“This was a good game for us,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It follows up winning at Dallas and against Detroit, so we have had three good wins in the last couple of weeks. We are playing at a high level.”
Shawn Marion had 18 points and 10 rebounds while Nash added 12 points and 10 assists, and the NBA’s top scoring offense helped the Suns improve their road record to a league-best 24-7.
“The key is not to be complacent,” Nash said. “We’re a young team. We have to stay focused to keep this thing going.”
Ray Allen led the Sonics with 27 points, while Rashard Lewis had 26 points and 11 rebounds. But Seattle, which had won six of seven after the All-Star break, couldn’t match a series of runs by the fast-paced Suns.
“Everybody came to play. We just didn’t have the rhythm,” Allen said.
Antonio Daniels scored 14 points and Jerome James had 12. The perimeter-oriented Sonics also came up short in a very important statistic— shooting 3-of-27 from 3-point range for a season-low 11 percent.
“We missed some shots that we ordinarily hit,” Daniels said. “In the fourth quarter, we should have put more of an emphasis on attacking the rim. Sometimes, we bailed them out by just launching it.”
It was a matchup between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference, and both wanted it badly.
That was evident from the way the Suns’ bench players celebrated with the game in hand and by a rare ejection for Sonics coach Nate McMillan, whistled for two technical fouls in the fourth quarter.
When it was finally over, D’Antoni let out a deep breath and wiped his brow.
“We always step up to the plate, but this was a big game,” Stoudemire said. “I’m pretty sure both teams understood that.”
The Suns appeared to have things in hand after Nash’s jumper with 4:57 to play put Phoenix ahead 99-85, but Seattle crawled back. Allen made four free throws and Daniels completed a three-point play to trim the margin to 99-92 with 3:59 remaining.
Seattle couldn’t get the margin below 101-94 after two free throws by Lewis with 2:48 remaining. Johnson sealed the victory with two free throws of his own and a jumper that put the Suns up 105-94 with 1:48 to go.
“I think they wanted to see if I could make a couple,” Johnson said. “I ended up making some, and it got me into a pretty good rhythm.”
Asked about Johnson’s performance, Allen said: “He was pretty good today. He kept us on our heels. Just when we were worried about the pick-and-roll, we got hit from the other side.”
McMillan was ejected with 8:01 remaining after his second technical foul in the fourth quarter. In both cases, he protested animatedly to game officials— the last after a no-call when Daniels was flattened on a drive.
“The new rule is that you can’t extend, and I thought there was a lot of hand-checking,” McMillan said. “They were allowed to use their forearms to defend, and you can’t do that.”
In the end, the Sonics simply couldn’t keep up.
The Suns attacked in surges, one burst after another. Every time the Sonics erased a deficit and got the crowd charged, it seemed someone wearing a purple jersey found a way to put Phoenix back in control.
Usually, it was Johnson swishing his smooth jumpers, but Stoudemire inflicted his share of damage with fastbreak dunks. Marion was a force inside, scoring off the block and on the break.
“We came out with a lot of willpower, a lot of determination to play strong throughout the whole game,” Stoudemire said. “Despite the physical play, we maintained it and we got the win.”
Seattle pulled to 77-73 late in the third on a basket by Lewis, but the Suns steadied themselves and led 82-77 going into the fourth. Then Phoenix opened the final period with a 10-0 run, leading 92-77 after Steven Hunter’s basket.
Nash, from nearby Victoria, British Columbia, is having an MVP-caliber season, and he had a solid day—to the delight of fellow Canadians who made the trip to Seattle to cheer him on and wave Maple Leaf flags.
“All Steve did was bring 700 kids down from Canada, and that helped a lot,” D’Antoni said.
Sonics F Nick Collison left with a broken nose early in the second period, sustained in a collision with Hunter. … The Suns took the season series 2-1. The teams won’t meet again in the regular season because of the unbalanced schedule, forced by realignment. … James and Stoudemire each had first-quarter technicals.