Nash Hurt as Suns Rally For 11th Straight Win
Phoenix 101, New Orleans/Oklahoma City 88
OKLAHOMA CITY, March 6 (Ticker) -- The Phoenix Suns do not want to think about playing without Steve Nash. But for one quarter, they were all right.
Leandro Barbosa scored 12 of his 15 points in the last seven minutes as the Suns rallied without their injured leader for their 11th straight win, a 101-88 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
One day after spearheading Phoenix's nationally televised win at Dallas, Nash was at it again Monday. The reigning NBA MVP sparked a third-quarter run that erased a 12-point halftime deficit and briefly gave the Suns the lead.
With about three minutes left in the period, Nash rolled his right ankle on a drive to the basket. He hit 1-of-2 free throws to pull Phoenix within 71-67 but left afterward and did not return.
"We've played without Steve for stretches, but never at the end of a game," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Our second group is getting a lot more confidence. Guys like Barbosa and Diaw were incredible down the stretch. But we don't want to make a habit of trying to win without him."
The Suns trailed, 79-71, entering the fourth quarter but wasted little time getting back in the game. Diaw had a three-point play and a driving dunk around a 3-pointer by Raja Bell, tying the contest in less than two minutes.
"I kept looking down the bench to see if Steve was coming back, so much so I may have whiplash," D'Antoni said. "But the guys did a great job without him."
A jumper by Eddie House gave Phoenix the lead for good at 83-81 with 7:18 remaining before Barbosa took over. He made a strong baseline move for a layup, then added two free throws.
Hornets rookie Chris Paul had a three-point play, but Diaw made a jumper and Barbosa - who leads the NBA in 3-point percentage at .480 - drained a pair of long 3-pointers for a 95-84 bulge with 3:36 to play. The Hornets got no closer than nine points thereafter.
"(Barbosa) his a couple of huge threes and Boris was a rebounding machine," said Nash, who watched the fourth quarter from the locker room. "I think they got cold from the floor and we kinda hit our stride at the same time."
"We didn't take advantage of Steve Nash leaving the game," Hornets forward David West said. "This team is designed to get up and down the floor with or without him. They exploited mismatches and really attacked us."
Coming off Wednesday's road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in which they scored an NBA record-low 16 points in the second half, they were held to nine points on 3-of-18 shooting in the final period.
"Right now I'm disappointed because we are not ready to play in the second half," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "We are coming down the floor like we are down 30 points, putting up threes and not getting into the lane. I thought we were soft on defense, soft on the boards. That tells me we're scared."
"In the second half, we started putting the clamp down on defense," Marion said. "Teams can hang with us for two or three quarters, but when that fourth quarter kicks in, we run away with it."
Bell scored 17 points and Nash added 12 and seven assists for the Suns, who also have won six straight road games. In three meetings with the Hornets this season, the Suns hold a 92-37 scoring edge in the fourth quarter.
West scored 22 points and Paul added 14 and 11 assists for the Hornets, who have lost three in a row. Targeting an improbable playoff berth, they return to New Orleans for the first time this season Wednesday vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
"It'll be my first opportunity to play in New Orleans," Paul said. "I'm excited to get there and show the fans of New Orleans that we still play for them. Plus it's a huge game for us; the Lakers are fighting for a playoff spot, so we need to pick it up and sneak out with a win."
In the first half, the Hornets shot 60 percent (24-of-40) and opened a 61-49 lead as West and Speedy Claxton scored 13 points each. But they missed their first seven shots of the third quarter as the Suns put together a 14-1 run to take a 63-62 lead.