Two words are all that are needed to tell the story of this one, namely beep and beep, as in “Beep Beep,” which is the sound that’s always piped over the public address system whenever Leandro Barbosa, aka The Roadrunner, does anything.
And this night Barbosa did EVERYTHING — almost single handedly turning what could have been, maybe even should have been a loss into a victory. And Barbosa could hardly have picked a more opportune time to play his best game of the year and one of his best fourth periods ever as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
And what made it an even better story was that Barbosa has been playing under the heavy burden of his mother’s illness back in Brazil.
Teams coming off long road trips historically need at least a half, and sometimes a whole game, to shake the kinks out of their game. And with the exception of Barbosa, the Suns never did get completely unkinked. Even when they built a 13-point lead they looked a little kinked.
But while they didn’t look very good, Barbosa wasn’t about to let them loose, fending off the spunky Grizzlies with 16 of his team’s 25 points in the fourth quarter while going five for six from the field, including two huge threes, while his mates were groping one 1 for 8 and turning the ball over five times.
Indeed, with Barbosa leading the way with 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, the bench, which has been struggling, delivered 50 points and 13 rebounds, while the starters struggled mightily.
Barbosa’s points looked even better on the court than on paper, as he hit some very tough shots. He’s considered one of the fastest players in the NBA, and when he has his shooting eye as well as his blur-like speed, he can do…well, what he did Monday night.
Given that they had beaten the Grizzlies eight times in succession, this looked to be a mismatch. And perhaps if the Suns had been anywhere near their A-game, perhaps it would have been.
This is still very much a work in progress, but I am happy to report that the work is making some progress. The Suns have already shown enough in their first eight games to suggest that writing them completely off as serious contenders is premature – to say the least.
Frankly, they are a little ahead of where I thought they’d be at this stage. For instance, Shaq has already turned in two of his best games since 2007, and Amare has given every indication of taking his game to “monster” level.
Just as frankly, not all is totally sunshine and flowers. Steve Nash, although gamely trying to adjust to the team’s new offensive personality, obviously is more comfortable in a more wide open game. But the good news here is that in addition to being a good soldier, Nash is adaptable.
Also, with the team obviously building its game from the inside out rather than the outside in, Shaq’s ability to survive the long NBA grind, even with regular nights off, has to be a concern. It must be remembered that when he came here he was penciled in for a much more modest role, and the more of your eggs you put in his basket, the more you have to hope they don’t come up scrambled.
Ordinarily you don’t get all that excited about wins in November, but when you are trying to change a team’s basic ways and sell the players on more work and less fun, it is more important than usual to have some early success— and at 6-2 that mission has clearly been accomplished.
The bottom line after only eight games: The sky is not falling, and while the roof is leaking a bit here and there, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.