Leandro Barbosa is the reigning Sixth Man of The Year in the NBA, but he doesn’t make a bad Fifth Man either.
Barbosa, starting in place of the injured Raja Bell, hit on 7 of 10 threes and finished with 31 points. More importantly, he did much of his damage in the first half when the Raptors were still hot.
The Suns are now 6-0 in Barbosa’s half dozen starts, and are averaging 35 points in the first period of those games.
Although he gets our coveted Game Ball, he was by no means a slam dunk for it. Not on a night when the Suns were at their most explosive and most watchable. They completed their passes, they made their shots, they made their cuts, and… well, in short they looked very much like the team that came within a whisker (or maybe a whistle or two) of winning it all last year.
The Raptors are struggling to stay above .500, but they are one of only eight teams in the league holding their opponents under 100 points a game, lead the league in three-point accuracy, and in Chris Bosh boast one of the toughest forwards to guard on the planet, as witness his 42 points and NBA season-high 24 free throw attempts. So this is not exactly chopped liver the Suns feasted on last night.
Amaré Stoudemire had one of his most consistently dominating nights in recent games with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Grant Hill, aka this year’s Deal of The Century in the NBA,
And oh yes, Steve Nash had a pretty good night too.
One of the payers most NBA coaches say before going to sleep every night is, “Lord, please give me a point guard who can shoot and pass and has the wisdom to know when to do which.”
Nash, of course, is the answer to that prayer.
Nash took only three shots in the first half, but doubled the entire Toronto team’s assist total with 8, and he would go on to pile of 16 while taking only 7 shots. My personal favorite came in the third quarter when he drew a loud cheer for dragging down an offensive rebound, dribbled out of trouble and casually flipped a behind the back pass to Barbosa, who was standing all by his lonesome behind the three-point line.
The victory tied the Suns for the most wins in the Western Conference with 19 and improved their record against plus .500 teams to a spiffy 12-3. Not to shabby for a team that has played the fewest home games in the league and has been poked and prodded for signs of slippage, not to mention analyzed half to death.
There are nights, of course, when people who have been wondering what’s wrong with the Suns must be muttering to themselves, “What’s wrong with us?”
This was one of those nights.
The bottom line: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.