Game Notes: Magic at Suns
A War of Attrition.
by Dennis Tarwood
The Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic matched up Friday night in Phoenix on national television with enough side drama to replace “As the World Turns” when it goes off the air next year. The game itself packed its own melodramatic punch as the Suns and Magic conspired to deliver one of the more brutal experiences of the season, ending with two tipped balls, one kicked dribble, liberal doses of Joey Crawford, and a 106-103 Suns win.
Both teams came in after indigestible losses, Phoenix to Dallas and Orlando to Utah. Both had curious player decisions before this game as well. Robin Lopez demolished the glass door to the practice floor at US Airways Center after losing a three-on-three game, one in a series of anger-based decisions made in his short career.
Rashard Lewis, on the other hand, refused to re-enter the Jazz game in the 2nd quarter Thursday night with two fouls, leaving Ryan Anderson on the floor and Stan Van Gundy a bit perplexed.
Before the game, both coaches had moved on publicly. Stan Van Gundy: “I’ve coached Rashard, I don’t know… a couple hundred and some games. We had one thing we disagreed on which was a matter of five minutes and change; I’m not going to blow that out of proportion.” Alvin Gentry: “That’s over with. He got punished; we move on.”
When the ball tipped, Vince Carter ran the offense in the absence of Jameer Nelson, jacking up 10 shots but also generating 6 assists in only 23 minutes of play. VC’s first heat check came less than five minutes into the game (answer: chilly) and his first injury 30 seconds later (left wrist). He barely made it into the second half before his left knee soreness kept him hobbling around the bench.
Indeed, Wikipedia’s got a new entry this morning in the Trivia section of the “War of Attrition” entry for this ball game as the injuries to Vince Carter (left knee soreness early in the second half), Nelson, and Leandro Barbosa as well as 51 personal fouls for both teams sent coaches deep into their benches for long stretches. Also, the Magic just arrived from Utah and the Suns boarded a 3 a.m. flight to Denver after the game.
Any time you see Anthony Johnson fight hard for 20 minutes and you’re not at a Vegas buffet, you know it’s been a hard slog. Even the Suns had to reach deep into their Other Twin Bin when Robin Lopez racked up 5 fouls, forcing Jarron Collins to gamely pick up 3 fouls in five minutes.
With moves like this, it’s understandable that beautiful basketball took an indefinite leave of absence from the game. The Magic shot 68 percent from the line, which was significantly better than the Suns’ 58 percent. The Suns shot 48 percent from the floor, which eclipsed the Magic’s 42 percent. And did we already mention 20 minutes of Anthony Johnson?
Instead, the Suns resorted to Smack-a-Dwight, limiting him to only one field goal attempt all game but sending him to the line for 17 free throws (with only eight made). Before the game, Gentry offered he’d send everyone he had at Dwight: “If we had Oliver Miller, we’d throw him out there, too.”
After all his big men found themselves in foul trouble, Gentry might have been seen making a call to Oliver Miller’s favorite Whataburger outlet. (“Hey, if I send a fork lift to you, could you please put him on it?”)
Bringing the double-team quickly on Dwight in the first quarter forced four quick turnovers on some ludicrous cross-court passes, perhaps explaining his willingness to hold the ball for those painful foul shots the rest of the night.
After the first quarter 19-point lead for the Suns, the Magic eked their way back into the game with those free throws as well as a 51-42 rebounding advantage. ‘Tis the season for giving, however, and the big-hearted Magic gifted the Suns with the ball 21 times, leaving the comeback just out of reach but making the game close throughout the second half.
Also out of reach for the Magic (and the viewing public) is an explanation for the last half-minute of the game. With the Suns up 104-103 and 38 seconds left, Steve Nash (20 points, 18 assists) turned the ball over for only the third time of the night to Dwight Howard. But as the Magic brought the ball back up court to attempt to take the lead, Mickeal Pietrus inexplicably ran through Anthony Johnson’s dribble and knocked it out of bounds.
After a Suns time out, Nash brought the ball to half court and then could not get the team set up properly for what appeared to be the final play, having to call all the way back across the court to Alvin Gentry to try to explain to the team where to stand.
The Suns’ final offensive play ended with a drive by Nash and kick to Jared Dudley (career-tying high 19 points) for a three in the corner, which bounced out in the direction of Amar’e Stoudemire (28-10). The Apostrophe nearly bumped his head on a ceiling girder before slamming the rebound home for a 106-103 lead.
With seven seconds left, the Magic came out of their time out (and then another after an inability to inbound the ball) with a swing to Rashard Lewis for a three, which was rebounded by Pietrus and then Stoudemire, leading to a jump ball, which led to Joey Crawford.
Crawford, who had already made his presence known with three out-of-bounds calls on line-stepping for the Magic and one for the Suns (not to mention 51 fouls), threw up the tip ball with 2.5 seconds only to have Amar’e swat the ball out of bounds at the Suns bench.
At this point, Crawford did not give the ball to the Magic. Crawford didn’t reset the jump ball. Instead, he went in yet another review at the scorer’s table and then decided there should another jump ball but with 1.9 seconds on the clock. Previously, the clock had shown 0.1 seconds. This decision was made because… well, Joey has a wonderful plan for our lives and we shouldn’t question that.
By this point, Amar’e had his jumping shoes warmed up and flipped the second tip easily to center court for the final 1.9 seconds to drain from the clock for the 106-103 Suns victory.
After the game, the Magic locker room reflected the mood of a team that took two bad beats in two nights to end eight days on the road. Dwight Howard spoke about the 51 total fouls for both teams: “It was a tight night. There was some fouls, some missed calls, but that’s the game. I think for us, the reason we lost was rebounding. We turned the ball over a lot, but that last rebound was key.”
Even Matt Barnes, who had 14 friends and family at US Airways Center for his return to Phoenix as a Magic, couldn’t find much to celebrate: “It’s good to be back here, but coming off a tough loss last night and then taking this loss, it hurts.”
The Suns, however, were downright giggly after the game. Jared Dudley, who marked his first anniversary as a Sun with those 19 points and an appearance on the cover of Scottsdale Health magazine, broke out his JMZ schtick, pointing his iPhone at his teammates while they were surrounded by the assembled press corps. (http://twitter.com/JaredDudley619/status/6593944564 and http://twitter.com/JaredDudley619/status/6594071487) (Also, http://twitter.com/jrich23/status/6593838987 is on the locker room whiteboard.)
When Dudley was interviewed, Amar’e (egged on by your yet-again-intrepid Game Notes writer) jokingly joined in the fray: “How does it feel to get bailed out by Stoudemire (on the final shot)?”
The Magic (17-6) head home for a brutal Sunday practice session and then a Monday night game against the Pacers. The Suns (15-7) are already hip-deep in Nuggets by the time you read this.
– In the house Friday night: Patrick Ewing, Bill Cartwright, Steve Kerr and Sam Smith. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the mid-90s. Or, if you’re a Knicks fan, from uncontrollably weeping.
– Matt Barnes’ return came amid a few heckles and a few cheers. Barnes contributed a quiet 8 points in 16 minutes.
– The Orlando Magic Spanish language announcer saved your Game Notes author from certain death by T-shirt. Gracias, señor. Gracias.