for a put-back dunk. Can't have that.
- ROBIN!!!! How do you miss that? I am not even sure how it is physically possible to miss that from 2 inches. Earl Barron is disappointed.
- Offensive rebounds killing Suns. Fortunately, the Hornets aren't generating anything on offense. 6 so far. That's a lot in a half. It's a SHIT TON in just 4 minutes of play.
- OK Robin, stand tall. That was a nice OReb and aggressive move to draw the foul....no really, go ahead and stand tall.
- Love that. In transition Robin runs to the front of the rim and with David West on him in the cross match seals and draws the foul.
- Robin just passed up a wide open three. Marcin is disappointed.
- That was pretty good defense by Nash on Paul to bother him enough so Frye could block the shot.
- Vince attacking Belinelli one on one. Keep going to that. MB can't guard Vince, or at least Vince can't let himself be guarded by MB.
- I've not been all that impressed with Chris Paul's shot selection so far in this game. He's channeling his inner Kobe...and missing.
- 2nd foul on Gortat. Warrick in for him. He stayed on the court just two minutes. Tough start.
- Nice strong post move from Vince for the and 1. More of that might keep him from being the object of so much hate.
- Even David Anderson posts up Hakim Warrick. Got to front that.
- Great flop from Vince! He really doesn't even have to act like the hit was painful.
- Zabian!!! The crowd responds with complete bewilderment.
- Z hits a pull up in the lane. He knew he would be tested early as a new kid on the floor.
- Hornets take the lead on a Willie Green three.
- Monty Williams called Jared Dudley a game-changer. Respect.
- Zabian getting into the lane and finding Warrick. Helps that he's on the floor w/ Frye as the other big to space things. Goran always looks better when he's playing w/ Frye instead of Gortat.
- Robin now in for Frye along w/ Warrick. We'll see how the offense changes now.
- 36-40, NOH. 6:00. Starters back in. 15 bench points for Hornets. 11 for Suns.
- Warrick's mid-range game is non-existent. That makes it really hard to get much done.
- Suns pace just isn't there. Need some faster play...like that miss from Vince.
- And that miss from Frye.
- Here's all you need to know about Gortat's post game. Nash dribbles through the paint on the baseline. Hornets switch so Okafor is on Nash. Gortat goes right to the block with Paul on him. Nash looks at him and passes the ball to Frye for a contested three.
- Suns were down 10 but have cut it to 47-50.
- Come on, can we not play Hammer Time when Marcin hits a 15 foot baseline fade away?
- Hill streaks the left side for a lay up.
- I've never been able to wrap my head around David West's game. If he's not hitting mid-range shots, what else is he doing?
- 53-53 at the half
- Jason Smith starting for Okafor. That's quite a different matchup for Robin.
- Nash with a no-look over the head pass to the ref standing behind him. All money.
- Robin's having a horrible start to that half and he seems to know it. Stepping up his intensity after a couple of dumb plays.
- Hill just lost Belinelli on that cut...layup time.
- Suns hitting some threes this quarter though, up 70-68
- Now that is Hammer Time!
- Ariza playing well now. He's a good player when he doesn't have to be the number one option like he had to try to do in Houston.
- Chris Paul hasn't been all that impressive but he has 12 pts, 8 assists. Kind like a Nash game where you don't really notice how much he's doing to run things.
- MP hits a three...good shot, with his feet set. Immediately comes back and jacks one up with 7 on the shot clock falling to his left. Chill, bra.
- Pretty darn good rotation by the Suns defense.
- Z coming back in. Fan behind me said, "Come on, 10 day."
- Gortat got lucky there. He lost the ball going up but got fouled anyway.
- Hornets D playing well here plus Suns O not doing much to create open looks.
- 35 points in the 3rd quarter for the Suns. Big time against this Hornets defense.
- Suns bench versus Chris Paul, 6-6 so far in the qtr. That will work.
- Jared Dudley, instant offense.
- Not exactly sure how that crappy offensive possession ended up with Gortat open at the rim, but that's what happened. Good play by the bench here.
- Gentry calls a time out after Suns secure offensive rebound. 98-88, Suns. Bench +2 against Hornets who played Paul the entire quarter.
- Pietrus has never met a three he doesn't like
- Hornets look like they are going to switch the high screen and roll from here on in.
- Gortat on a tear. Career-high 25 points along w/ 9 rebounds.
- Suns up 102-90 with 2:35 to go.
- Ariza on Nash now. A little late for that but Suns not scoring either.
- Hill fronting West gets beat by the lob pass. Suns trying to blow this game? 102-96 with 1 min.
- Looks like Suns are going to hold them off like a bad bug.
- Well...Paul hits a three and then the Hornets steal the in-bound pass and Frye fouls Paul taking a three. 104-102. Suns ball. 12 seconds. This would be an EPIC collapse.
- And the Suns turn it over...Epic Collapse Alert!!!