The Phoenix Suns played all but nine minutes of Monday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder without Steve Nash, and the team seemed to pick up steam after its floor leader went to the locker room with back spasms.
Even if it was against the team with the worst record in the NBA, the Suns were solid on the road in their 110-102 victory.
Shaquille O'Neal led the way with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks. He was 10 of 12 from the field and -- amazingly -- 8 of 12 from the free-throw line.
Like we keep saying, give Shaq four days rest (the Suns last played on Christmas Day in that one-point heartbreaker against the Spurs) and he's a monster.
Coach Terry Porter seemed to have it all working against the 3-29 Thunder -- 60 points in the paint and 18 on fast-breaks.
In addition, the Suns bench scored 37, including 19 from Matt Barnes and 10 from Leandro Barbosa (LB played most of the game in place of Nash).
After Nash went out, his fellow Suns starters and Barbosa got the game well in hand. Recent Suns acquisition Jason Richardson scored 20 points, including a rim-rattling 360-degree turnaround dunk (on an outlet pass from Shaq) that was the highlight of the Suns attack.
Though Amare Stoudemire played only 23 minutes because of foul trouble, he still managed to put in 14 ponts before he fouled out late in the fourth quarter. The last two calls against him were highly questionable.
Porter gave five of his six bench players signifncant playing time (something you never would've seen under any circumstance in the Mike D'Antoni era), at least nine minutes. And he got good preformances out of newly acquired backup point guard Dee Brown, who hit a crucial three-pointer, and forwards Lou Amundson, and Jared Dudley.
Dudley, who came from the Bobcats in the Jason Richardson deal, proved he's a defender worthy of his Charlotte nickname, Junkyard Dog, plus he ripped down two big rebounds that stopped an Oklahoma City second-half surge.
Maybe Nash's back problem and Stoudemire's foul trouble were blessings in disquise? The team seemed to rally without the starting point guard, and his and Stoudemire's absences filtered down to time for the Suns' subs time to show what they can do. Deepening the bench should pay off for the Suns later.
There was no immediate word on whether Nash would play in tonight's game in Memphis against the Grizzlies -- Rick Barrs
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