Monday, November 5, 2007

Phoenix Suns start off slow, but beat the Cleveland Cavaliers

Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo said he thought it was a typo Friday when he saw the Suns' blowout loss to the Lakers on a television's ticker in Chicago.

But there was the proof in front of him Sunday, when his Ring of Honor ceremony began after a 38-point Suns first half in which Phoenix shot 37 percent.

The solution was another great halftime speech, as the Suns emerged looking more like a winning team, beating Cleveland 103-92, moving to 2-1 and keeping the Cavaliers winless in Phoenix since 1999.

That predates the arrival of LeBron James, who said the halftime ceremony was "definitely tough on us" but should have given more credit to how the Suns played in the second half.

Lacking rhythm, and Amare Stoudemire, out with stiffness in the right knee, the Suns had to turn gritty.

Steve Nash hit 8 of 10 second-half shots in a 30 point, 10 assist night that saw him become more aggressive, a characteristic he usually reserves for April and May.

"If our offense isn't making the defense open up some of those lanes for passes that are normally there, then I'm going to be aggressive and make them stop me and maybe that'll open up some things for my teammates," said Nash, adding that he thought a physical approach would work better than any cerebral cure for the team's first-week energy funk.

"Even with Amare, we've got to be a team that swarms, scraps and hustles and uses our quickness, athleticism and intelligence at the defensive end to make us successful."

As Nash said, 2-1 is not bad for a team that has played four of the 12 quarters well.

"It wasn't real pretty, but effective," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Stoudemire is day to day as the Suns evaluate what Stoudemire is calling "discomfort." They looked like they might remain in a world of hurt without him. The three-point shooting was even worse at 5 for 21. The free-throw shooting remained frigid until the Suns made their final 12.

In the meantime, they survived on defense. Grant Hill was exemplary on LeBron James, who was 11 of 26 from the field and did not go to the free-throw line until there was 1:26 left in the game. Shawn Marion was taking on big-man duty again, handling Drew Gooden mostly but occasionally moving over to 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

"I felt like I was a little kid guarding that big dude," said Marion, who is 6-7.

The Suns defense forced 22 turnovers.

"The perception is we don't play defense," Marion said. "I feel we do. It gets overshadowed by our high-powered offense."

Boris Diaw, starting for Stoudemire, had 16 points and eight rebounds.

"The more he plays, the better he is," D'Antoni said. "I'm not going to lose him this year like I did last year and like I did against the Lakers."

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