By Holly MacKenzie

Suns (5-2) @ Sonics (1-6) October 26th Game Notes

Alright here we go. This is my attempt to decipher my game notes from the Phoenix Suns/Seattle Supersonics game, Friday, October 26th at the GM Palace in Vancouver. Obviously, as this was the first NBA game in Vancouver since the Griz left in 2001, coupled with the fact that it featured OUR golden boy Steve Nash, I knew the game was going to be packed. I had no idea how packed it would be. The sellout crowd of 17,704 was packed into the GM place to see how our Canadian boy lead the Phoenix offense first hand. It was also my first foray into the word of being an actual “member” of the media at an NBA game rather than just a fan staring wistfully at the media section. Of course, it also was only my second NBA game with my Lakers/Raptors game last year being the first. And what a second game it was. What follows is my experience; probably not all in sequential order, probably not giving you the greatest sneak peek into the game itself and definitely showing things through my perspective. If you can make it all the way through, you deserve a congratulations!

-Since the game tip off was set for 7pm I knew I wanted to get to the arena around 4ish since I was not sure the procedure for media and media access prior to the game. Due to traffic and the fact that a small-town girl like me is not prepared for the delays that occur when traveling in a city, my cab was 10 minutes late, the 15 minute drive ended up taking close to 30 and then the driver told me he did not know where “Gate 9” was. Since I had to pick up my credentials there, I got to walk aimlessly around the building in boots that are far too high to be walking any more than absolutely necessary. Being all of 5’1”, more practical footwear is not an option when you are in the land of the giants. I know this from 4 years of covering university basketball. When I finally found the correct gate, it was just before 5:45pm and there was a throng of kids in Nash jerseys lined up, ready and waiting for the gates to open. When I told the woman in charge who I was, “Holly MacKenzie with SLAM Magazine”, I could hear the murmurs of those kids in the background “SHE works with SLAM… LUCKYYY” and I could not wipe the smile off my face. That sentence was one of the sweetest I’ve ever gotten to utter aloud. And so the night began.

-All of the people working the game at GM Place were amazingly helpful and prompt. They immediately put me at ease, showed me around and gave me my pass. I stopped by the media room where the rest of the reporters were chowing down (and it looked like they were having quite the feast), but the thought of food was something I couldn’t stomach at that moment. I made my way to the court to check out my seats and what amazing seats they were. I was sitting behind the basket, right beside the Sonics bench. Most of the Sonics team was shooting around when I first got there, while Grant Hill shot free throws for what seemed like forever for the Suns, who were mostly not present. After taking a minute to get my recorder and review my notes/questions I had made for myself I went to the locker rooms to see if media access was still happening. There was no one in the Sonics locker room when I poked my head in so I made my way to the Suns, where the security guard standing outside told me I had 9 more minutes. I peeked my head in and the guys in there were focused. There was not a sound, people sitting at their lockers thinking, visualizing, I don’t know but they were not interested in talking. I asked if anyone was available for media, no response. I told them I’d see them all after the game and showed myself the door.

-Walking back to through the tunnel I spotted Amare Stoudemire coming straight for me. I suddenly feel all of two feet tall. I have been around 7 footers before, but wow, he is a big guy. He looks at me, gives a smile and I decide to go for it. I nab him, ask some questions and am blown away by how cool he is. We talk about the usual, Grant Hill’s veteran presence, this is the year, they need to stay healthy, etc. He says his knee feels great, he is good to go. Then he absolutely lights up when I ask about his summer with USA basketball saying it was great to play with the all-stars but my favorite part was when I asked him if he was ready to lay it all out on defense this year, after all the talk, is he ready to bring it and his response was a resounding “Yeahhhh”.

-Raja was up next. Again, blown away by how cool this guy was. I know I am a Kobe fan, but damn, I think Raja just went and won me over. He was ready for preseason to be over, thinks Grant Hill is going to be great this year, then when I asked him if he thought this was the year, dude went and turned the question around on me asking who’s year I thought it was. Conveniently, I was able to say that I covered them for SLAMonline’s preview and I thought it was this year or no year.

-I got a chance to talk to Kurt Thomas and it is easy to see why the guys on the Suns were sad to see him go. He was great to talk to and he said he’s having fun in Seattle, and is enjoying his role as a veteran just as he has had veterans like Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson help him learn to become a professional player. Said he is having fun playing with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green after watching them both play in college and he is excited to watch the team go and improve a little bit each game. Listening to him talk, you get the impression he is a great teammate.

-Fast-forward to game time. The arena is packed. There are orange #13 jerseys everywhere. Because the Suns are technically the “visiting” squad they are introduced first and the standing ovation for Nash is something that is usually only heard when a team is deep into the playoffs. Our boy has come home.

-We had a strange rendition of the Canadian anthem as a quartet of young men who said they had a list of “100 things to accomplish” pleaded with the crowd to sing with them, because “Steve-Freaking-Nash is here!”. They Sonics guys were cracking up at that.

-As they are singing the anthem, they unravel a Canadian flag. In black letters it reads “STEVE” above the maple leaf and “Nash” Below it. I love it. It really is too bad the Griz had to leave.

-Starting line-up for Seattle: Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, Damien Wilkins, Luke Ridnour

-Starting line-up for Phoenix: Grant Hill, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Raja Bell.

-Injuries: Sea: Kevin Durant (ankle sprain), Robert Swift (knee contusion).
Phx: Leandro Barbosa (bruised ribs), Brian Skinner (Sprained ankle), Boris Diaw (ankle sprain).
First Quarter

-Amare is not kidding about this defense thing…hell, he is not kidding about offense either. After tipping the ball to Nash he hits an 8 footer. A few possessions later, he is up and active, blocking Collison’s shot attempt although he is not credited with the block. If he is that involved and committed to defending the basket, it is over for the rest of the NBA. Okay, that’s a little bold, but he is something to watch.

-Green hits a jumper for Phoenix, this kid looks super athletic and whenever he does something, it looks special.

-Suns are a little sloppy on offense, turning it over, getting it back, Collison is trying to do everything out there but seems a little overeager. Phoenix is charged with a defensive three-second call (Hill), Collison has a sequence of offensive board, miss, offensive board, miss, then a turnover.

-Hill connects on his first jumper of the night, looking smooth. Gerald, the journalist sitting beside me nudges me as we had talked prior to the game about Hill with G saying he will believe it when he sees it after I told him Hill will be a great asset to the team.

-Hill with a block on Wilkins. Yahhh GHill, make me look good.

-Both teams are missing shots. For the Suns, they are shots they normally would make.

-Game is tied 10-10 with 7 minutes left in the 1st.

-Hill with the three-ball.

-Wilkins is throwing up bricks, so much for me hoping for a repeat of his 27-point performance the other night against the Warriors.

-Sean Marks sighting 5:43 left in the 1st. Oh, gotta love preseason. Don’t love Marks hair. It looks like he is taking up what Kaman took off. Marks in for Stoudemire who looked great in the opening minutes but slowed down a bit. Definitely working himself back into playing shape.

-Hill hits 2 ft’s. 15-12 for the Suns.

-Wilkins bricks another three-pointer then takes a stupid foul.

-Ridnour wants to run but, he isn’t working with much as the Sonics offense is one of confusion.

-Bad pass, steal, missed shot, rebound, bad pass, steal sequence. I feel dizzy.

-After hitting the big game winner last night against Denver, rookie DJ Strawberry is in the game, replacing Hill.

-Banks comes in for Nash with 2:33 left in game. D’Antoni is getting out of this one without any more injuries.

-Delonte West’s tattoos are out of this world.

-Kurt Thomas has a nice feed to Wilcox for a jump shot that gives Seattle a 19-17 lead with 1:52 in the 1st.

-Thomas showing off the jumper that Phoenix will miss.

-Thomas again with the mid-range J this time on an assist from Earl Watson.

-And repeat.

-Suns finish off the quarter missing 8 of their last 9 shots before Bell connects on a three with just over a second on the clock showing the suns are in trouble when Nash is on the bench.

-Wilcox is 4-4 from the floor and finishes with 8 for the quarter.

-Thomas finally misses a shot with .3 on the clock and Seattle ends it leading by 5, 25-20.

Second Quarter aka Amare-time

-Seattle line-up: Wilcox, Thomas, Watson, Szczerbiak, West

-Suns line-up: Stoudemire, Banks, Marks, Strawberry, Hill

– Banks is dribbling too much. Marks and Stoudemire in the game together is interesting.

-It takes me up until now to figure out that Diaw is injured. Ankle sprain suffered in last night’s game. Same for Brian Skinner.

-Wilcox is making half of his ft’s and getting angrier with every miss Seattle is taking this game very seriously.

-Strawberry hits a jumper, assisted by Hill, them Thomas has a reverse layup for Sonics then Hil hits a 15 footer for the Suns.

-Seattle is up 28-24.

-Strawberry feed to Amare for the strong finish and the foul. Hits on the free throw. He’s got that focused look in his eye.

-DJ is quick and long on D. He is dancing all over the perimeter.

-Szczerbiak is having a rough go. Missing shots, turning the ball over, committing a stupid foul.

-Marks with an offensive foul.

-Szczerbiak finally connects on a jumper. Banks does not.

-Amare with the reverse. Count it and the foul (Petro). Time out. PJ pulls Petro and gets Wilcox back into the game. Amare hits the ft.

-Seattle with back-to-back blocks from Thomas and Wilcox (on DJ and Marks).

-Amare showing he’s hot tonight, hits the long three-pointer to tie it 33-33 with 7:52 left in the half.

-Suns line-up is now Nash/Banks/Stoudemire/Bell/Hill. Giving Banks lots of time with the injury to Barbosa.

-Mickael Gelabale may take over LeBron’s title of disgusting finger-nail chewing on the bench. He is just chomping down on those nails. I feel a little queasy.

-And of course as I was spying on Gelabale I miss it. The crowd erupts, Nash to Amare, alley-oop. I am told Amare got “up” for that one. Dammit. I will write less, watch more.

-Wilcox the and 1. Misses the free throw. He is looking good, taking it hard to the basket.

-Amare with a hook shot.

-Green again with the athleticism gets a block on Marion. Collison goes for the rebound but they Sonics look all out of sorts as somehow the ball ends up out of bounds and Collison is hyped up. Sonics want this W, period.

-Marion and 1, hits ft. Suns up 42-37.

–Chris Wilcox is a scary looking guy. Especially when he looks you directly in the eye after an altercation with Marcus Banks that he is none too pleased about. Banks fouls him, hard, but appears to have either knocked the wind out of him, or hit him “down there”, because Wilcox is having trouble breathing, is holding his shorts, bending over and after he breaks eye-contact with me –okay, maybe he is only looking in my direction, but I swear I felt his eye pierce through me-he goes over to Banks who promptly apologizes. Wilcox doesn’t want any of it. Things feel far too heated for a preseason game.

-Wilcox misses the first free throw, tosses the ball up in the air. No tech. Hits on the second, still looks angry.

-Collison gets a steal off of an amare pass, and goes all the way for the lay up. When he looks good, he looks really good, then he kinda disappears.

-Banks is busting it on D trying to draw some charges.

-Kurt Thomas is into it on the bench. Cheering, pumped up. The rest of the bench. Not so much. Gelabale is still chomping those fingers.

-Amare at the line, hits 1 of 2. Suns up 43-40.

-Collison to Green for a deep three-pointer.

-Game tied at 45.

-Bell from Nash hits the three.

-Watson comes back at the Suns, goes all the way, gets the lay up and the foul on Amare. Hits the ft. Game tied again at 50.

-Amare AGAIN with a jumper. Okay, he looks realllly good. Too good for his second game back.

-Wilkins gets a steal and LOOK OUT, Wilcox goes hard for the dunk. He is busting it tonight. Ties it at 52.

-Another great pass from Nash resulting in a lay-up for Amare, plus the foul. When these two are on, they make it look too easy.

-Nash misses a free throw, the crowd still roars in approval.

-Is that an MVP chant? I think so. Gotta love it.

-Green at the line makes one. Steal by Watson and we are 53-52 for Seattle at the half.

-To recap Amare’s dominance of the quarter: Collison and Wilcox each had 6 points for Seattle. Amare had 20 for the Suns on 7-8 shooting. He also added 7 rebounds. Most importantly, he played the entire 2nd quarter without tiring.

-So, Wilcox has 14 points at the half for Seattle and Amare has 22 and 9 for Phoenix. First Leandro sighting of the night. He is in jeans and a sick jacket and is talking to Kurt Thomas beside the Seattle bench. Thomas pretends to punch Leandro in the ribs and you can hear him telling him to heal up.

Third Quarter

Seattle Line-up: Collison/Ridnour/Wilcox/Green/Wilkins
Phoenix Line-up: Bell/Marion/Nash/Hill/Stoudemire

-Kurt Thomas takes advantage of Amare under the basket, fakes him out and gets the layup.

-On the sideline getting ready to inbound, Hill motioning to Nash “What are we doing?”.

-Hill hits the open three.

-Nash with a three and the crowd goes crazy.

-Szczerbiak kills the Suns in transition and comes back with a three of his own.

-Green heads to locker room. Not sure why.

-PJ Carlesimo is going crazy on the bench.

-Subs come in. We have:
Seattle: West/Watson/Thomas/Wilcox/Szczerbiak
Phoenix:Nash/Banks/Marion/Marks/Bell

-Nash is in go-mode. Bell to a cutting Nash for 2. Wally drills it in Nash’s face on the other end.

-Nash drive and kick to Banks for three.

-Kurt Thomas mid range J times 2. He is showing the Suns what they gave up tonight.

-87-84 Seattle with 1:40 left in the third. In my quest to watch more I didn’t keep a good handle on the score.. oops.

-out of a TO, Seattle sets up a play for Szczerbiak on the baseline, he hits for 2.

-Szczerbiak hacks Raja. Stupid foul. Kurt Thomas throws hands in air “WALLLLLLLLLY”. Szczerbiak nods agreement.

-Thomas hits again.

And again.

-Seattle making a conscious effort not to double Nash and are letting him put the ball on the floor and make the play.

-By the Suns bench Piatkowski is getting ready for his debut. Doing defensive slides, stretching like mad. Looks like he is in a pilates class over there.

-Green runs to locker room again.

-End of the Third, 95-87 Seattle

-Seattle scores a whopping 42 points in the 3rd. The Suns score 32, but when Amare goes out for the game, Thomas and Wilcox had their way with the Suns showing that interior vulnerability. Wilcox scored 10 in the quarter for Seattle.

Fourth Quarter

Seattle line-up: Watson/West/Szczerbiak/Thomas/Collison
Phoenix line-up: Banks/Strawberry/Hill/Tucker/Marks

-We are handed a memo that explains Green’s frequent trips to the locker room. He has an ankle sprain and will not be returning.

-Tucker for three. Suns with good ball movement to start the 4th.

-Delonte West is having a nice game.

-Piatkowski comes on for Hill. Wow, not a starter in sight for Phoenix. This should be interesting.

-Tucker with a jumper. And a lay up. 7 quick points. This kid looks good.

-Ridnour is on bench fiddling with his nose/face-mask.

-Time out. Kiss Cam is on the jumbotron and Diaw is enjoying the show. They show a couple and the woman yells, “Oh Sh-! That’s my brother. And he goes in for the kill. I don’t know if it is funny in a “haha” that was a joke and we totally didn’t kiss, or disturbing in an Angelina/James Haven oscar night way. Back to the game and Phoenix’s kiss of death.

-Out of bounds off of Piatkowski.

-Crowd starts a deafening “We Want Nash” chant. There have been many throughout the night, but this one is just unreal. I can almost feel it in my chest.

-Banks has a gorgeous pass to Tucker who gets mobbed under the basket and hurts his neck.

-You know it’s preseason when the Suns bench gets up to do the wave with the crowd.

-DJ misses a shot, crowd starts booing because they want Nash. Chant starts again. I feel bad for the guys who Suns who are playing. Or are getting outplayed I should say.

-West is killing Phoenix in transition. Coast to coast. Lay ups. Great passes.

-Same goes for Watson. Suns D is non-existant.

-DJ is having a rough night offensively. Looks tired. The rook isn’t ready for these late minutes in a back-to-back, he’s gotten a lot of time tonight.

-Marks looks confused. And frustrated.

-Alando tucker for three.

-Gelabale finally gets some burn. With 4+ minutes left in the game. Harsh. Immediately gets an offensive board and put back.

-“We Want Nash” chant still going strong with under three minutes left to go.

-Final 121-108 Seattle

-Nash takes off his shoes and throws them into the adoring crowd. All of the guys take their time to sign autographs and talk to their fans. Seattle is happy with the victory. Steve is happy he is home and the Suns are happy preseason is over.

Post-Game

-Marion is getting badgered by a reporter asking the same questions again and again about his trade requests. I want to shove my recorder down the guy’s mouth he is putting Shawn on edge and just being disrespectful. Marion is obviously annoyed, but very cool with me. Says its cool to come to Canada and see the fans cheer for Nash because there is no one else from here that has done what he has. The key to their season is staying healthy. It is always fun to come to Canada and that they have things to improve on but they just have to take it one game at a time. To anyone questioning Marion’s commitment, you only have to watch a game to know he is in Phoenix for the time being and as long as he is there he is going to give it everything he has. I was impressed with his composure because every time someone went to speak with him he had to answer the same trade questions again.

-Nash gives a small press conference in the media room where members of his Steve Nash basketball club team are sitting waiting for him, decked out in their uniforms. Steve comes in and makes a beeline for the kids, talking with them all, shaking their hands, talking photos, the kids are in heaven. He also spends some time with a family who has suffered a loss and it is moving to see his compassion and the words that he speaks to the mother. He touches everyone in the room who is lucky enough to witness it. It is these qualities and the ability to reach people both on and off court that makes Nash such a special player.

-He thanks everyone for coming, says that if this is the last time he wears a jersey in Canada, it was good. He was happy with the sell out crowd, and he feels the Suns are “Vancouver’s adoptive team”.

-Talks of his charity game in China with Yao that raised over 2.5 million dollars for Chinese youth in need. Also says he feels great and that he thinks this is the most talented team he has been on.

-A reporter asks him if he ever thinks about his age and slowing down. He replies that he is not worried about it and that he is not worried about anything beyond now. He goes on to say he only worries about this chance, this opportunity, this season.

-When asked about D’Antoni scaling back his minutes he says that he doubts that will happen and that he is ready to play as much as he is needed. As he stands in front of you, dressed in a black suns long sleeve, baggy jeans and black and white sneakers you wonder how this homecoming must feel for him. He is unassuming, entirely engaging and he transcends the ideal of what we come to expect from professional athletes. In short, he is the perfect leader for this Phoenix Suns team, which is filled with character guys.

-In the hallway, most of the reporters have left for the evening, having got the quotes that they need. The teams are still milling around waiting for their buses and I am not ready to leave while they action is still taking place in front of me. The Sonics guys are talking with the Suns and there is a huge crowd of people waiting to talk with Nash.

-Marion is trying to figure out where he goes to meet friends of his who were attending the game.

-Raja comes over to heckle me about working for SLAM, if I am in Vancouver and “isn’t SLAM based in NYC”. Ha, I tell him SLAM likes me so much they are letting me work from here. He laughs and says that’s cool and if it is all right with SLAM it is all right with him.

-I talk to Diaw about his ankle; he says it is just a minor sprain that happened in the game Thursday against Denver. He is excited for the year to start and thinks the rookies are playing really well and also Brian Skinner will step in. He says they will be similar to last year only better.

-I will say that in the 10 minutes it took these boys to go from sweaty athletes to showered and dressed each and every one of them looks like they could step off of the cover of GQ (with the exception of Nash). The jewelry blows my mind too as I look at each piece and realize it could pay for my entire 5 years of education.

-The coolest part is as I am going through my notes, I overheard bits and pieces of their conversations and I am brought back to my 4 years of traveling with the men’s team at my university. These guys are exactly the same. It is the same conversation, what are we going to eat, where is the f-ing bus, etc, that my boys had every game as well. It was really cool to see that basketball is still basketball. The only difference is we are dealing with superstars and millionaires. Beyond that, its just basketball.

-The bus finally arrives and the guys are whisked away. I make my way back to the arena to take one last look at the court and take in my first night as a member of the media rather than a fan and I run into Barbosa. I ask how his bruised ribs are feeling. He says they are getting “better little bit” and then says he is looking for the bus. I tell him the guys have already gone to get on it and he looks confused. Once he realizes what I am telling him, we go in the direction of the bus and he says “so nice to meet you”. No Leandro, so nice to meet you.

-The Sun’s chemistry as a team is just unmatchable. They were like watching a college team. They are family, they are united and they will come together this year to overcome their short comings on defense and their lack of an interior presence beyond Amare. I will absolutely not be surprised if they bring home the trophy this season. They have got something special going on in Phoenix.

As I am on the phone, calling my mom to tell her about my night, the entire team now comes through the hallway again, apparently going the wrong way to get on the bus. They all nod goodbye and Amare calls me Slam. If it works for Amare, it works for me. After all, in a night of 2 world’s colliding, it was possible because of the people at the SLAMdome. For this, I thank them because I am more sure than ever before where I belong.