oenix Suns fans apparently weren't too keen on Shaquille O'Neal's return to the Valley last night, as the one-time Big Shaqtus received plenty of boos when the Cleveland Cavaliers' starting lineup was announced on Monday evening at U.S. Airways Center
In all honesty, the Phoenix faithful shoulda saved their boos for Steve Nash, Channing Frye, Amar'e Stoudemire, and a few other Suns starters, whose offensive impotency during the fourth quarter allowed Cleveland to go on a 15-0 scoring streak to run away with the game. Speaking of streaks, the defeat ended the Suns' glorious stretch of 19 straight wins on their home court, which extended back to last March (when, ironically enough, they last lost to the Cavaliers).
While the wheels didn't come off the wagon until the fourth, Phoenix was desperately trying to keep things together during the preceding quarters of basketball. Nash and Co. kept relatively apace with the James gang in the beginning of the game, ending the first up by a one at 30-29.
Cleveland was in a prime position for an upset, as they were playing back-to-back road games following a tough loss to the Dallas Mavericks the previous evening. But if the King James and his crew were feeling fatigued, they certainly didn't show it. LeBron, who opened the night with a flurry of shots from the paint, was an absolute monster throughout the game. He unleashed several titanic dunks over a flummoxed Stoudemire, repeatedly fed the ball to the likes of Anderson Varejao, and busted out with some fearsome drives on his way to a total of 29 points, four rebounds, and six assists overall. His ferocious play obviously rubbed off on teammates like Williams, who rained down buckets to the tune of 24 points.
Shaq, on the other hand, only coughed up a meager three points and five rebounds in his 19 minutes of playing time, but helped get a modicum of revenge on his former squad by playing a role in Cleveland's dismantling of the Suns offense through dominating D. The Cavs showed off their league-leading defense through stops aplenty, with players like Delonte West halting the run-and-gun through countless defensive stops, snuffing out the pick-and-roll and capitalizing on a staggering 19 turnovers to net 34 points.
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Frye and the rest of the Suns' three-point snipers were nullified, going 1-of-13 from downtown after the first quarter. It was part of one of the worst scoring performances of the season from the Suns, who saw another streak of scoring 100 points or more in their last 36 straight home games go out the window. Regardless, Phoenix battled back to within six during fourth to make the score 92-86 before Cleveland called a timeout and began their game-stopping run.
Planet Orange will attempt to bounce back from the loss and start a whole new home winning streak tomorrow night when they host the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder at the USAC. Although the erstwhile SuperSonics, who moved to OKC last season, posted some pretty dismal performances during the first couple months (thus earning them a cellar-dwelling spot in the NBA's Northwest Division), they've battled back in recent weeks to pull even at the .500 mark at 13-13.
Oklahomans can thank players like Kevin Durant and Jeff Green for this, especially since the latter Thunder basketballer has overcome a scoring slump and inconsistent play over the past few games. Before their matchup with the Suns, Oklahoma City first has to make a stop at the Staples Center tonight to take on the Los Angeles Lakers, which could be good for the Suns if Kobe Bryant and his superstar squad thump the Thunder before their Valley visit.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. TV: KUTP 45. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. More info: www.suns.com.