It won’t show up on any stat sheet (in large part because it technically never happened), and while it may still be early in this series, mark down the halfway point of the second quarter in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals as what could go down as the turning point in this series.
With the bench holding down the fort and the Suns holding a 47-40 lead over the Lakers, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry attempted to put back in several members of his starting unit including Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Robin Lopez. Checking out of the contest for Phoenix were Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa and Channing Frye, but before the latter most of those players could even grab a Gatordade, he was called upon to check back into the ballgame.
Frye’s struggles have been well documented in this series. Since being one of the team’s key contributors throughout the regular season, and a large reason why the Suns have managed to get beyond Portland and San Antonio in the first two rounds of the postseason, the rim has not been kind to the former Wildcat to say the least.
After finishing sixth in the league in 3-point field goal accuracy and fourth in 3-point field goals made during the 2009-10 campaign, entering play on Tuesday, Frye had somehow missed an astounding 17-straight shots. For the entire series, he had shot 1-for-20, and after missing his first attempt from downtown on Wednesday, it didn’t appear his shooting slump was going to be coming to an end any time soon.
But then it happened… What I will always dub, “The Substitution That Didn’t Happen For Reasons I’m Not Quite Sure.” Yes, the title is a work in progress, but what I do know is that when Nash, Richardson and Lopez attempted to check in for Dragic, Barbosa and Frye, the referees did not allow the swap of the two big men to take place. Despite the fact that Frye was already sitting comfortably back on the bench, the referees explained to Gentry that Lopez – who was maybe a step or two behind Nash and Richardson in stepping onto the court – hadn’t checked into the contest on time.
“I do remember noticing that when it took place,” Suns General Manager Steve Kerr recalled. “It’s a rule I’ve never quite understood and I think it had something to do with him not being at the (scorer’s table) in time.”
Lopez and his enormous hair were forced to hang out by the scorer’s table, and Frye, just before grabbing a refreshing beverage, was being told by Gentry to get back onto the court. Just over a minute later, Frye finally broke the seal off the rim and hit his second shot of the ballgame from downtown, and just his third field goal overall since the start of the series. The center who led the Suns in 3-point shots made during the regular season then hit another, prompting Lopez to look back over towards Gentry from the scorer’s table.
“Robin looked at me to kind of ask if he should come back to the bench now that Channing had hit a couple of shots,” Gentry told me after the game.
Gentry did indeed summon the unselfish Lopez back towards the bench, and the Suns headed into halftime with a 64-55 lead thanks in large part to Frye’s team-high 11 points.
Frye’s biggest shot of the contest and the series, however, came in the second half of play. With the Lakers leading in the fourth quarter, the big man connected again with a trifecta – one that would keep the Suns ahead for the remainder of the ballgame.
“I told people I wasn’t going to stop shooting,” Frye said after a 14-point game and a Suns win had concluded. “I felt like we had great ball movement tonight and I just set my feet and let it ride.
“When coach sat me down (in the second quarter), I was ready to catch my breath, but when he told me I needed to get back in, I remember just thinking, ‘looks like another excuse to keep shooting.’ I made my next two shots and was feeling good.”
Entering the series, many considered Frye’s ability to stretch the floor a key in whether or not the Suns would compete against the defending champion Lakers. In my eyes, Frye was the x-factor for the ballclub because as Nash has already pointed out, the Suns aren’t getting any taller before this series wraps up. But what the Suns can do is combat the height of the Lakers by bringing their big men out of the paint and spreading the floor for our playmakers, a strategy which is only made possible if Amar’e Stoudemire and Frye are hitting their jumpshots.
And if you don’t believe me, here is the opinion of a gentlemen who is much more credible:
“Him hitting shots in this series is what we need,” forward Jared Dudley said of Frye. “He creates space on the floor which opens up the pick-and-roll for Nash and Amar’e.”
(See, I told you I wasn’t just making this stuff up)
So with the possibility that Frye now has his groove back looking very likely, the question is, could that non-substitution that didn’t take place back in the second quarter of this ballgame the biggest non-substitution in the history of this franchise?
“Who knows, my being one second behind could be looked back on as the best thing that could’ve happened in this series,” laughed Lopez when I posed the question.
“It really could be the turning point in the series,” Dudley said. “I know it’s something the Lakers aren’t happy about it, but I definitely am.”
As for Frye, the words of the sharpshooting center say it all.
“I don’t ever remember being a part of another non-substitute in my life, so yes, I will say that is the best non-substitute I have ever been a part of.”
Anybody who follows basketball knows just how big momentum can be in a series and just how quickly that momentum can turn for or against a ballclub. As a longtime Suns fan, I’ve seen us receive our fair share of bad breaks over the years. Sometimes those breaks can be literal (as in “facially”) and sometimes they can be heart wrenching (Wikipedia the names of Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for more), but regardless of their shape or form, they can have a lasting impact.
I believe in Chaos Theory (although my knowledge on the subject goes as far as what I learned in Jurassic Park), and the second I spotted the confusion in “The Substitution That Didn’t Happen For Reasons I’m Not Quite Sure,” I honestly thought to myself that this could be one of those moments that changes a series, but only if Frye starts knocking down shots. If not, I’m not sitting here writing this blog or that the possibility of a non-substitution could actually mean something in a playoff series.
There’s still a chance it doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot, I haven’t disregarded that possibility. But for a Suns organization which has been on the wrong side of some bad breaks over the years, we can hope for now that this is one that goes our way.