Move over ESPN’s John Hollinger. Step aside Suns.com’s Dan Hilton. It appears that there’s a new “Sultan of Stats” in town… me. No, not quite.
But it was an unusual night for me as I moved a few seats over from my normal press seat and played the role of “stat man” as I helped Oklahoma City’s TV broadcast team out with their stats Saturday.
As I dusted off the cob webs residing on the right side of brain, I discovered that compiling stats can be a unique and enriching way to follow a game. But it can also be a little hectic.
Instead of receiving a holistic view of the game like you get as a journalist, you keep track of the little games within the game as a stats man. The Thunder’s broadcasters wanted me to pay close attention to little trends that occurred within different parts of the quarter.
What percentage were the two teams shooting for the quarter? How many points did Player X have in the Suns’ 10-2 run? Things like that.
So as I studied the numbers of Phoenix’s 106-95 home win over the Thunder, some telling stats helped me and Oklahoma City’s broadcast team explain how the Suns won. On top of that, some other interesting tidbits stood out. Here’s what I came up with:
In order for the Suns to snap their season-high six game losing streak Saturday, they needed their bench to outscore Oklahoma City’s 44-13. Leandro Barbosa led the charge off the pine with 22 points, shooting 7-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
Barbosa notched 12 of his 22 points in a fourth-quarter that saw the Suns go on an 18-6 run at one point. Also, Jared Dudley provided nine points, season-high nine rebounds, limitless hustle and solid defense as Phoenix went 11 deep.
“I think LB made a lot of big shots, but if I was going to pick a player of the game I would pick Jared Dudley,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought he came in and gave us some energy and made a couple hustle plays and came up with a couple loose balls. To me that was what got us over the hump and of course LB’s shots.”
The Suns came out slow, putting up a mere 18 points and shooting only 30 percent in the first quarter. In fact, Phoenix never held the lead until there was 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter. However, the Suns poured in 34 points in the final period, the largest total in quarter from either team on Saturday.
It was an encouraging sign for the Suns, who have been getting outscored in the final period, and have not been able to close out games as of late. It also showed that they refused to quit, making it just the fourth time all season that they’ve overcome a double-digit deficit (13 points) and went on to win.
With the win, the Suns improved to 6-0 against sub-.500 teams under Gentry and recorded their ninth straight victory over the Thunder. Phoenix is now 15-3 when holding opposing teams to under 100 points and defeated a Thunder team that was 5-2 in their last seven games.
Shaquille O’Neal, who was hampered with foul trouble all game, scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half. His best contributions, however, were the kick-outs he made to Barbosa as the Brazilian Blur drained 3-of-3 from downtown in the final period.
“I think it was a good moment when I hit those shots,” Barbosa said. “Shaq is always looking to pass out when they double him. I just tried to give some more energy because we didn’t have a lot at the beginning of the game.”
The Thunders’ young tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook gave the Suns all they could handle though. Durant scored 10 of his 22 points in the final period, while Westbrook poured in nine of his 20 points in the last period. But as young teams often do, the Thunder fell victim to their turnovers, coughing up the ball 22 times throughout the night. They proved to be costly errors as they allowed the veteran Suns to creep back into the contest.
Steve Nash’s 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting led three other Phoenix players that finished in double figures. Grant Hill scored six more than his season average by posting 16 points, while also corralling eight boards.
“I know it is crazy,” Gentry said about Hill. “Like I told you, he is like what 49-years-old. He plays hard; I never have any complaints with him.”
Phoenix was able to move within five games of the Mavs, who hold the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoff race. The Suns could move within four games tomorrow if they defeat the Warriors and the Mavs fall to the Lakers.
“It’s the first time in my career where we kind of have to rely on other people to help us out,” O’Neal said.”It’s going to be what it’s going to be at the end of the season and I’ll just pay attention to it then. It’s vital that we do what we’re supposed to do and I think if we do that, hopefully everything will take care of itself.”
So as the game ended and the broadcast concluded, I was released from my number-crunching role by the guys in the broadcast truck. As my stats experience came to an end, I began to contemplate the humorous phrase I heard growing up, “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.”
And as Oklahoma City’s play-by-play man, Brian Davis, shook my hand and told me that I did a great job, I couldn’t tell if he was giving me the facts, or if he was just figuring. I think he was just figuring.
For video highlights of the game, click here.