Phoenix Suns @ Toronto Raptors 136-123

After an interesting night of preparation to get here, I arrived in Toronto on zero hours sleep. I got to see one of my closest friends that I graduated from X with and who played on the X team during my four years there, and then headed out to the ACC to catch the Raptors game. I was a little late getting to the arena, since I got lost on the way, and by the time I got my pass media time was pretty much over. I still managed to crash into DJ Strawberry. That marks three Suns games for me this season and in each one I have literally ran into him. Maybe it is a cosmic sign that he is going to have a breakout stint soon and I will be the person who will get the call to cover a SLAM feature?

I got settled in my seat, which was waaaaaay high, but, had a great view and great company. I sat next to a writer for Hoopsworld and a guy who works for RaptorsTV and I am confident it will not be the last that I see of either of them. Good people, and most importantly, hoop heads need to stick together in Canada, where we are overrun with hockey news. I took my seat just as the starting lineups were announced and it was nice to see the cheers for Nash. The Raptors were again without Bosh and Bargnani and TJ Ford did not start.

Starters:

Toronto:
Jose Calderon
Anthony Parker
Joey Graham
Jamario Moon
Rasho Nesterovic

Phoenix:
Steve Nash
Raja Bell
Shawn Marion
Grant Hill
Amare Stoudemire

FIRST QUARTER

-The jump ball ends up in Parker’s hands and the Raptors start the game off with a Joey Graham missed shot almost immediately. Calm down Joey. Suns strike first with a Stoudemire jumper off of a Nash pass.

-Marion sends Graham to the line and he hits both. Suns are out running already and they are the team who played in a tough 120-117 victory last night.

-Graham misses again but Moon hits a jump shot and the crowd goes wild. Easy to see that he is a favorite, and how can they help but love him? He is like the feel-good story of the year, a 27 year-old rookie earning and excelling in a starting position, especially in the absence of Bosh and Bargnani.
-Hill knocks down a three with ease. Oh yes, doubters, bring on the hate.

Graham with another shot, this time he hits. For some reason, I cannot be happy seeing Joey in the lineup. He works hard and is a nice guy, but, I’ve never been able to jump on the Graham-train.

-Amare misses a pull-up J, Marion fouls Graham again. Diaw hops off the bench and is in for Marion. Grahama at the line again, makes the first and misses the second. 7-5 Toronto.

-Diaw looks active and gets going immediately, knocking down a hook shot to tie things at 7. While Diaw has been relatively quiet this season, every time I see him, I am surprised by how much thinner he is this season as compared to last. Towards the end of last season he just looked “soft”. Not anymore.

-Rasho gets an offensive foul after ramming into Hill and Phoenix gets the ball back but it’s a Raja miss.

-I am sitting with two guys who cover the Raptors nightly, one who works for Hoopsworld and the other who works for RaptorsTV. I should be thanking my lucky stars I found these pure basketball souls because they are giving me the lowdown on how things work here at the ACC, as well as pointing out where the families sit, telling stories about just HOW gangster Sam Mitchell is and how to get in good with the guys after the game. It would be pretty sweet to cover the team exclusively where you get to a point that they actually know and like you. Someday….someday.

-So, I just missed Parker’s first shot of the night, and the crowd goes bananas. These Toronto fans are great. They really love their team and the fan appreciation for Parker, Calderon, and Moon is off of the charts.

-Amare hits another jumper, but Calderon responds on the other end. 11-9 Raps.

-Bell misses a three that looks nice when it is released and Parker’s three looks nice on the release and as it barely rips the net. Raptors ball movement is crisp and efficient so far. Calderon creates this confidence in the Raps and its fun to watch.

-Nash gets the step and gets the layup and the crowd loves it. So do I.

-Calderon feeds Rasho for the layup.

-Hill hits another three. 16-14 Raps

-Raps call for time. Barbosa is in for Hill. Out of the timeout, Rasho with the hook shot! Nash comes back with a three-pointer.

-My new favorite, Jamario Moon gets a pull up to go but, Barbosa is just getting started and gets a layup to go as he flies past everyone.

-Rasho misses a jumper and you can see all of the Suns leaking out, just waiting for fastbrak opportunites. It is crazy to watch how this team operates, such offsenive firepower and they have it honed to a science. Getting so many possessions each game. On the Rasho miss, Nash gets the quick rebound and the outlet pass whipped to Barbosa, who is already at the other end of the court, another easy lay in.

-Graham misses another shot, Amare rebounds, outlets to Nash who dishes to Diaw for an uncontested dunk. 23-20 Suns.

-Diaw back on the defensive end gets the block on Graham. Barbosa misses a three.

-Parker feeds a cutting Rasho for a reverse lay-in, Diaw answers with a jumper. Diaw has a quick 6 points already.

-Calderon pulls up and fires, hits. Perfect J.

-Nash to Amare, Amare with the big dunk. That was textbook. Nash with 6 assists in the quarter. 27-24 Suns.

-Sign of the night: “Who Needs Sun-shine When we Have Moonshine?”.

-Nash hits again, Barbosa foul, Suns timeout with 2:10 left in the quarter and Toronto makes it’s first substitutions of the game.

-Suns: Brian Skinner in for Stoudemire, Hill back in for Nash.
Raptors: TJ Ford in for Calderon, Carlos Delfino in for Graham.

-Rasho at the line misses both but Delfino gets the rebound and misses a three, Rasho gets another offensive rebound and he hits another hook shot. 29-26 Suns.

-Hill misses a jumper, Nesterovic misses a lay-up but tips in his own miss.

-Skinner hits, Rasho misses again and Barbosa tips in a Diaw miss, End of quarter 33-28 Suns.

Rasho has 10 points in the quarter, Nash had 7 points and 6 assists with 0 turnovers.

SECOND QUARTER

-Kapono is in and misses a jump shot. Skinner knocks down a hook shot. Every time he scores, or even makes a move it surprises me. Kinda like Rasho and how I cringe each time someone makes a pass to him, waiting for it to squeeze through his hands.

-TJ Ford in the game and gets a finger-roll to go. The crowd goes wild. Diaw and Barbosa hook up to get Diaw the sweet reverse layup. 37-30 Suns.

-MOOOOOOOON with the dunk from TJ. That almost got me out of my seat. The excitement surrounding Jamario is infectious, contagious, it is a good thing.

-Misses on both ends, and Humphries gets a dunk, back to back turnovers, misses and another turnover before Ford nails a J.

-Time Out. It is here that my notes get a little scattered. I think this was a direct result of the conversation with my fellow journalists who were giving me the lowdown on the true gangster-ness of Sam Mitchell. Hearing some of their stories about getting ripped daily at the hands of Sam was pretty funny.

-Alvin Gentry is called for a Tech. Totally missed what happened there, but Kapano missed the tech free throw.

-Jump ball and Diaw tips it to Marion, who swings it to Hill who dishes to Diaw for another hook shot. Suns ball movement at it’s best.

-Ford Misses, but then gets a layup to go before Barbosa goes on a 13-point run for the Suns. He gets back-to-back threes to go, a layup, another three and then hits two free throws. All in less than 3 minutes. This is why he is called the Brazilian Bur. The Raptors heads are spinning as much as mine.

-Calderon and Parker in for Ford and Kapano. Amare and Bell in for Diaw and Hill. Rasho for Humphries.

-Delfino misses a shot, Amare turns the ball over, Delfino sets up Parker for the three, but Suns are ready and Nash pushes the ball to Amare for the slam, 52-42 Suns.

-Delfino with a miss, Rasho offensive board and Delfino gets a reverse lay up.

-Marion lay up on the other end from Nash. Calderon jumper, and Suns call for time.

-Teams trade misses before Delfino hits a three to bring Raps within 5, 56-51, but, Barbosa comes back with ANOTHER three, set up by Nash. Nash has 10 assists already and it is not even halftime, Barbosa has hit 4 three-pointers in this quarter alone.

-Parker gets the steal off of Nash and goes in for the big dunk with 2 seconds left in the half, 61-56 Suns @ the half.

-Raptors are playing well without Bosh and Bargnani, shot 54.5% from the floor in the first half, but, Phoenix put on a clinic, finishing at 59.1%.

-Barbosa already has 22 points.

-I learn that the Suns have sent Alando Tucker down to the D-league, I’m not sure how I missed that.

THIRD QUARTER

-Amare with a hook shot and the foul. He hits the free throw.

-Raja connects on a three, assisted by Nash and then Marion fouls Graham, where he hits both free throws. 67-58 Suns.

-Nash swings the ball to Hill for a three, good. Rasho fouls Marion and he makes both free throws. Suns had three offensive boards in that sequence.

-Rasho dunks Parker’s missed shot., Hill and Raja miss three-pointers.

-Nash gets the lay up and the foul, Calderon with the foul. Nash hits the free throw.

-Delfino steps out of bounds, Raja with the J, you can tell he is about to heat up, quickly.

-As if on cue, Raja dials up another long J and Hill nabs his 7th assist of the night. Toronto calls a timeout.

-Out of the timeout Moon hits a 15 footer, but then Raja knocks down a three. Raja then fouls Parker and picks up a tech for arguing. I tell the guys to wait for it, Raja’s going to start jacking some threes and will probably hit them because he is fired up now.

-Parker makes his two free throws plus the tech and now it is 80-63 Suns.

-Rajjjjjjjja, with a three, Calderon turns it over and Marion feeds Hill for the dunk. Parker gets a shot to go and Amare swats it but is called for goaltending.

-Amare hits a jumper and then gets the actual block on Parker before Raja knocks down another three. I LOVE when players get emotionally fired up like this.

-Calderon hits a three. I love the Raptors announcer and how he announces when Calderon scores.

-Barbosa hits another three, Moon with a block that almost makes me choke on my pen and marvel at his athleticism and Kapano hits a three. The lead is still 97-83 for the Suns.

-We check the halftime boxscore again and realize the Suns have already scored 36 points in the quarter and there is still 2 minutes remaining.

-Suns go on an 11-2 run to finish out the quarter. They are led by Amare and his seven points in about a 30 second span. The Raptors have scored 85 points at the end of three, have shot 53.1% for the game so far and a ridiculous 70% from the three-pont line and yet, they are down 21 points.

-In three quarters the Suns have 106 points and are still shooting 59.2% for the game. Raja had a 14-point third quarter, while Amare dropped in 12.

FOUTH QUARTER

-This is easily the most entertaining blow-out I have ever seen.

-I still can’t believe the Suns played last night, and put up 122 in the game against Indiana. I also can’t believe I got to witness a 45-point quarter after I just finished gushing over their 47-point quarter a few weeks back.

-Raps open the quarter with a miss and a Humphries rebound and put-back dunk. The crowd is still into it, supporting their Raptors.

-Marion at the line, hits both, teams trade misses, Ford with a 22 footer.

-Diaw pulls up and knocks down the shot, Ford with a lay up now. Parker with finger-roll. He looks so smooth sometimes. Ryan mentions Pat Summit and her recent comments calling AP’s sister, Candace the best player she has ever coached. That’s big.

-Kapano wraps up Amare and he knocks down both free throws. Its 112-95 now.

-Humphries gets a turnaround J and then gets a little too fired up and is charged with the T. Hill misses the ft.

-Suns with back-to-back turnovers and Humphries gets a dunk.

-Game is getting a little sloppy, but Nash and Raja are back in for Marion and Diaw.

-Calderon in for Kapano.

-Barbosa drive and layup. Amare on the receiving end of an alley-oop from Nash. Perfection. And the foul. Amare hits his free throw again.

-Ford hits the fadeaway. He is fun to watch when he’s under control. He’s been pretty smart tonight. We have Calderon and Ford on the floor together and Nash and Barbosa out there for Phoenix as well.

-Suns are at 119 points and we still have over seven minutes left in the game.

-Moon with another big block. I.Love.This.Guy.

–Ford hits a long jumper, Barbosa gets out on the break and gets an easy layup off of a feed from Hill.

-Misses back and forth. Amare vs. Moon jump ball. I expect Moon and his springy legs to get it, but Amare taps it to Barbosa who gets it to Hill who is fouled and he hits both free throws.

-Barbosa layup. Can you imagine this guy NOT starting on any other team in the L?

-Parker hits a three, but it is just too late, Suns are still up 20 125-108 with 5 minutes to play.

-Moon misses the put-back dunk. It would have been crazy if that went down!

-Nash throws the alley-oop to Hill for a big dunk. I think that is my play of the game. Seeing Hill get up like that, seeing him contribute each night to the Suns, quietly being such a huge part of what they do, it feels good.

-Raps are falling apart. Turnovers and missed shots in a flurry.

Raja with a dunk off of the outlet from Nash and Toronto calls a timeout.

-3:19 on the clock and both D’Antoni and Mitchell pull their starters.

-Ford hits two meaningless jumpers,as does Barbosa, DJ Strawberry is in for Barbosa, Baston gets a dunk and the game is basically over. Final score, 136-123.

-Great offensive game for the Suns. Spaced out scoring, great offensive spacing and the ball movement was so crisp. I thought the Raptors had been moving the ball well as of late, the Suns were above and beyond in that respect.

-Barbosa finishes with 35 points off of the bench, shooting 14-23. Hill has 17 points and 9 assists while Nash has 10 points and 18 assists just one night after tallying 17 assists in Indiana. Amare finishes with 25 points but, most surprisingly, 0 personal fouls. Marion has 10 points and 14 rebounds.

-TJ Ford had a 15-point effort in the fourth quarter and finishes with 27 points on 12-19 shooting. Anthony Parker adds 22 points on 8-13 shooting and Jamario Moon had 8 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Rasho scored 12 points and Carlos Delfino looked really good on his way to scoring 14 points. Calderon had 14 points also, in addition to dishing 9 assists.

-I still can’t believe the Raptors scored 123 points, finished 55.4% from the floor and 62.5% from the three-point line and Phoenix still ran them out of the gym. The Suns finished the game at 58.9% from the floor and had 38 team assists to only 12 turnovers. The Phoenix offense was in high-gear and everything fell into place for them tonight.

POST GAME

-As much as I wanted to hear Sam Mitchell tear into someone in person, I was warned that after losses, he usually takes his sweet time talking to the media and by the time he is done, the Raptors are usually gone and the road time is almost always gone, so, I saw D’Antoni in the hallway and went over with the rest of the reporters to see what he had to say.

-D’Antoni opens his interview time with “Steve Nash is not playing for the Canadian National team”, said half-jokingly since this has been all of the talk in Canada the past few days.

-He was happy with the win, but, still impressed with the effort the Raps gave without Bosh and Bargnani. When asked about the night that Barbosa had, he just said that on any other team, Barbosa would be starting.

-Spoke about Toronto going small to try and cut the 20-point lead. He says the thing with Suns is that they can go “big and small at the same time because Amare can shoot outside but also he can punish you inside.”.

-Says he was happy with the effort offensively and their offense was “awesome”.

-When asked about Nash coming back into the game in the fourth quarter he says, “…if he plays an extra minute or two that’s not going to kill him. If we lose a game and he put all that energy into it and I’m being cute then that’s worse. We always make sure we win the game. Sometimes I exaggerate and keep him in too long but I said it once, I’d rather be the dummy that keeps him in too long than be the dummy that loses the game.”

-Into the locker room and Amare and Hill are out of the shower and getting dressed. DJ and Marcus Banks are in the corner talking to one of their equipment manager guys. I look at Amare as he is buttoning up his shirt and faces the crush of us media who is waiting to talk to him. I know it happens every night, but it still has got to be a weird feeling. I try to put myself in his shoes, but they are just too big for me to even imagine stepping into. (sidenote: When I am in the middle of the scrum as Amare starts talking I look down and see the guys feet. I swear, they are longer than my arm from elbow to fingertip. These guys are just so huge, you see it when they are playing, but, it is when they are around us “normal-sized people” (or those shorter than average, like myself), that it really hits home.

-Amare entertains a ton of questions and my arm is tired form holding up my recorder for almost 8 minutes. He gets a kick out of a reporter pointing out the fact that he went foul-less for the game and says “give me one of this stat sheets, I’ve gotta give this to Coach”. Laughing up a storm he talks about Genty and Raja’s tech’s and how he has tamed down this season.

-A reporter asks how it feels to know that some of the reporters watching the game are commenting on how “pretty” his jumpers are. Amare says, “As long as we win, whatever it takes to get W’s I’m down for.”

-I love that when asked if he expects to score at this high of a level (121 last night, 136 tonight), he responds, “We can, we’ve got enough players who can score, create their own shots, so yeah, we can.”

-On Nash’s play, “Steve Nash is going to come out and play his style of basketball regardless…..18 assists, shhhhhooo, that’s pretty big time”. After this, his answers get shorter and shorter and then he basically lets us know he is done with the media.

-I am waiting for Raja because I want to ask him how it felt to knock down those three’s after picking up his technical in the third, as well as talk about how hard it was for him to sit out a few games back with the ankle and back problems but, he is taking his time in the shower.

-While I wait all I can hear is Mr. Bell singing, yelling and just loving life through the shower doors. Nash comes out of the shower room and he is sipping down beer in his Gatorade cup with a foamy froth sticking to his upper lip. Marion tries to motion to him to wipe it off, but Steve doesn’t catch on. These guys are happy, two wins back-to-back, dropping huge numbers and they have Washington and Minnesota left on the trip. It is nice to see them relaxed, especially so after Nash says that after the win last night the locker room was quiet and that sometimes they get too caught up in the game and don’t enjoy their successes.
-When someone asks Nash about Toronto’s team make-up being similar to Phoenix, Nash says that he does see the two teams as being similar in the way they can spread the floor, and have shooters all over the court, making it tough for opponents to guard the pick and roll. He compliments Calderon and Ford saying Toronto has “clever point guards”.

-As I am waiting for Raja to enter the locker room, I look around and survey who is where and who is ready to be approached. I catch Amare’s glance and not only does he give me a nod and a “how are you doing?” he motions for me to come over and talk to him. No recorder, no notebook, just off the record me talking to one of my favorites. That is one of the coolest feelings in the world. He asks what I’m doing in Toronto, we talk about how is body is feeling and he says, feels great but, you tell me, you were watching, so I say it’s gotta feel pretty great to drop 42 last night and then get an easy 26 tonight, to which he just laughs and says yeah, it was a good game and now they have to go out against Washington, stay focused and take care of business. When I ask him what day they play the Wizards he says “Uh, Tuesday, no, it must be Wednesday, no, uh, what day is today?”. I tell him it is Wednesday and I’m having trouble keeping track of the days myself and he asks why. I explain that I flew in early this morning because I saw the Pacers game and the 121 points and 42-point performances was enough to make me change my plans to see this team who is on a roll and of course, Nash in Canada. He says they’ve got to just keep on pushing things and improving and they feel good about where they are. I thank him for his time and wish him well on the rest of the road-trip. He is cool as ever and tells me to take care.

-Raja is out of the locker room now, and is spraying himself with cologne or something and as he does he is screaming. He is a funny guy and it is easy to see he loves his life and he really loves this team. When I approach him he says, hey how are you doing, and I tell him I look a little better than he is sounding, because he is still wincing. He laughs and then I ask him how much better it feels to be playing as opposed to being stuck on the bench injured. I say I know it had to kill him when he injured because he gives so much to the team as an emotional leader and he says that as nice as it is to see your team doing well, and as happy as he was for them to succeed without him it gets frustrating to sit on the bench and not be able to help. He says he is excited to be back and feeling healthy again.

-I ask how good it felt to have the 14-point 3rd quarter and drop those threes after he picked up the technical in the 3rd and he laughs and says, they were out of frustration and he had nowhere else to vent so he got them up and luckily they went in because when they don’t go in it is a bad thing but when they go in, it makes it all better.

-After this, I say thanks and start to walk away, but Raja isn’t done and says, “Where ARE you from?” “Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, you are all over f-ing Canada, Uh, I mean Canada”. I can’t help but laugh because from what I’ve heard through the shower doors, Raja is one guy TNT would NOT like to have miked up. I explain I am located in Vancouver, was visiting friends and needed to work it out to come see the game. That seemed to work for Raja and I got a “no doubt”, before I left him to finish getting dressed.

-After this I was pretty happy, although I wanted to speak with Leandro, but there was someone filming him and I decided to let it go. I heard him say, “Every game we just try to be better”. I went back over where Nash was still holding court and got to hear him talk about getting their rhythm and how it was nice to come out in the third so strong to take control of the game.

-After Steve was done talking, most of the guys had left the locker room, and I made my way towards the Raptors side, but I didn’t see anyone besides the equipment managers. I figured that the scoop I had gotten earlier was true, and Mitchell took his time getting out for media so most of the guys were spared the wrath of the reporters.

-I stopped by the media room to pick up my beloved Raptors media guide to read on the plane ride home and while I was in there a guy shouted out “Iverson’s got 30-something and it is only the second quarter. As soon as I heard that, I knew I had heard my cue.

-On my way out I got to say thank you and goodbye to the sweetest security guard I’ve ever met. He not only helped me find my seat, and returned my pen when I dropped it, he showed me a back exit to get to the locker rooms which was much quicker and allowed me to side-step all of the traffic and other reporters flooding the halls. All of the staff at the ACC were amazingly accommodating and I can’t wait until I can catch my next game.

-While I had planned on going into the Raptors locker room and getting quotes from some of their guys, in the end I was happy I got to see Phoenix. They are just a great group of guys and they have so much fun. It is great to see professional basketball being that fun for everyone involved. The coaching staff, equipment managers and the players all enjoying each other’s company as much as they enjoyed the win. I will say that you can all call me crazy right now, but, before long I will be conducting a big-time interview with Mr. Stoudemire. I can just feel it coming. I love his game and I love how cool he is to the media. I’ve got lots of questions to ask him and I can’t wait until the day the opportunity is given to me to do so. As for Barbosa, it is really too bad he has already had an article in the mag not too long ago, because it is easy to tell he is a reporter’s dream. So accommodating and polite, he is really one of a kind.

-All in all the game was perfect. It was one of the most entertaining big losses I have ever watched and it is just beautiful to watch basketball that is played that well. The execution, the passing and the ease at which BOTH teams were scoring was great to see. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of defense, but it was fun because the offense was running so smoothly for both teams. It was also really cool to watch Calderon matched up with Nash. The more I see each of them play, the more Calderon does remind me of Nash, both playing-style and leadership-style and that is definitely not a bad person to be compared to.

-Another night of living out a life-long dream and then getting to go and de-brief with friends as well as watching the Lakers hold off Iverson’s magical 51 points? That was the sweetest nightcap anyone could ever hope for.