Channing Frye Answers Most Important Call of Career
The guy at the local Circle K interrupted Channing Frye's Slushie pouring to help with his missing shot. People stopped the struggling Phoenix reserve on the street to offer their analysis, and it was clear that his 1 of 20 shooting performance in the first three games of the Western Conference finals against the Lakers had elevated everyone else to expert status while his was the most maddening of untimely falls.
At a local YMCA in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon, the most basic of ballers had spirited debates about Frye's disappearing act between games. The so-called experts -- that being the media -- had already irked him so much that Frye complained about the negativity. And then there were the real experts, the Andre Iguodalas and Richard Jeffersons and Jamal Crawfords, the old high school and AAU coaches -- all of whom called Frye's cell phone to offer encouragement and reminders that he was, as they told him, "the best shooter in the league."
But before Frye finally broke out of his slump and set the tone for a bench effort that produced 54 points in the Suns' 115-106 win over the Lakers in Game 4 that tied the series 2-2, it was the outreach effort of Suns general manager Steve Kerr that had more impact than the rest.
It wasn't just the fact that this was the big boss calling. It was the fact that Kerr -- who won five championships with Chicago and San Antonio as perhaps the league's most effective reserve sharpshooter of all time -- knew of what he spoke far more than all the rest. And with Frye's implosion threatening the merits of the finest of his five seasons, Kerr certainly knew what to say.
"He just said, 'Hey, just shoot it,' " said Frye, who, like Kerr, is a University of Arizona product. "He said, 'We believe in you. You're fine. Just relax. I've been there before. I understand what you're going through. We believe in you.' That's huge to get that from the GM."
Kerr, who wouldn't comment on their conversation Monday for fear of stealing Frye's spotlight, had called Frye before. He had called on birthdays, or to congratulate him on the recent news that he and his wife have a baby on the way. But Kerr had never called to talk about business, about basketball. Frye, it's safe to say, was listening.
And for all the success stories he could have shared, this was not the time for that. So Kerr informed Frye that, contrary to popular opinion, he hadn't come through in every clutch moment during his 15-year career.
NBA Finals, 1996. Chicago vs. Seattle. Bulls win in six games. No thanks to Kerr.
"It was my first Finals, and I probably shot 35 percent for the series," Kerr said. "I couldn't make anything. It kind of snowballed on me. It happens to shooters.
"And it's hard for a three-point shooter. It's like being a baseball player. You only get four at bats. ... When you only get four or five shots a game, that's hard. It puts extra pressure on each shot. I'm really proud of Channing for sticking with it and breaking through tonight."
Talk about answering a call.
The numbers didn't tell the story, as Frye hit 4 of 8 three-pointers and finished with 14 points. His successes or failures had begun to hold a greater relevance, often breaking the Suns' rhythm in crucial moments in the first three games.
Alvin Gentry had stuck by his player, attempting to take pressure off Frye by informing him that the scrutiny would come the Suns coach's way if this trend continued because he was the one continuing to put him on the floor. It created quite a vibe between Frye and the Orange Nation, one that appeared to be worsening when he missed his first attempt.
His 18th consecutive missed shot came with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter, a three-pointer that clanked badly and was followed by a collective groan from the sellout crowd of 18,422.
"When I missed the first one, I was like, 'Oh man, these people must think I'm terrible,' " said Frye, who signed with the Suns as a free agent last summer.
Baskets from Ron Artest and Pau Gasol came thereafter, the Lakers going up 17-12 en route to a 23-23 tie at the first break.
But with 7:01 left in the second quarter, Frye took a pass from the penetrating Leandro Barbosa and hit a three from the right wing that set the locals into hysterics. It was, like all of his rare makes, part of a key stretch in which the Suns' 11-5 run put them up 47-37.
Frye was just getting started, as he buried another three from the top, and one from the right corner minutes later maintained the double-digit lead. His fourth and final three was the most clutch of all, coming midway through the fourth quarter and breaking Phoenix's streak of eight consecutive misses from beyond the arc in the second half.
After a Jordan Farmar three-pointer had put the Lakers up 87-85, Frye's basket -- which he sneaked in just before the shot clock buzzer -- came during an 18-3 run in which he shared the substitute spotlight with Barbosa, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson.
"I kind of like those kinds of shots (at the shot clock buzzer) because you have no choice but to shoot it," Frye said. "You have no time to think about it or anything. You've just got to let it ride."
This haunted mansion ride that Frye was stuck on, meanwhile, might be no more.