Suns Burn Celtics: Upset Solidifies Early Success
Despite being 10 point underdogs on the road, the Suns grinded their way to a 110-103 win over a previously undefeated Boston team. The Celtics had held opponents to 81.5 points per game during their 6-0 start, but the Suns continued their offensive onslaught right through TD Banknorth Garden. In each of the first six games, the Suns have scored 100 or more points, and have scored triple digits in their last eight games going back to last season.
Friday was supposed to be an opportunity for the Suns to come back down to reality after a quick start. The team emerged spotless from their first four games, but had the fortune of playing the Clippers, Warriors, and Timberwolves during that stretch. A blowout loss to the Magic on Wednesday only seemed to foreshadow a defeat in Boston.
What the experts didn’t tell you, however, was that this does not appear to be the same Suns team that frustrated so many fans last year. Now with their third coach in the last 16 months, the team has finally found their groove.
Under new coach Alvin Gentry, the Suns are not only winning, but they are playing as a team. Six players on the roster are averaging in double figures in points per game, and five of the first six games saw a different player lead the team in scoring. Part of the success? The coaching change.
Gentry, who power forward Amar’e Stoudemire describes as a player’s coach, is a flashback to the Mike D’Antoni days, when the Suns ran the “seven seconds or less” offense. After Porter’s methodical pace only led them to a 28-23 start last year, Gentry’s run n’ gun style appears to have the Suns back on track.
The team is averaging more points per game than last season, and Stoudemire is back from a season-ending eye injury. Although the return of the four time all-star is a huge lift to their offense, their balanced attack has allowed multiple guys to step in and be role players. Stars like Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, and Boris Diaw have all left, but offense is still putting up impressive numbers.
The one mainstay besides Stoudemire has been Steve Nash, who seems to have had a renaissance this year. At the age of 35, Nash is averaging a career high in scoring at 19.6 points per game, and is posting assist totals reminiscent of his back-to-back MVP seasons. More than anything else this season, Nash has been clutch. In their season opener, he scored 15 fourth quarter points, including the game winning shot with five seconds remaining. Days after Nash had a 20 assist game against Golden State, he scored 10 of the last 11 Phoenix shots in a win over the 5-1 Miami Heat.
While the season is still young, the early success could have big implications later on. These wins have come in the midst of a 26 game stretch in which 17 of the games will be played on the road. If the Suns come out of the first third of the season relatively unscathed, they will be in great position to improve their record at home, where they have won 11 consecutive games. In the meantime, fans should start paying attention to this underrated club.
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