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Suns Off to Rocky (Balboa) Start
By: Greg Esposito, Suns.com
In the offseason the Suns hired a television play by play man in Steve Albert who was not only known for his work in basketball but was a World Boxing Hall of Fame announcer. The move makes complete sense when you watch the 2012-13 Suns play.
The team is the NBA equivalent of Rocky Balboa. No matter the odds, they’ll take their opponent’s best punches and come back even if they don’t win. Wednesday night’s last-second 99-97 loss to the New York Knicks was just another example of it.
Despite falling behind by as many as 14 points, the Suns battled all the way back to take a four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. The lead came courtesy of Jared Dudley who drew a shooting foul on Chris Copeland and hit all three free throws. Despite losing in the final second on what can best be described as a circus shot by J.R. Smith with P.J. Tucker draped all over him like a toga on a frat guy, the team showed the kind of fight reserved for the best the ring has to offer.
The best example of that this season, and on this particular night, was Jared Dudley. After beginning the season as the team’s starting shooting guard, the 6-7 swingman found himself back on the bench as a reserve. He didn’t let the move get him down. He rolled with the punches (pun intended) doing what coach Gentry asked of him and kept improving every day.
“Early on I was starting and I lost the spot,” Dudley said. “People were like ‘is he really a bench player? Is he this? Is he that?’ For me, I work on my game so hard in the summertime what I’m seeing now is all the hard work paid off.”
After nine games on the bench, Dudley was reinserted into the starting lineup at small forward and hasn’t looked back since. His hard work paid off against the Knicks as he set a new career-high in points.
“I was open,” Dudley said about his performance. “I was knocking down shots. I had it going from the free throw line.”
And knock down shots he did. While the game didn’t have to be stopped because of an NBA Jam style scorched net, Dudley did qualify as on fire. He went 11-of-17 from the floor including 5-of-8 from three point land and hitting all nine of his free throws.
In the end the Boston College product finished with 36 points on the night, a new NBA career-high and tying his college career-high set in January of 2005 against Villanova. His previous NBA high of 33 points came against the Miami Heat in December of 2010.
Almost as impressive as his point total was his second quarter dunk. The powerful slam was his third of the season and on a scale of Joe Kleine to Tom Chambers the rim rocker earned a solid Marko Milic. Although, the dunk may have just been his attempt to show NFL all-pro Larry Fitzgerald, who was sitting courtside, that he has competition for the most athletic hands in Phoenix.
Dudley gives a lot of the credit for his success to his coach.
“Any time any player on our team has it going early like that Alvin [Gentry] searches for them and gives them more plays,” Dudley said of the Suns Head Coach. “Probably had the most plays ran for me all season. I think I rewarded him by knocking them down.”
If he keeps working hard and playing like he has over the last week, his entire team will reap the rewards not just his coach. Dudley’s success seems to be indicative of how his team is capable of performing.
“For us to be successful I have to be aggressive,” Dudley said. “I’m one of the better shooters on the team and one of the guys who will make the right plays. When I have it going offensively I try to get other people involved.”
Just like Dudley, in order to be successful, the Suns have to be aggressive. That shouldn’t be a problem. It’s become their calling card this season, just like a certain undersized boxer from the silver screen.
Three is the Magic Number
Schoolhouse Rock said it best, “three is the magic number” and on Wednesday at US Airways Center that was the case.
In his pregame press conference, head coach Alvin Gentry proved to be a more accurate prognosticator than the Mayans. He said “Oh, I think they’re going to shoot 3’s. It doesn’t matter who is out.” He was right.
Despite missing star Carmelo Anthony with a hyperextended knee and starting point guard Raymond Felton with a sprained finger, the Knicks still let 22 threes fly in the game. It was the difference in the first half as New York went 6-for-11 from distance helping them take a 54-44 lead into the locker room. The Suns were the polar opposite in the first half going 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.
That all changed in the third quarter when the Suns went 5-for-8 from three and battled their way back into the game.
If that’s not enough 3’s for you, Jared Dudley, No. 3, led the Suns in scoring, had his third dunk of the season and had his third career 28 or more point game.
Point guard Goran Dragic left the game with 22 seconds left in the first half after a collision with New York’s J.R. Smith during a layup attempt caused him to fall hard on his hip. He didn’t return to the game and has been diagnosed with hip, wrist and back contusions. His status is day-to-day.
Get in touch with Greg Esposito by sending him an email to his mailbag.