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Outdoor game sees shooting, temperature drop

By Dave McMenamin
Posted Oct 12 2008 2:57PM

Indian Wells, Calif. -- It always seemed somewhat contradictory to me that the hallowed Boston Garden, nestled in the inclement weather of the Northeast, was known for being so hot during the Celtics' games of yesteryear that the two teams might as well have been playing in a sauna.

That said, it was equally strange to me on Saturday night that Indian Wells Garden, located just outside of Palm Springs in sunny California, was downright chilly as the Nuggets downed the Suns 77-72 in the AutoTrader.com Open, the first NBA game played outdoors in the modern era.

"I'm not going to spend too much time looking at the film tonight," Suns head coach Terry Porter said after facetiously rubbing his hands together to warm them up. "We didn't think the wind was going to blow like it did."

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BLOG: Dave McMenamin's blog from the AutoTrader.com Open

To be fair, there weren't hurricane-force blusters on Saturday, but you best believe that these weren't the type of gusts that make the practice of hurling a ball from 20 feet away into a hoop suspended 10 feet in the air too inviting.

"It was hard," added Steve Nash, who scored a game-high 16 points, but struggled from the field, going 5-for-12. "You shoot the ball and then it starts slicing right."

There was a mixed bag of answers when players and coaches were asked if they would like to play another game outdoors. Most of the participants thought it was a good experience because the fans clearly enjoyed the night, but that didn't mean that they did not see ways it could have been improved.

"We need to get those benches heated like they have in football where you have hot seats," Porter said with a laugh.

When the Big Aristotle was asked if he'd like to play under the Big Dipper again, Shaquille O'Neal replied, "Yeah ... [as long as it's] in June."

Carmelo Anthony, who sat out the game with a contusion on his left hand, was dressed in a sports jacket and jeans on the sideline and while his ensemble might have provided more body coverage than his teammates' outfits of shorts and jerseys, next time he plans to wear a "damn hoody."

Seeing the Nuggets' Renaldo Balkman wear an armsleeve and the Suns' Alando Tucker wear knee-high socks made you wonder if there only motivation to wear the accessories was for warmth.

All jokes aside, the most constructive suggestion offered by several players was to move the tip-off up a couple of hours to the afternoon because the temperature dropped dramatically as the night grew later.

The players weren't the only ones to feel the cold. There were plenty of fans wearing sweatshirts or jackets in the stands to stay warm. Debi Sagum of La Quinta, Calif. took it a step further by wrapping herself in a blanket she retrieved from the trunk of her car.

"This was the coldest day in months," Sagum said.

While the temperature in the arena dipped into 60s in the fourth quarter, the shooting percentages for both teams didn't top 40. Denver finished the game 29-for-80 from the field (.362) and 1-for-11 from three while Phoenix bottomed out at 25-for-79 (.316) and 2-for-16 from deep.

"The wind just made you really unsure about your shot," Phoenix guard Raja Bell said. "It plays on your mind when you're shooting from deep that there is a wind out there. But what can you do? You just shoot it."

There was an actual basketball game played, but without Anthony, Allen Iverson or Amare Stoudemire suiting up, coupled with the conditions, the action was decidedly more "pre" than "season."

J.R. Smithscored 10 of his 12 points after halftime and the Nuggets held the Suns to just 31 points in the second period to come away with the victory.

Phoenix and Denver combined for 32 turnovers between them as players complained that the ball was slippery.

Despite the weather and the sloppy play however, it wasn't all bad.

Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin praised the "ambiance" and his coach, George Karl, said that he thought it was "pretty cool" to look up at the moon in between calling plays and managing the rotation.

"This wasn't about being accurate or being pretty, it was just an opportunity to see how it is," Nash said. "It was still enjoyable."

The public address announcer in the arena repeatedly referred to the night as "historic" and as a "special event," and for what it's worth, it was.

When the game started with the first tip-off of an NBA game outdoors since 1972, a good portion of the sellout crowd of 16,236 whipped out their cameras and made flashbulbs pop around the arena like collars at a preppy high school.

It would be surprising if it takes three and a half decades for the NBA plays its next game outdoors, especially if Charles Barkley has anything to say about it. The TNT analyst spoke to reporters before the game and proposed that a good way to "spice up" the All-Star game would be to erase the roof and have it outdoors.

Barkley wants to see the February classic played at Chase Field, the retractable-roofed home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. One advantage Barkley cited of having the game at Chase was that the ballpark seats close to 50,000 people, so the league could accommodate all of the tickets that are allotted for corporate partners and still give "real fans" a chance to go to the game.

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