93Jan. 24, 2013
88US Airways Center
24 PTS, 8 AST, 5 REB
21 PTS, 4 AST
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Suns Outlast Clippers for Second Straight Win
By: Stefan Swiat, Suns.comThe eyes of the basketball world were focused squarely on Phoenix on Thursday night.
After a flurry of change over the past week on the Suns coaching staff, new Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter made his home debut in front of a lively crowd and a nationally-televised TNT audience.
Coincidentally, even Suns Ring of Honor member and TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who occasionally leaves the studio to provide live color commentary, called his first-ever Suns game. And Hunter would welcome the attention.
Holding the league’s fourth-ranked team in field goal percentage to 40-percent shooting on the night, the Suns helped Hunter move to 2-0 as head coach in their 93-88 home win over the Clippers. For the second time this season, Phoenix won on the second half of a back-to-back and earned their fifth win over a 20-win Western Conference team this season.
“Our focus is to create a defensive mentality and to create a defensive presence,” Hunter said. “Our guys are working hard to do it.
“It is a difficult thing to just change like that. To see every last guy really buying into it and realizing that regardless of how you shoot the ball, if you can defend, you always have a chance to win a game.”
When Suns General Manager Lance Blanks hired Hunter over this past weekend, he said that he wanted to give the organization a “jolt.” A jolt is what he’s received, watching Phoenix earn its 11th win in 12 games over the Pacific Division-leading Clippers, who currently boast the third-best record in the West.
The Suns ran out to a 10-point first quarter lead behind eight first-period points and three assists from point guard Goran Dragic. The rest of the night was a back-and-forth affair before the Suns pulled away with 15.4 seconds left on a clear-path foul.
Suns shooting guard Shannon Brown was fouled on a fast break, giving him two free throws (which he made), and the ball. That play saw Phoenix get three quick points, extending the lead to five with less than 15 seconds left.
That didn’t give the Clippers enough time to recover.
“If we play defense, we have drastically better chances of winning,” Suns power forward Luis Scola said. “We are not going to score 110 points – at least not regularly – we have to find a way to keep teams in the 90-95 range.”
On the offensive end, Dragic went on to total a game-high 24 points and eight assists, while the inside tandem of Scola and Marcin Gortat combined for 29 points and 17 rebounds.
Power forward Markieff Morris was the final Suns player in double figures, coming off the bench to contribute 14 points and eight boards. Also, the Suns were able to capitalize at the line, scoring 12 more from the charity stripe throughout the night.
But the story of the night was the Suns’ defense, which Gortat believed was the result of simplifying their game plan and focusing on a few key points.
“(Hunter) is trying to provoke each one of us to man up, stand your ground and play better,” Suns center Marcin Gortat said. “Also, we’re protecting the paint. We clogged the pain, created a wall, played off the weak side, shrunk the floor on the strong side and talked on defense.”
Phoenix looks to move to 3-0 under Hunter in San Antonio on Saturday.
When new Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter captured his first-ever coaching victory in his debut in Sacramento last night, Hunter became the ninth head coach in franchise history to win in his Suns debut. Hunter joined “Red” Kerr, Jerry Colangelo, Cotton Fitzsimmons, John MacLeod, Paul Westphal, Scott Skiles, Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry as the other Suns head coaches to do so.
Out of 15 coaches in franchise history to win in their debuts with Phoenix, only Hunter and Porter would earn their victories on the road.
“Of course it was something I’ve never done before so you always have that anxious feeling,” Hunter said. “But it was fun. It’s funny, I was kind of thinking about coaching my kids in high school and AAU and it’s basically the same thing, but on a different scale.”
After moving earning his second-straight win, he would become just the fourth head coach in Suns history to start 2-0. Gentry, Skiles and Colangelo were the only other three to do so. Skiles’ 4-0 start is a franchise-best.
As he moves forward, Hunter said that he will turn to his assistant coaches for support.
“My assistants have been off the charts they have been phenomenal for me,” Hunter said. “I have given those guys free rein.
“I don’t know everything I’m not going to pretend I do. I’m new at this Igor was rebounding for me when I was in Detroit years ago, so I give those guys free rein to do and say whatever they feel.”
For Hunter, who has been around the game his entire life, he says that coaching is just the next step in his career. But there is one part of the job that has surprised him.
“I didn’t understand how much media you have to do,” he said. “It’s been a lot.”
During Lindsey Hunter’s playing days, he had two stints in Detroit, with the second one spanning from the 2003-04 season through the 2007-08 season. In that second stint, Clippers point guard and former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups played with Hunter the entire time he was in Motor City.
“We played together and I know him very well,” Billups recalled. “He was a point guard, and most point guards are heady, cerebral guys who could probably make good coaches. So we’ll see what happens, but of course, I’m pulling for him.”
Hunter, who was Billups’ backup, faced Hunter many-a-time in practice over the years.
“His best attribute was his toughness, his defensive mindset,” he said. “He was ferocious on the defensive end of the floor. I look forward to seeing his teams take on that identity.”
Jermaine O’Neal didn’t suit up for Thursday’s game because he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. After feeling the symptoms on Monday, the Suns center visited the cardiologist on Tuesday.
"We ran two days of tests and feel like we know what's causing the issue," O'Neal said. "They put me on medication to put it back on rhythm, which should take 3-4 days."
The six-time All-Star said that until he knows exactly what he's up against, he'll remain sidelined, although he will travel with the team this weekend to Texas to support his teammates. He said that he's experienced nausea from the medicine, but the heart palpatations have reduced since taking the medication.
In the other locker room, the Clippers went Thursday without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who sat out with a right knee bone bruise. Also, the Clippers’ Chauncey Billups still hasn’t played since December 3 because of tendonitis in his left foot.
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