Reserves Rally Suns to 2-0 Series Lead
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich called them "the best three-point shooting team ever," a claim that was nearly supported by the history books as their 41.2 percent mark for the season was the second highest all time.
The leader of that pack wasn't usual suspect Steve Nash, but offseason signee Channing Frye. Yes, that Channing Frye, the one who had buried all of 20 three-pointers in his first four seasons in the league.
In what was one of the most dramatic player transformations in recent memory, Frye became one of the league's preeminent three-point threats. After seeing limited time in Portland last season and looking to up his limited value as a free agent last summer, he went to work changing his game.
The result? He made the Suns look like hoops geniuses by burying 172 of 392 attempts, ranking fourth in the league in total converted attempts and sixth in percentage (43.9) after signing a two-year, $3.8 million deal with Phoenix. But that much-needed element of his game had gone missing so far in this postseason.
Until Wednesday night.
Frye hit 5 of 6 threes and scored 15 points in the Suns' 110-102 win over San Antonio in Game 2, breaking out after hitting just 29.4 percent of his long-range looks in the previous seven playoff games. Two of his three-pointers came in a key stretch of the second quarter, with Phoenix closing the half on a 19-11 run to stave off a strong Spurs start. He played admirably on the other end as well, banging with Tim Duncan from beginning to end and making the Spurs forward work for all of his 29 points and 10 rebounds.
For the Suns, this was nothing short of monumental. It was the first time they had taken a 2-0 series lead against the Spurs in the seven times they've faced them since Tim Duncan came to town. For Frye -- the University of Arizona product who was taken eighth overall by the Knicks in 2005 -- it was simply the product of his plan.
"I knew that if I was going to get into the game I'd have to be pretty solid at everything," Frye told FanHouse. "If I was going to get two shots, I didn't know where those two shots were going to come from, so it made me work on everything. Once I didn't re-sign (in Portland), I just decided to work on my game. I stayed up (in Portland) all summer and continued to work on all types of stuff, worked on dribbling, shooting, and just played the game of basketball."
Suns GM Steve Kerr, who absorbed plenty of criticism for the way in which he built the Suns in the post-Mike D'Antoni era, may have pulled off the best reserve signing of the season in Frye.
"We didn't know he was going to make 190 three-pointers," Kerr admitted to FanHouse. "He had made 20 (in his career), I think, coming into the year. But we knew he'd be a great pick and pop guy, just from his days with the Knicks.
"But for two years with Portland, he didn't play. He never get on the court, so nobody saw all the practice he was putting in on his range. We figured he'd be a corner three point shooter, and he'd make 50 or 60 of them during the year. Then he came out during the summer, and we're playing pick-up ball and he's hitting threes from the top. We were like, 'Whoa, we hit the jackpot.' That changed everything for us."
Frye's fellow three-point threat, Jared Dudley, altered his typical approach in Game 2. While his long-range abilities are usually his best asset, the third-year player out of Boston College was all hustle and heart en route to scoring seven of his 11 points in the second quarter. He had four of his six rebounds in that period as well, with the Suns rallying to tie it 51-51 at halftime after trailing 30-21 after the first quarter.
"Our energy wasn't there in the first quarter, but we picked it up, hung our hat on defense, made the right people shoot the ball who we wanted to -- Richard Jefferson, [Tony] Parker from the outside, George Hill -- and because of that we were pretty successful tonight," Dudley said. "That's my role for this team. ... If it's not shooting, it's defensively, providing a spark, getting the crowd involved. You can't win with a team that doesn't have chemistry, and this team definitely has chemistry."
And as the Suns proved once again in Game 2, they have more than enough reserve firepower as well.
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